Maps of Tibet from the 17th century based on travellers’ accounts to more accurate contemporary ones are on display at the Tibet Museum in Dharamshala for the next two months. The exhibition, titled ‘Mapping Tibet, aims to show the power relationships with Tibet’s neighbours as well as preserve the historical names of places and geographical features.
Tsering Wangyal Shawa, who has been the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Map Librarian at Princeton University Library since 1998, said the maps tell a story about Tibet. “(It will help) people understand what Tibet is and how the mapping of Tibet evolved over time,” ANI quoted him as saying. He said that Tibet’s modern cartographic history began with a map published in the 17th century based on information obtained from Jesuit missionaries and travellers’ accounts. Most maps in the 17th and 18th centuries were published by either Westerners (including the British Raj) or the Chinese. It was only during the Shimla Convention of 1914 that the Gaden Phodrang government, for the first time, made an effort to officially mark the borders of Tibetan territories. The Gaden Phodrang was the independent Tibetan system of governance that was in effect from the 1640s till the 1950s.
After the establishment of the Central Tibetan Administration, popularly known as the Tibetan government in exile, came into being in 1959, various institutions and individuals made numerous attempts to standardise the map of Tibet. The exhibition has four sections with 42 maps: Maps from the 17th-19th century, Tibet’s map from 1904 to 1918, Tibet’s map after the 1950s, and maps of Lhasa.
Collecting, creating, standardising and understanding cultural and geographical features in the Tibetan language is a means to retain the identity of the places. “Names of places and geographical features are an important part of our cultural environment. If you look at the map these days, it is difficult to recognise many places located in Tibet because they have Chinese-sounding names. I see a danger of losing the original Tibetan names for our places over time,” Shawa said, reports ANI.
Tenzin Topdhen, the director of Tibet Museum, shared the objectives behind the ongoing temporary exhibition, saying it had four sections — Tibet’s map of the 17th-19th century, Tibet’s map from 1904 to 1918, Tibet’s map after the 1950s, and the map of Tibet’s capital, Lhasa.