Barren land turned into oasis: afforestation pays off in Xigaze

China Plus Published: 2017-09-29 16:12:49
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Namling used to be a barren, windy land on the north bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River.[Photo: Gao Yun/CRI]

Namling used to be a barren, windy land on the north bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River.[Photo: Gao Yun/CRI]

Located to the west of Lhasa, Xigaze is a prosperous Buddhism city as it is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. In the past it was the most important political and cultural center of Tsang. A series of majestic buildings added strength to its political status. Nowadays, these buildings, the former symbols of power, have been converted into tourist highlights of the city. These cultural relics, especially the monasteries, with their mystery and rich holy color tell the history of Xigaze and show the status of Buddhism in people's lives. In addition to the cultural relics, the area occupies a charming high-plateau land with attractive natural beauty. The complex landscape of this region endows it with various natural tourism resources. Many special types of natural scenery like Mount Qomolangma, the world's highest peak and other snow-capped high peaks add much charm to this remote land.

Mt. Qomolangma, is the highest peak in the world. Its Tibetan meaning of 'Goddess the Third' adds more mysterious color and magic power to the subject. As a result, it has intrigued all kinds of people since it was first discovered. Pilgrims trek long distances to present a pious worship, climbing enthusiasts run great risks to challenge its high altitude and the common visitors also yearn for a reverent look at this holy peak.

The 8,848 meters-high peak is snow-capped throughout the year. Massive glaciers and seracs feature a thrilling splendor. The peak has been a holy climbing attraction for world's mountaineers. 

As the supreme point of the world, Mt. Qomolangma is also blessed with many extreme wonders. The top part of the mountain is covered with snow all the year round. When the glaring sun shines on the mountain, the peak is just like a white pyramid miraculously transformed by the Goddess, leading us to imagine her semblance further. More often than not, the thick freely moving clouds and fogs, seeming as if a flag with the mast of the peak was swinging, will shroud the peak. This peculiar phenomenon is known as 'Flag Cloud'. 

An additional wonder generated here are the bright glaciers, where ices are formed into various shapes like bridges, pagodas and others. You can also find miles of efflorescent rock physiognomy there, such as stalagmites, stelae, stone sword, and stone pagodas. The climbing pathfinders call this splendor at such high attitude 'the Largest Park on the High Mountain'.

At the foot of this world's highest mountain is located the highest temple in the world, Rongbuk Monastery, at the altitude of about 5000 meters.

Now Namling is a scenic attraction that boasts extensive forests and rich vegetation. [Photo: Gao Yun/CRI]

Now Namling is a scenic attraction that boasts extensive forests and rich vegetation. [Photo: Gao Yun/CRI]

Numerous monasteries in Xigaze give this land heavy religious atmosphere. Within the City, the resplendent Tashihunpo Monastery is the most attractive structure. 

The Monastery was built in 1447 at the foot of Nyima Mountain on the outskirts of Xigaze, under the supervision of the First Dalai Lama. It was expanded by the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Panchen Lamas, and has become the seat of the reincarnation lineage of the Panchen Lamas. 

The Monastery is the largest in the area and one of six Shamanism monasteries in China. The most magnificent architecture in the Monastery is the big Maitreya Hall and Panchen Lama Stupa Hall. 

The monastery also houses the 22.4-meter-high gilded statue of Avalokiteshuara Buddha, the tallest of its kind in the world. This image of the Buddha shows him as being vividly kind and generous.

In the city, you can also go to visit the Panchen Lama's Palace. It is situated in the southwest of the city and houses many historical relics of Tibet and many delicate works of art. With a magnificent architectural style and peaceful environment, it is quite a good place for a summer visit. In addition to the Buddhist buildings, local residences in Xigaze are also worth a visit. In the north of the city, there is a clean and ordered old district. Most of the houses here are in typical Tibetan architecture style. 

The Tibetan people love white so that walls of local houses are in white color. In the front door of every home, there are paintings of scenes and characters from the scriptures to dispel evil; while on the roof of each family dwelling prayer flags are hung.

The unique landscape and culture in Xigaze has made it a pilgrimage of nature lovers and culture seekers.   

Namling County in the northeast of Xigaze is also one of the scenic attractions that boast extensive forests and rich vegetation. However, it was yet a barren, windy land on the north bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River three years ago. Zhang Wei-jiang, from the local forestry authorities tells us more. 

“It used to be a barren desert of bleakness and desolation. The local residents and even those in towns 70 kilometers away suffered from severe dust and sand storm caused by outflows of the loose sand up from the desert. ”

the ecological demonstration area on the north bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River. [Photo: Gao Yun/CRI]<br>

The ecological demonstration area on the north bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River. [Photo: Gao Yun/CRI]

In 2013, the government of the Tibet autonomous region made the forestation project on the north bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River a regional ecological restoration strategy, following the central government's call to create an ecological civilization.

The planned forest will cover 28,000 hectares and is expected to be finished in 17 years. An ecological demonstration area has been built with a combination of arbors, shrubs and grasses. Residents can also plant high-yield highland barley and organic potatoes.

Now in Namling County, there are about 58000 mu artificial grassland and 2 million trees that makes a 50-kilometer long green corridor. 

Planting trees on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is different from planting them elsewhere. In late March, when many places enter a warm spring, the soil on the plateau remains partially frozen, and it's difficult even for heavy equipment to dig a hole. 

Despite this, none of the procedures for planting trees can be omitted, especially the application of fertilizer. To ensure the trees' survival under the harsh conditions, tree planters must transport fertile soil from the other places to fill in the hole, together with large amounts of sheep manure, cow dung and other organic fertilizers. Watering must be done in a timely manner. Deputy director of the local Forestry Bureau, Zhang Wei-jiang explains to us.

“All over the entire demonstration area, there is 80-centimeter thick layer of earth removed from other places to improve the local soil. Most of the trees are white poplar, willows and sea buckthorn. Like a banyan or aspen tree, many roots can sprout from a single sea buckthorn and gradually result in a small cluster of trees. The survival rate of the trees is 95 percent, thanks to rangers' care.”

Zhang Wei-jiang said planting is only the first step; looking after the trees is much more important on the plateau because of the harsh environment. Water is a key factor. So the irrigation water conservancy works were firstly established, and then it came to choosing the right trees and standardized the potholing, planting, watering and earthing-up procedures to ensure the survival rate.

1.2 million yuan is invested organizing a 60-person forest ranger team, most of whom are Tibetan shepherds. Under the direction of professional forestry technicians, they have become adept at irrigating, applying fertilizer, pruning, pest control, fence maintenance and fire prevention.

Over the past 3 years, 150 million yuan were invested in this forestation campaign and 30 thousand mu land that used to be barren are now covered with lush forests. The ecological demonstration area is built with a combination of arbors, shrubs and grasses. Residents can also plant high-yield highland barley and organic potatoes.  

The vegetation improves the soil, and all kinds of wild grass sprouts up under the trees. In autumn, the forest attracts wild doves, black-necked cranes, rabbits and foxes, which further contribute to the restoration of the ecology and help form a positive cycle in the ecological system.

Zhang Wei-jiang again.

“Since the development of the ecological demonstration area in 2014, the number of sandy days has been reduced by one-third, the oxygen content in the air in the area has increased 5 percent and the humidity has risen 10 percent.”

In fact, the ecological demonstration area in Namling is the pilot project of an expansive green campaign that encompasses the areas along the Yarlung Zangbo River, the Lhasa and Nujiang Rivers, the Nianchu River, the Yarlung River and the Shiquan River, which account for the living areas of 80% of Tibet’s total population. 

The campaign totally covers an area of 420 thousand mu that includes forests of 150 thousand mu, 40 thousand mu artificial grassland and a 384-kilometer long green corridor spanning along the plateau.  The green campaign is actually among the local government’s enormous efforts in preserving its environment and pursuing sustainable development in recent years. During the 12th Five-Year Plan, Tibet launched 38 projects to protect wetlands, covering an area of 16 million acres. The regional government built 73 security squads with a total of 780 members to protect the habitats of the autonomous region’s protected animals, including the Tibetan antelope, Tibetan wild donkey and wild yak, in the Changtang National Nature Reserve, the largest of its kind in China.

At present, 70 per cent of Tibet’s territory, or 308,880 square miles, is banned or restricted from being used for development. The autonomous region has also built 47 nature reserves with a total area of 159,150 square miles, accounting for 34.35 per cent of the region’s territory.

Local residents with economic difficulties have also benefited from the environmental protection efforts. The regional government has hired more than 300,000 farmers and herdsmen as rangers and security staff to protect the forests and wild animals. Zhang Wei-jiang told us that the local herdsmen in Namling have made a total income of 35 million yuan in the past 3 years by planting trees and taking care of the forests. 

“The forest project and government forestry subsidy have increased incomes of many families, lifted people out of poverty and created jobs so that locals don't need work elsewhere.” 

As president Xi Jin-ping has reiterated that clear waters and green mountains are as good as mountains of gold and silver; the afforestation in Namling and the ecological efforts in Tibet has not only preserved a beautiful and sound environment for the local people and also boosted the development of local economy and brought plenty of job opportunities for local residents.

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