Snapshots of life at the foot of world’s highest peak

Photo taken on April 25, 2020 shows the scenery of Mount Qomolangma at sunset in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

Witty herders, spring plowing and hot spring baths… Life at the foot of Mount Qomolangma is not just about surviving the hardships of nature.

(Xinhua) — At dawn, Dorje put on a heavy cotton coat and a hat, carried a bag on his back, and walked out of his house into the vast alpine meadows.

The herdsman, in his 40s, has been living all his life in Pasum, a village located at the foot of Mount Qomolangma, the world’s highest peak. Dorje’s village is administered by the Zhaxizom Township, located at about 4,200 meters above sea level and the closest human habitat to the mountain.

Shepherd Dorje is seen at Zhaxizom Township in Tingri County, Xigaze, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, May 4, 2020. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

He leaned on the grass under the sun while leisurely keeping an eye on his flock of sheep in the distance, though there was one thing bothering him – the high altitude sickness, quite uncommon for a local Tibetan.

“I have been suffering from frequent headaches since I was a kid, but look, headaches never bother my sheep,” he said.

Climbers and surveyors hike toward a higher spot on their journey to the summit of Mount Qomolangma after setting out from a base camp at the peak in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region on May 6, 2020.  (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

Not far from where Dorje lives, a team of over 30 Chinese surveyors are taking an arduous journey to the peak, aiming to remeasure the exact height of the mountain.

Dorje heard about the news and cracked a joke, “Is the mountain getting higher? Heavens, my head will ache more if it gets any higher,” he said.

Dorje is not surprised by the number of tourists and climbers who come to the area frequently from April to October every year. But this year, the COVID-19 epidemic has affected tourism and sequentially forced mountain climbing to be suspended.

He went on herding his sheep to another piece of grass that was breaking through the hard ground. “Spring seems to be late this year, but my lambs need this grass to grow,” he said.

Photo taken on May 4, 2020 shows a village of Zhaxizom Township in Tingri County, Xigaze, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

The weather is less predictable at the foot of the Himalayas and the spring season is about two months later than that of other cities like Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region.

In a village nearby, locals are just beginning this year’s spring plowing. Gesang, 51, went to his cropland early in the morning to hold the plowing ceremony.

He took with him some flora, roasted highland barley flour, pure water, and a sacred book used for praying for a bumper harvest.

A senior farmer is seen during a spring farming ceremony at Zhaxizom Township in Tingri County, Xigaze, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, May 4, 2020. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

At such high altitude, highland barley is the most-favored plant for the soil. It can be grounded into flour and made into zanba, a staple food for the Tibetans, or brew into highland barley wine.

Photo taken on May 4, 2020 shows a spring farming ceremony at Zhaxizom Township in Tingri County, Xigaze, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

Gesang flung a handful of roasted highland barley flour up in the air and murmured the prayers for a good harvest in autumn. After the ceremony, he began to sow the seeds.

Children also participate in farming. Tenzin, a 6-year-old boy, stands on the plow for it to bite deeper into the soil, his hands tightly gripping the horsetail to keep balance. The boy goes to a village kindergarten, but schooling has not resumed due to the epidemic.

A little boy helps his father plow in a field at Zhaxizom Township in Tingri County, Xigaze, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, May 4, 2020. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

People have a rest after a spring farming ceremony at Zhaxizom Township in Tingri County, Xigaze, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, May 4, 2020. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)

Yet life at the “roof of the world” is not only about surviving the hardships of nature. Locals also know how to make their life as pleasing as possible.

Lochu, another village, offers hot spring baths for local people to drive away their cold and soothe pains from chronic diseases such as arthritis and rheumatism, often found in locals.

Samzhub, 37, is one to enjoy a hot spring bath in a Tibetan-style adobe house in the village.

“We get tired working in the field, but a good hot bath makes the stress go away. The hot spring baths also work well to prevent these plateau diseases,” he said.

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