While arguably not a disaster in the conventional sense (and exactly the opposite if you ask the Chinese), Tibetans are particularly concerned that China’s railway, which currently connects Beijing and Lhasa, and is planned to extend to within a short drive of Everest, will only further exacerbate existing problems in the region.
The train has been controversial for spurring a flood of tourism and immigration of Han Chinese into the region. In 2007, the number of tourists visiting Everest’s north side (there is now a paved road all the way to 16,000 feet) reached 27,476, double the number from the year before. In 2010, the Chinese broke ground on the first extension to Tibet’s second-largest city, Shigatse, en route to the Himalayas. The rapid increase in the number of Chinese in the area has already sparked bloody protests in Lhasa and there have been arrests of activists at Base Camp as well. And while the Chinese tout the region’s great economic opportunities, Tibetan monks in neighboring India continue to protest the spiritual oppression, human-rights violations, and exile of their leader, the Dalai Lama, by setting themselves on fire in the streets.