Chinese authorities in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa have sharply cut visiting hours for Buddhist devotees at the city’s Jokhang temple, a major pilgrimage site, citing COVID-19 concerns but leaving the temple complex open longer for tourists, according to a public notice this week.
Beginning Wednesday, Buddhist worshippers may enter the Jokhang from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., while tourists coming mainly from China may visit from 12:00 noon to 7:30 p.m., the May 17 notice issued by the Tsuglakhang Temple Management group says.
Tsuglakhang is the name of the larger temple and administration complex in Lhasa of which the Jokhang is a part.
Fears of a possible spread of COVID-19 in the city amid concerns over a new outbreak in India and Nepal were the reasons for establishing the restricted hours, said the notice, a copy of which was obtained by RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“More contagious variants are also on the rise, and so it’s time to take further preventive measures,” the notice read.
Authorities have already urged Tibetan Buddhists to limit their observance of traditional religious practices during Saga Dawa, the holy fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said on May 12.
Citing a May 9 notice by the Lhasa City Buddhist Association, ICT said that concerns over the spread of COVID-19—especially through cases of infection coming from neighboring countries--were given as the reasons for the authorities’ request.
These reasons make little sense, though, ICT said, “given that the authorities have not stopped any Chinese tourists from coming to Lhasa and other Tibetan areas [and that] COVID variants have been found in major Chinese cities.”
Tourism surges in Tibet
Tourism in fact has recently surged in Tibet, with a total of 706,700 tourists entering the Tibet Autonomous Region during the May 1 holiday period, and arrivals by train up 20 percent and arrivals by air up 28 percent during the year’s first quarter, according to TAR officials and Chinese media sources.
China appears to be using measures to protect the public health as a “pretext to continue reducing space for Tibetan Buddhists to practice their faith during this holy month,” ICT said at the start of Saga Dawa on May 12.
“Moreover, China has refused to stop the flow of Chinese tourists to Tibet, undermining its stated goal of reducing the spread of the virus and adding to the preferential treatment Chinese citizens receive in the Tibetan homeland,” ICT said.
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.