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Two Tourists' Views of Tibet

For Nicoll Francis, a Belgian customs official, his visit to Tibet has been one of the most unforgettable of his life. As one of 100 photographers invited by the China Photographers Association (CPA) and Tibet Information Office, he arrived on June 28 and began what he called the "most fascinating trip."

He said the tour, "Tibet in the Eyes of 100 Photographers,"comprised amateur and professional photographers from home and abroad, divided into four groups and sent to different parts of the region to experience the true Tibet for themselves and tell the world of their impressions through their camera lens.

"I had watched many documentaries about Tibet, mostly French and German, before I came to China, so I thought I knew a lot about it. But now that I'm here, I'm very surprised at what I have seen here. Lhasa is much more modern than I thought,"said Francis, who had just said goodbye to a lama he had met on the square in front of Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

"Everyday there is a new surprise waiting for me. This is really a great place with great people,"said Francis, "I just chatted with a lama who could speak some simple English. He said I'm very tall and greeted me. Although we didn't really understand each other very much, from his smile and eyes and facial expressions, I knew he was as interested in me as I was in him."

He said that, after they return to Beijing, the CPA will choose pictures taken by them for publication in a book. "I can also send my pictures to other international exhibitions after the CPA returns them to us."

When asked what impressed him most, Francis answered, "Everything here is interesting, like the great scenery and landscape, but I am really impressed with the smiles of Tibetans, very pure and simple. I took many pictures of Tibetan people, women, children, the pious prostrating themselves before monasteries and lamas walking on the street."

His sentiments were echoed by Francesa Mole, a high school teacher from Italy. "I am amazed at what I have seen here,"said Mole, taking a rest on Potala Place square with her companion. "We planned this tour for a very long time; I read a lot in books and on the Internet. Tibet was much poorer than this in my imagination.

"What worried me most before I came were transport conditions, but it was unnecessary. I just returned from Nam Co Lake, very beautiful, we enjoyed the trip very much. I think I have a lot to share with my students when I return to Italy."

According to the local government, Tibet received 1.22 million tourists last year from both home and abroad. Of them, 95,800 were foreign tourists, bringing a total tourist income of 1.5 billion yuan (US$181 million).

On April 3, the biggest overseas tourist group in Tibet's history arrived in Lhasa, the first batch of 107 Austrian tourists.

With rich tourist resources, visitors to Tibet are surrounded by old castles, monasteries, ruins, and booming streets. There are also gardens, markets, and emerald mountains in the surrounding area. Many visitors are intoxicated by the beauty of Potala Place, Nyainqentanglha Peak, Nam Co Lake, Lhasa River, the Yarlung Zangbo River, Yumzhog Yumco Lake, the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, Namjagbarwa Peak in Nyingchi and Yangbajain Geothermal Power Station.

Local tourism departments have encouraged farmers and herdspeople to take part in the industry to help reduce poverty. In 2004, the number of farmers and herdspeople who did this increased from 12,026 to 29,194. Their total income rose from 31.21 million yuan (US$3.8 million) to 67.97 million yuan (US$8.2 million) that year, 2,328 yuan (US$280) per capita.

Tourist departments have organized the Lhasa Culture Tour, the Scientific Exploration Tour, the Mountaineering Tour, the Festival Tour, the Worshipping Tour and the Trekking Tour, making it possible for visitors to enjoy themselves in the picturesque landscapes, with Tibet's folklore, culture and religion.

( by staff reporter Wang Qian, July 12, 2005)

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