China has banned foreign visitors to Tibet following recent cases of self-immolations by two Tibetans in Lhasa against Chinese rule. Travel agents speculate that the unexplained ban could be due to Saka Dawa festival, a month long commemoration of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing, that traditionally attracts many Buddhist pilgrims to the region. Tibetan travel authorities have not given an official reason for banning foreign visitors nor set a date for lifting the ban.
China has sporadically banned foreigners to Tibet over the years. Tibet was closed to foreign tourists for more than a year in 2008 after large scale Tibetan protests rocked the region. In normal times China requires overseas tourists to obtain special permits to travel to remote region.
The recent self-immolations by Dorje Tsetan and Dhargyal ten days earlier on the 6th day of Saka Dawa, represented a major escalation in the scope of these protests in Tibet’s capital which had been under intense security since 2008. Since February 2008, there have been 38 self-immolation protests throughout Tibetan regions.