2008-06-25 13:22:03 GMT 2008-06-25 21:22:03 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
LHASA, June 25 (Xinhua) -- Tibet greeted its first foreign tourists, a Swedish couple, on Wednesday, marking the full opening of Tibet to all overseas and domestic tour groups after a stoppage of more than three months following the March 14 riot in the regional capital of Lhasa.
The couple, 77-year-old Kurt Persson and 62-year-old Eva Sandstrom, arrived in Lhasa late Wednesday afternoon by air from the northwestern Chinese city of Xi'an, the hometown of the famous terracotta warriors.
It was the first time for the couple to visit the autonomous region. They were very excited while being presented with hada, a long piece of silk used as a traditional greeting gift in Tibet, at the Xungbala Hotel near the Jokhang Temple.
"That's fantastic!" said the woman, while pointing to the Potala Palace through the window of the hotel room. "We've been looking forward to visiting Tibet for many years. Its monasteries and landscapes are fascinating."
Sandstrom was aware they were the first foreign tourists after the riot that killed 19, but they took it easy.
"We have no worries about the safety here. It's no problem. The only worry was to get the permission to come to Tibet. We heard that the Tibetan people are kind and friendly."
Persson added they had looked up many documents related to Tibet prior to the trip.
"I would like to share my feelings with you a few days later, when our trip is over," he told Xinhua.
The couple will visit Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkor Street, Norbu Lingka Palace and a museum on Thursday and Friday, said Wang Hongmei, sales manager of the Xigaze bureau of the China International Travel Service.
On the weekend, they will visit Xigaze City and Gyangze County in southern Tibet. They will leave for Beijing by train on Monday, Wang said.
The couple had visited Shanghai and Xi'an before they came to Tibet, Sandstrom said.
Wang said her travel agency was now stepping up efforts to promote Tibetan tourism overseas.
"We want to bring more foreign travelers here," she said.
The regional government stopped issuing tourist permits to overseas travelers and the tourism authorities suggested travel agencies postpone organizing tour groups in the wake of the riot. It cited safety concerns and the reconstruction of tourism facilities around scenic spots damaged in the unrest.
Independent domestic travelers have not been prohibited from entering the region.
Tibet was re-opened to domestic tour groups on April 23, followed by visitors from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan in May. As of June 20, the region had received more than 160 tour groups.
A second group of foreign tourists, four Singaporeans, will arrive on Sunday, according to the Tibet Autonomous Regional Bureau of Tourism.
(Writing by Xinhua writer Li Jianmin in Beijing, reporting by Xinhua's Lhasa bureau reporters Doje and Hu Xing)