Tibet is a vast and beautiful country. It is bounded on three sides by some of the highest mountains in the world – the rugged Karakorams and Ladakh mountains in the west, the wild and remote Chang Tang range to the north, and the great rock barrier of the Himalayas that runs for 2,400 kilometers along Tibet’s southern border. No wonder Tibet has been called the ‘Roof of the World’, for the average height of the land is around 4,500 meters.
In the past, Tibet’s encircling of mountains has acted like a kind of fortress. Conquering armies were dismayed by the soaring mountain precipices, the bitter winds and snow and the absence of roads. This is one of the reasons why Tibet was spared by the fierce Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan. Even in the east, where there are no high mountains, the country is rugged and barren and the distances are enormous – it is over 1,200 kilometers from Lhasa to the Chinese frontier. So geography protected Tibet and her people. This is one of the reasons why the way of life of the people remained so little changed for hundreds of years. The nomad’s life, for example, was almost the same in 1940 as it was in the time of the First Dalai Lama – the only difference perhaps, was that by the later date he might have exchanged his sword for a rifle.
In the following pages you can read about the lives and customs of Tibetans. We will look at some of the different people – at the nomads and their wanderings over the high mountain pastures; at the peasant farmers tilling the soil on the fertile plateaus – for Tibet is not all wild and barren. You can read about life in the monasteries and in the Holy City of Lhasa, and about the pastimes, sports and festivals of the people. For history is not just about dates and the lives of famous people. It is also about ordinary men and women – how they lived, worked, married and passed their time.