An eight-month bicycle ride from France to Cambodia has given 74-year-old Paul Dubrule a chance to see a different Tibet from what he had learnt in France.
"I spent three months riding through Tibet during that trip. This experience completely changed my perspective about the region," Dubrule, chairman and founder of the leading multinational hotel group Accor Group, told Xinhua here on Friday.
"Compared with those talking about Tibet in the French media but never setting foot in the region, I think I have more things to tell," he said.
In 2002, Dubrule, then 68, made a 15,000-kilometer journey by bicycle from his home at Fontainebleau to Siem Reap, Cambodia, during which he rode from Ngari in west Tibet to Qamdo in its east.
"Before arriving in Tibet, I thought local people were under repression of the central government as many other Westerners (thought)," he said.
But, during the tour, he saw schools, hospitals, power plants, airports, and especially highways.
"I saw many roads under construction," he said. "Along my way, I met many local people. Their life was not as good as in France but I found they were benefiting from the economic development."
Dubrule had read books about Tibet since the 1990s and many of them portrayed the Dalai Lama as a "saint" and "victim". But he later learnt in Tibet that under the Dalai Lama's rule there was no medical service in an area between Ngari and Lhasa. The former is about 1,000 km away from the latter.
"In Tibet, I found that people would like to have the region modernized rather than maintaining old lifestyles simply for tourists," he said.
He did not agree with the Dalai Lama who said economic development in Tibet was causing a disappearance of traditional culture. "If a culture can not move forwards with economic and social development, it will end up in the museum instead of blessing its people."
"Should anyone refuse development, schools and hospitals in the name of protecting culture and religion?"
In his 50,000-word travel book, "Le Test du Cocotier", he wrote about what he saw in Tibet and was criticized by some back home for his stance to support present policies in the autonomous region.
"I am not surprised. Because many French had not been to Tibet, most of the information they got about the region was biased or confused. The real Tibetan history is unknown to many," he said. "I believe that they will change once they have the access to more positive information and exchanges with Tibet."
His travel book was published in Chinese in 2005. On the book's cover, Dubrule, on his bike, passed several Tibetans worshipping local mountain spirits.
"Although I have never met the Dalai Lama, I would like to tell him that a country should protect the religious belief of its people but religions should not be a tool for people to turn against their country," he said.