Glimpse into Hometown of the Dalai Lama
    2011-03-10 17:35:50     Xinhua      Web Editor: Xu
 
A taste of change -- Glimpse into hometown of the Dalai Lama


by Xinhua writers Wang Ruoyao, Chen Guozhou and Li Na 

Sterile farmland, a terrible climate and harvest failures - this describes the harsh life that Lhamo Thondup, later being given the title of the Dalai Lama, and his extended family lived with in a high plateau village.

His parents worked hard year after year, but their efforts were often ruined by severe hail or drought, the fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso recalled in his autobiography, which was published in 1991.

He spent four years living in the remote village formerly known as Taktser, which is located on the eastern fringe of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, until he was identified in 1939 as the incarnate of the deceased thirteenth Dalai Lama.

Twenty years later, the Tibetan spiritual leader fled Lhasa, capital of China' s southwest Tibet Autonomous Region, and has been living in exile for more than half a century.

In a speech the 75-year-old old Dalai Lama delivered Thursday in the Indian hill town Dharamsala, he alleged that he will resign his political role and devolve his formal authority to an elected leader.

Renamed "Hongai" , the village is now home to 274 residents, including 44 Tibetan families and 25 Han families. It is administered by Shihuiyao Township in Ping' an County in the northwestern province of Qinghai.

For generations local residents have made a living by growing highland barley and potatoes. Even today, Hongai village is among the most impoverished villages in less-developed Qinghai.

However, profiting from the increasing openness of China's social environment and the country's decade-long efforts to boost development in underdeveloped western regions, many Hongai villagers have left the barren land to seek jobs in different locales.

GOING OUTSIDE

Tsihen, a Hongai villager, can't help but worry about his son, who is working in the provincial capital of Xining City.

"I often call him, telling him not to hang out with bad boys and not to get into trouble," the 45-year-old woman told Xinhua, as she sat on a sofa in her newly-decorated living room.

Working as an eatery waiter, the 19-year-old currently earns a monthly salary of about 1,000 yuan (about 152 U.S. dollars). The average monthly income of a Chinese farmer was about 493 yuan last year.

Besides hanging around or gambling, Tsihen's husband is doing odd jobs sometimes at construction sites.

The family, however, planned to make some quick money by picking caterpillar fungus, a valuable Chinese medicinal plant that grows on meadows at an elevation ranging from 2,800 meters to 5,400 meters.

In some drugstores in big cities like Beijing, every gram costs several hundred yuan.

"In April, we will head for major growing areas of caterpillar fungus in Qinghai. We expect to earn 40,000 to 50,000 yuan this year," Tsihen said, adding that many well-off families made a fortune this way.

However, they may still face a great risk since the local government has prohibited people from flocking to caterpillar fungus-rich areas because years of excessive harvests have jeopardized the already fragile ecological system of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

The government provides an alternative to make money for people looking to improve their lives. The government offers funds to teach people how to make stretched noodles, a Qinghai staple food which now gets increasing favor from urbanites.

"Running a snack bar in Xining can bring 20,000 to 30,000 yuan a year," said Liang Zhengxian, a Shihuiyao township official.

Also, to repair the ecological system damaged by excessive reclamation, half of the farmland in Hongai Village has been converted into forestry.

Advised by local agricultural offices, villagers began planting cash crops such as broad beans and rape on the remaining farmland, which brought families 10,000 to 20,000 yuan last year.

Now, almost each family in the village owns a TV set and a motorcycle, while some better-off villagers have bought automobiles and gain Internet access.

In 2010, the government subsidized all households in the village to rebuild homes and renovate courtyards.

NOBLE FAMILY

Among the rich people in the village, Gonpo Tashi is the most envied and revered by his neighbors.

Gonpo, aged 65, is a nephew of the fourteenth Dalai Lama and guards the Dalai Lama birthplace.

Gonpo has served for 13 years one public office, offering advice to the county government.

He and his wife live on both his salary and generous donations from followers of the Dalai Lama.

Gonpo has a son and three daughters, two out of whom are members of the Communist Party of China.

In reverence for the clan that raised a "big shot" worshipped by the Tibetan communities, "Nobody ever inquired about the income of the Gonpo family," Tsihen said.

Although the Chinese government has lambasted the Dalai Lama's "attempts to separate Tibet from China", it invested nearly 380,000 yuan in rebuilding his former residence in 1986, 27 years after he went into exile.

Since then, Gonpo poured hundreds of thousands of yuan into the house renovation. Now, the courtyards have a two-storey wooden building and a prayer hall.

Driving a Mazda sedan and using a Motorola cell phone, Gonpo seems well adapted to the modern lifestyle.

However, he still spends nearly four hours a day in the wooden building. At dawn, he chants prayers and worships his uncle; in the evening, he burns incense and cleans rooms.

On the first floor of the building is a chanting hall to accommodate visiting pilgrims, and on the second floor lies a bedchamber Gonpo prepared for his uncle the Dalai Lama. ` Outside the chamber stands a customized, bright yellow throne, which cost Gonpo 20,000 yuan, and photos of the Dalai Lama with hand-written inscriptions.

"The Dalai Lama is a top living buddha," Gonpo said. "Everything must be prepared in line with the religious rituals."

In the 1990s, Gonpo visited twice his uncle, who gave him Buddha sculptures, photos, a monk robe and pieces of Thangka, a traditional Tibetan painting.

"I miss him very much," he said. "I will feel greatly satisfied if his body can sit on this throne at least once."

Gonpo also said he believed the soul of the Dailai Lama had returned to his hometown for many times.

FREE VISITS

In recent years, the former residence of the Dalai Lama has drawn an influx of devout pilgrims and curious tourists across the country.

Local officials said that the number of visitors has reached 5,000 a year, these include Buddhist believers, monks, officials and journalists.

A Xinhua reporter saw three monks driving a Volkswagen sedan to make a brief pilgrimage at the site. They took a group photo at the courtyard before leaving.

"The Dalai Lama's home is not far way. I went there twice," said Losang Samdan, a Tibetan Buddhist monk at Chorten Ki Monastery in Huzhu County, which neighbors Ping'an County.

"People can visit here whenever they want, which shows that the country's religious policies are really loose and tolerant," Gonpo said, adding that the government never expressed discontent over the worshipping.

"By means of advanced communication technologies, visitors can easily tell what they see to people they know," he said.

The increasing visitors to Hongai Village also brought residents business opportunities. Tsihen wanted to start a canteen in the village with the money expected from selling caterpillar fungus.

"That will cost 30,000 to 40,000 yuan," she said. "We'll buy a car first before buying stocks."
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