Hiking into the secret heart of Tibetan “paradise”

JIUZHAIGOU, China (Reuters Life!) – A dozen waterwheels spin in a quiet woodland above the village of Rexi, powering not mills but prayers, painted onto endlessly spinning drums.

Barely 6 km (4 miles) away, buses ferry thousands of tourists to visit one of China’s most famous scenic spots, but this small clearing is filled only by the sound of birdsong.

Jiuzhaigou — or nine-village gorge — is one of the gems in China’s tourism crown, where lakes tinted jewel colors by minerals and algae are cradled by pristine forests. Tibetan villages dot the mountain slopes.

But gawping at the scenery is a flood of tourists that tops 10,000 a day in high season, who can make the boardwalks running through the narrow valleys seem like crowded city sidewalks.

For visitors longing to get away from it all, a new “eco-tourism” project aims give them a taste for wilderness by hiking down a smaller valley inside the main park, without the spectacular lakes but with equally precious tranquility.

Jiuzhaigou

Along with a rich collection of plants, birds and animals, Zharu valley hides a sacred waterfall festooned with prayer flags, an important shrine to a holy mountain, civil war hideouts and two ruined villages, that last year had only 88 visitors.

“I wanted to help people get a better sense of the amazing natural beauty here, to get away from the buses and into the wilderness,” said eco-tourism project manager Li Jianyu.

The fluent English-speaker started the program last year after stumbling across long-forgotten plans for a different kind of visit, and has been running it almost single-handedly ever since, doing everything from advertising and translating to guiding, cooking and pitching tents.

There are day hikes, overnight camping and for the very fit a three day trek around the holy mountain, Zhayizhaga, reaching altitudes over 4,000 meters.

WORSHIPPING NATURE

Local Tibetans follow a branch of Buddhism called Bon, which is rooted in animistic traditions. They fought hard to prevent logging in the area in the 60s and 70s, and have always been careful guardians of the land.

“We never cut trees or hunted animals on the sacred mountain,” said guide Langjie, who turned down a well-paid oil industry job to return and work in the valleys where he grew up.

The creation of the park added legal force to the religious injunction that has helped preserve one of China’s most bio-diverse areas, with animals ranging from the famous giant panda to the tiny but also rare Duke of Bedford’s vole.

Langjie, whose father was a blacksmith and grandfather carved print-blocks for prayer flags, told recent visitors about edible plants and herbs, and life in now-deserted villages perched a long walk up mountain slopes to avoid flooding.

Li now has his eye on opening hikes to one of these villages, in the neighboring Hejiao valley — a name that he says means paradise in Tibetan. It is a clutch of wood and adobe houses with roofs anchored by stones, cradled in bird-filled mountains, he says. For now, he needs to show the park that the pilot eco-tourism project has a viable, sustainable future in a country where hiking and camping are only just starting to become popular.

Visitors to the main valleys already stump up around 300 yuan ($44) in entrance fees so authorities are not short of income.

But China has a tradition of nature loving stretching back to figures such as eighth century poet Wang Wei, whose most famous verse, about sunlight-dappled moss in an evening forest, could have been written about Jiuzhaigou.

Jack Li is convinced Wang’s heirs will find his program.

“This is a new kind of tourism for China’s national parks, but I know that we are ready for it.”

(For details of eco-tourism in Jiuzhaigou, go to the park website http://www.jiuzhai.com, email Jack Li at ecotourism@jiuzhai.com, or call +86 (0)837 7737811)

By Emma Graham-Harrison – from Reuters

Global warming benefits to Tibet: Chinese official – (AFP)

BEIJING — Global warming could prove devastating for the Tibetan plateau, the world’s third-largest store of ice, but it helps farming and tourism, Chinese state media said Tuesday, citing a leading expert.

Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, made the comment in an otherwise gloomy assessment of the impact that rising temperatures will have on Tibet, according to the China Daily newspaper.

“Warming is good for agriculture and tourism. It has increased the growing season of crops,” said Qin, now a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China is banking on tourism to help fund development in Tibet, one of its poorest regions, hoping that a railway to the region’s capital Lhasa will boost visitor numbers.

Global warming could prove devastating for Tibet but helps farming and tourism, Chinese state media have said

Global warming could prove devastating for Tibet but helps farming and tourism, Chinese state media have said

From January to July this year, more than 2.7 million tourists visited Tibet, nearly triple the number in the same period of 2008, the Tibet Daily said recently.

While agriculture and tourism stand to benefit, Qin underlined a series of negative consequences that global warming will have in Tibet and surrounding areas.

Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world, he told the paper.

“In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows,” Qin told the paper.

“In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril.”

By AFP – Google