High up in the Himalayas, on the famous Tibetan Plateau, life is hard. For many small villages, there only income comes from nomadic herding of yaks and sheep, or arable farming of wheat and barley. In this harsh and arid land, many families barely survive through the cold winters, some only relying on the small subsidies that they get from the Chinese government that mean they can eat through the harsh winter months.
Explore Tibet is a travel company based in Lhasa, which operates Tibet tours for foreign visitors to Tibet. One of only a few Lhasa-based local Tibetan tour operators, Explore Tibet are one of the largest tour operators in the region, providing foreign tourists with the opportunity to visit this amazing land on the highest plateau in the world. People come to Tibet for many reasons, some to visit Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, some to tour around the lakes and monasteries in the region, exploring the stunning beauty of this land in the sky. But for all who visit here, they are treated to a unique experience of the culture and people of Tibet that leaves a lasting impression on them, and many come back again and again to experience more.
Traveling to Southern Tibet on the Bhutan border
On December 8, 2017, the team from Explore Tibet, consisting of 12 tour guides, 10 drivers, and 4 office staff, took to the road to do their own exploration of the remote areas of Tibet, and to help out in a big way with some of the poorer communities. The Explore Tibet Team left Lhasa and headed south, towards the Bhutan border, where there are some well-known local monasteries that are revered in Tibetan Buddhism.
The first stop was around 10 hours driving from Lhasa, which took them to the Cijie Monastery, in Comai County of Shannan Prefecture, after stopping at a small place in Comai for lunch. On the second day, they left Cijie monastery to continue their trip to Se Villiage (Sexiang), around nine hour’s drive. The journey took in the beautiful Karchu Monastery, set on the side of a hill and sitting at around 5,015 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest monasteries in Tibet. Located near the small village of Lakhang, this beautiful monastery is surrounded by alpine forests, and is often covered in low clouds.
From Se Village, it is a five-hour drive to the beautiful Seykhar Guthok monastery, and the nearby Drowa Long monastery. These are both sacred monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism, and the watchtower at Seykhar Guthok was built by Milarepa, by his own hands, on the orders of his master, Marpa Lotsawa. The monasteries were often used by the famous scholars, and have the meditations caves where Marpa Lotsawa would spend days in meditation while translating the Buddhadharma scripts.
On the fourth day of the tour, the team headed off towards the holy Lake Yamdrok, one of the four holy lakes of Tibetan Buddhism. On the road to Lake Yamdrok, the team passed by the beautiful Puma Yumco Lake, which lies just to the southwest of Lake Yamdrok, at an elevation of 5,030 meters. Puma Yumco means “The Blue Jewel floating in the sky”, and in winter, the waters freeze leaving intricate patterns of ice across the surface. With winter temperatures in the region reaching as low as minus nineteen degrees, life on the lakeside is hard.
Explore Tibet Provides Winter Clothes to a Small Tibetan Villages Situated Above 5300m
On the northeast shore of the lake lies the small village of Thui (Tuiwa), a nomadic settlement of shepherds who rely on the lake and its surrounding pastures for their livelihoods. A settlement of only 149 people, made up of just 43 families, the village has many families that can only survive the winter with the small government subsidies that they receive. As part of the trip, the Explore Tibet team had brought winter clothes and jackets to distribute to people who needed them in the cold, harsh Tibetan climate. 9,000 CNY was spent on the clothing for the people, and another 2,000 CNY was given as monetary aid to the families.
Warm winter clothes were given to all the residents of the village, with extra jackets and socks to help keep the elders of the village warmer. Of all the village elders, there were only a few that were over 60 years of age, so the jackets were distributed to all those over 50. The charity giving was organized with the help of the local monastery campus, who hosted the event, and the village head, who organized each family to collect their warm clothes and jackets, and distribute the money fairly.
Families in strife in the harsh winter climate
Inside the village were three families that the team spoke to that were living in extremely hard circumstances. The first was a divorced mother of two children, who worked hard to try and send the older child to school, as well as looking after the younger child, who was just two years old. As the only source of income for her family, the woman juggled her work with her duties as a mother.
Another family of four was in dire straits, with the father of the kids being in a hospital in Lhasa due to cancer. The younger son was staying in Lhasa with the father, as there was no one else to look after him, while the older son was at high school in Thui Village, where the mother was staying. With very little income, the family were struggling to pay for the expensive treatments for the husband’s cancer.
The third family they looked to be a young woman of 27 who had been left by her husband with their two-year-old daughter. With no husband, and her only income coming from looking after some of the village’s grasslands, she had very little money to survive on and cover the needs of herself and her young daughter.
Tibet is a land where subsistence farming and livestock herding is often the only income for many families in the remote areas of the plateau, far from the big cities of Lhasa and Shigatse. The farmers work hard throughout the year, and earn very little in the way of income for their crops and produce. It is a place where even just a small amount can make a big difference to a family living on the edge of starvation, and where trips like the one made every year by Explore Tibet, to help those less fortunate, can help with the lives and survival of a whole village.