Thanks in large part to the spanking new high-altitude train route that makes it possible to travel all the way to Tibet in one trip, tourism statistics for the Chinese territory is now soaring at eye-popping levels. The revenue from tourism has jumped precipitously and significantly to over 650 million USD this year – up 73% from the figures of the past year. Interestingly, this has caused a lot of concern regarding the issue of inward migration and possible environmental degradation that could then be the undoing of the place that many consider to be the ‘roof of the world’.
Before the construction of the railway, Lhasa – the capital of Tibet – was only reachable by plane after a long and challenging journey across the mountainous region of China. This physical barrier has enabled the territory to preserve their unique way of life and culture despite the encroachment and increasing influence of the Chinese government. Now that the railway is already operational, there is no stopping people from outside Tibet from going in and dominating the towns. The more business savvy and entrepreneurial Chinese from outside Tibet could easily supplant existing Tibetan industries and render native Tibetans as a minority both politically and economically.
The exiled leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, has repeatedly voiced out his concerns regarding the situation and considers the development a serious threat against the cultural and economical integrity of Tibet. Though the railway may have opened the doors of the once remote and inaccessible land, it might have opened the proverbial can of worms that would give rise to a set of new challenges for Tibetans to contend with.