Lowell Thomas conquered Tibet, but not vice versa.
"It's a feeble imitation of the Tibet I knew," the broadcaster and world traveler said Monday morning, as he left here for the return flight to Chengtu, China.
For the previous three days, Thomas, 85, was anything but "feeble" as he led his bride, Marianna, around the city he had last seen in 1949, when he came in a caravan across the Himalayas to pay a call on the Dalai Lama, the god-king who ruled Tibet in the name of Buddha.
Thomas was not charmed by the Communist cadres who have governed here since they chased Thomas' friend, the 14th Dalai Lama, into exile in India in 1959.
For the most part, he masked his dissatisfaction behind a steady smile, while peppering the Communist officials with questions. persistently, he asked if anyone knew the fate of those members of the Dalai Lama's Cabinet who remained behind when the 1959 rebellion was crushed. Always, the answer was no.
If the Chinese and Tibetan officials frustrated Thomas' curiosity, he proved even to their satisfaction that he right in contending that despite the pacemaker he wears for an irregular heartbeat, he could handle the scanty oxygen of the 12,800-foot-high capital.
While several others in the party that included prominent Republicans George Bush, Dean Burch and James E. Baker III, suffered from severe headaches, fatigue or nausea, Thomas' energy never flagged. For three hours Sunday, he climbed staircases on a tour of the Potola, the 13-story palace that stands atop a hill dominating the Lhasa Plain.
The Chinese politely made no reference to Thomas' well-known efforts to win worldwide sympathy for the Dalai Lama, but there was a strained moment Saturday afternoon when the American party was taken through a museum depicting the "atrocities" of the old regime.
In a section showing "imperialist" help to the Dalai Lama, there was a photo of Thomas during his 1949 visit, dining with members of the court, an American flag on the table.
When Thomas came across the picture, he just smiled. Another American asked the Tibetan guide, "Do you know who that is? It's Mr. Thomas."
There was a brief flicker of consternation on the guide's face, as he across to Thomas. Then his impassive expression returned, and he shifted and pointed to another panel, showing how the monks had skinned children alive" in the bad old days.