studies show they carry a gene that enables them to make efficient use of the
depleted oxygen in the thin air.
A period of 3000 years corresponds to about 100 generations so it seems
this is more than sufficient for the adaptation to occur. People who carry the
favourable gene presumably have an advantage over those that don’t. They
raise more children and the gene spreads through the population.
The Tibetan’s are a light skinned people with an amazing ability to produce
melanin. On a trip into the highlands with my friend Kangi, I met herdsmen
with faces tanned black by the high-altitude sun. They were so dark I thought
they came from southern India. Later, when we went down to a stream to
wash, they displayed skin tones not much different from my European pallor .
I guess this is another favourable adaptation.
The Tibetans were once fierce warriors who terrorised their neighbours with
a ferocity that put them in the same league at the Mongol hordes. Then they
found Buddha and adopted his teachings. Monasteries dot the land and
many young men spend time as monks before joining the workforce,
somewhat as other young men attend university. The picture (above) is of
young monks engaged in a mid-morning debating session.
Old Lhasa is still there. The ancient shrines and old houses continue to
stand beside the famous Potola Palace but the scene is changing
rapidly. Modern steel and concrete buildings are sprouting up. I'm
reminded of what happened to old Jerusalem.
The Chinese authorities are taking pains to preserve the physical past and
the latest technology is being used to record it. Indeed, they are measuring
everything with such diligence that some Tibetans fear they are planning to
cut it up and cart it back to Beijing where it will be re-erected as a theme park.
I discount that possibility. At the same time, I take the point about theme
parks. I've seen what happened to Mont St Michel and a lot of other places
that preserved their old buildings and lost their character.
Lhasa is, of course, best known for the Potola Palace . The old residential
quarter is worth a visit and the markets are interesting but the palace is the
real gem. It occupies a ridge above the city. There have been buildings and
shrines on the site for well over a thousand years. The present complex