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Tibet: An Introduction

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regionchina.jpgWith an average elevation of over 4,000 m, Tibet is considered to be the highest region in the world and is often called the "Roof of the World."  This comes as no surprise, especially since southern Tibet is located in the Himalayas, which contains many of the world's highest summits.  In addition to its incredible heights, Tibet is also one of the most isolated areas on earth; with most of the people living in elevations ranging from 1200 m to 5100 m. Tibet with its mountains is the source and dividing line of the Asian continent's major rivers, with the Brahmaputra being the most important.

Tibet, a rich and beautiful land, is located at the main part of Qinghai-Tibet plateau, south-West frontier of China. Tibet neighbors with its Chinese counterparts such as Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Xinjiang; sharing border with India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Burma to the south, and Kashmir on the west.

When the word Tibet is mentioned something icy chills the readers' nerves. In fact it snows only once or twice in a year and owing to the perpetuity of bright sunshine, it is not at all cold during the daytime even in the coldest days of winter. Tibet is so sunny that it produces a year-round sunshine of over 3,000 hours in a year. Its old name-"land of snow"--the name by which Tibet is almost popularly known as, is always thickly covered with snow with hardly any signs of inhabitation. In fact, it is correct only when it is referred to the world greatest ranges located in Ima, the Tisi, and like. These ranges, run by leaps and bounds across the country showing their beautiful snow covered peaks against the bluest of skies.

Geographically, Tibet can be divided into three major parts, the east, north and south. The eastern part is forest region, occupying approximately one-fourth of the land. Virgin forests run the entire breadth and length of this part of Tibet. The northern part is open grassland, where nomads and yak and sheep dwell here. This part occupies approximately half of Tibet. The southern and central part is agricultural region, occupying about one-fourth of Tibet's land area. With all major Tibetan cities and towns such as Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse ad Tsetang located in this area, it is considered the cultural center of Tibet. The total area of the Tibet Autonomous Region is 1,200,000 square kilometers and its population is 1,890,000. The region is administratively divided into one municipality and six prefectures. The municipality is Lhasa, while the six prefectures are Shigatse, Ngari, Lhaoka, Chamdo, Nakchu and Nyingtri(kongpo). The People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region exercises the high-test adminis-trative authority in Tibet.

In 1990, there were a little over 2 million people living in Tibet.  Most Tibetans live in rural areas with many being nomadic or semi-nomadic (no permanent place to live). It is believed that before the Communist Chinese controlled Tibet (before the 1950's), the population was waning due to illnesses and poor pre/post-natal care.  Another factor was that many men were becoming celibate monks. 

In general, Tibetans are very religious and follow the beliefs of Buddhism (or Lamaism); with the Dalai Lama their temporal head of state. 

Although it is relatively sunny in Tibet, the climate has drastic temperature changes in the winter and summer averaging -15 °C (5 °F) and 23 °C (73 °F).  It isn't unheard of to have temperatures of -40 to -50 °C (-45 to -55 °F), particularly in those areas of the Northern Plateau that experience extensive snowstorms.