Because so few foreigners have been to Tibet and Tibetans seldom travel abroad – unless they are part of the Tibetan diaspora – there are many perceptions of it, often widely divergent.
Stephen Batchelor maintains there are five Tibets: Old Tibet as it existed until the Chinese invasion in 1950; Diaspora Tibet centred on the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala; New Tibet as it actually is under the Chinese – and few people outside Tibet see; Romantic Tibet as construed by the likes of Lobsang Rampa (‘The Third Eye‘) and James Hilton (‘Lost Horizon‘); and Buddhist Tibet, where religion trumps ethnicity and culture.
Arguably, much of Old Tibet has disappeared, kept alive perhaps mainly in the minds of the diaspora. Romantic Tibet continues to weave its magic spells, albeit tempered by a more sceptical audience.
The last two Tibets – New and Buddhist – are probably the most potent. New Tibet is inextricably Chinese, for better or worse, and Buddhist Tibet has the potency of passionately held belief, still held and lived by millions both inside Tibet and abroad. These are the Tibets I hope to explore.