Link to "Leaving Lhasa Vegas." Audio archive of today's episode, the last in this four-part series, will be available after 12PM PT, along with multimedia extras and photo slideshow.
Many Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama himself, settled in northern India after communist China invaded what it considered to be part of its territory beginning in 1950.
For years, Tibet has been a difficult place to get to for most Westerners, because of visa restrictions -- though these rules may soon be eased to facilitate tourism, according to a recent announcement by a communist party leader in Tibet. And tourists to Lhasa, the capital and ancient heart of Tibetan Buddhism, might find two very different cities.
Inside what's known as the Tibetan Quarter, the timeless rituals of faith unfold. At the ornate, massive Jokhang Temple in the heart of the quarter, visitors are greeted with the sights and sounds of prostrating pilgrims. They stretch flat on the ground, then rise up, palms clasped in prayer. The stone beneath is polished smooth from centuries of this devotional gesture. The towering Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's former residence, dominates the horizon.
But just a short rickshaw drive away, a different world unfolds. Outside the Tibetan Quarter, Lhasa feels more like a modern Chinese city, full of blasting electronic music and looped recordings of shop-barkers, beckoning shoppers to come in and spend. The pace of change has never been faster than in the last decade.
New posts on the "reporter's notebook" blog for this project:
China may abolish travel permit requirement for Tibet
Image: A young Tibetan woman outside the Jokhang temple on the eve of Saga Dawa, the annual religious festival honoring the birth of Buddha. 2006, Xeni Jardin.
Part 1: The Gaddi People of Dharamsala
(special thanks to Rob Sachs and Alicia Montgomery, my producer and editor at NPR "Day to Day;" to Hutch; but most of all -- to Dr. M.X. Quetzalkanbalam, who graciously allowed me to accompany him on his trek, who conceived of this project, directed it, and made it all possible.)