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Overseas tourists on rise in Tibetan-inhabited region
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21:55, April 16, 2008

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It was 6 p.m. on Monday, tourists made a beeline for Tancheng Plaza, the largest open-air dancing pool in Shangri-La, a well-known scenic spot in Yunnan Province, southwest China.

On reaching the plaza, tourists of different colors quickly formed into a circle around a lamppost and danced the Tibetan Bonfire Dance, called "Guozhuo" in Tibetan and " Guozhuang" in Mandarin, according to the rhythm of the music.

The happiest of all was Cering Zhoima, a local woman tour guide.

"Thank god, I finally had a tour group to work for after so many days," said the woman who is employed by Qingnan Airlines Travel Service. These days, Zhoima has been providing service to a group of more than 20 domestic and overseas tourists.

Shangri-La, capital of Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Diqing, sits in the junction of Yunnan, Sichuan provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is famous for its breathtaking natural scenery described in James Hilton's 1933 novel "Lost Horizon."

Diqing has largely depended on tourism for development. The prefecture received 3.8 million tourists last year, including 400,000 foreigners.

Tourism, however, fell off a cliff in most of the Tibetan-inhabited areas and in Tibet as a result of riots in Lhasa and elsewhere from March 14 onwards.

Because the safety of tourists was uncertain, travel services were advised to postpone organizing group tours to Tibetan-inhabited areas, including Diqing.

Many group tours confirmed last year had to be cancelled temporarily, and the prefecture suffered heavy losses.

In the past, April was a busy season for tourism in Diqing. Tourists from Thailand chose to worship Moirigkawagarbo, a snow-capped mountain, in Diqing in April, said Tibetan woman and local tour guide Zhoima.

"The first few days of this April were different and fewer overseas tourists could be seen," said Zhoima.

Hozhiba, another local Tibetan farmer-turned taxi driver, said Shangri-La was so quiet in late March that he could barely find customers.

"Without customers, I had to draw on my own savings each day," said the 39-year-old Hozhiba, who has to support two teenage sons in the ninth grade at school.

Overseas tourists are crowding to this southwest Chinese Tibetan area since last Thursday when Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefectural authorities announced it would reopen to foreigners.

Signs of recovery have emerged.

Statistics show Hutiao Gorge, a local scenic site in Diqing, has received 2,700 tourists since last Friday, of whom, 300 were overseas.

"Thanks to the announcement, more tourists are coming to Shangri-La, I have had more customers in the past few days, some of them were foreigners. I do hope business can get better day by day," said Hozhiba.


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