Different Views of a World Heritage Site in China

On July 12, 2017, after careful consideration of China’s nomination, UNESCO declared the Qinghai Hoh Xil region in Western China a World Heritage Site. The IUCN, a major international conservation body, recognized the strengths of this nomination but raised two concerns— first, threats from development, and second, failure to engage with local communities and cultural valuesalso echoed by other groups, including the NGO World Heritage Watch.

UNESCO defines a world heritage site as a cultural and/or natural site, area, or structure recognized as being of outstanding international importance and, therefore, deserving special protection. In order to become a World Heritage Site, there is a four step process that must be followed. First, a country must create a tentative list of important natural and cultural heritage spots that it wishes to nominate. Second, a state party decides when they want to present the nomination. The nomination is then sent to the World Heritage Site committee, which, if they approve it, sends it to the advisory bodies for evaluation. The three advisory bodies chosen by the World Heritage Convention evaluate the sites. Finally, the World Heritage Committee makes the final decision on the site’s inscription.

The Qinghai Hoh Xil region, designated a natural world heritage site, lies in the north-eastern part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in China. The plateau is the largest and highest plateau in the world, with alpine mountains reaching more than 4,500 meters above sea level and diverse ecosystems, including grasslands, scrublands, glaciers, and tundras. Its unique topography of alpine mountains and steppe systems, and climatic conditions, allow for a multitude of species and diverse plants to thrive. More than one third of the plant species and all herbivorous mammals are indigenous to the area. The heritage site nomination was part of an effort to protect the chiru species, Pantholops hodgsonii to scientists, tsö in Tibetan, commonly known as the Tibetan antelope, according to Chinese officials.

Endangered Tibetan antelopes, known as the chiru, in Qinghai Hoh Xil, China (Source: Live Trading News/Google Images).

The plateau’s glaciers are an important source of freshwater in the wetland system of lakes and rivers, making up a total area of 180,000 hectares. Due to rising temperatures, about 15 percent of the plateau’s glacial area, about 8,000 square kilometers since 1980, has retreated in the past half-century, according to a Chinese government-related study. Climate change effects would likely result in the destruction of the Tibetan antelope’s habitat, as well as other plant and animal species in the area. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species states that the chiru is near-threatened because the population size can be maintained with higher levels of protection and controls on trade and manufacturing from its fur. The local Tibetan herders protect the antelopes from hunters by patrolling the area, with little equipment or money.

During the evaluation of the Qinghai Hoh Xil region as a World Heritage Site, members of the local population expressed concern about the possibility of being displaced or resettled as a result of site’s new status. The IUCN report states that “it is imperative that questions of rights, access and traditional use are addressed rigorously and carefully by the State Party, and the World Heritage nomination must not be used to justify any deprivation of traditional land use rights of the concerned communities.” The report suggests that local herding communities should be consulted and involved in governing the land. It notes, as well, that the Qinghai Hoh Xil region contains many cultural and spiritual sites valued by its people, and it should be properly recognized.

The Chinese government has affirmed its plan to guarantee the integrity of the region. Han Jianhua, the Vice-Governor of Qinghai Province, in which the site is located, stated “[The Chinese government] made a commitment that [they] would protect the ecological environment heritage in strict accordance with the relevant requirements of the Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.”

The decision has been scrutinized by many advocacy groups, such as the International Campaign for Tibet, who have argued that the new site’s status would aid China in displacing tens of thousands of Tibetan nomads from the grasslands to towns, threaten the habitat of the antelope, and endanger the environment. The 2017 World Heritage Watch Report describes the nomination as an “international endorsement for China’s policies of intensified development and mass tourism, and the removal of Tibetan nomads from their lands.” By removing Tibetan nomads, the survival of the rangelands and the plateau’s biodiversity is threatened.

The UNESCO Decision

A resettlement village (Source: Tibet Nature/Google Images)

What does this new status as a World Heritage Site mean for the local populations? In the nomination which the Chinese government submitted to UNESCO for the site, it listed 35 households of 156 herders within the nominated region, and 222 households of 985 herders and 250 other residents in the buffer zone. In the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Heritage Evaluations, one of the three Advisory Bodies, the Chinese government stated that “there will be no forced relocation or exclusion of the traditional users of the nominated site, whether before or after succeeding in the application for World Heritage site.” However, it also indicated that across a large section of the site, the management agency will gradually “impose a ban on herding among sparse residences in the resettlement area and further consider specific voluntary resettlement policies, locations, compensation mechanisms and other measures that can promote the wellbeing of the resettlements.”

One of the goals under UNESCO’s operational guidelines is to establish services for the protection and conservation of the cultural and natural heritage of local and indigenous people. When asked about the effects of UNESCO’s decision on the local people, Marc Foggin, associate director at Mountain Societies Research Institute at the University of Central Asia, said, “consideration of local people’s livelihoods has been explicitly embedded within the review process leading to the nomination/approval of the World Heritage Site (WHS), particularly through the lens of ‘community co-management’. The area’s previous classification as ‘nature reserve’ really considered only the natural heritage, but under WHS both natural and cultural heritages are explicitly considered. The WHS actually may allow for – and to some extent even promote – more equitable forms of resource governance than in previous [protected area] management regimes.”

Recent History of the Region

A Tibetan tent and family (Source: Marc Foggin/Springer Open)

These uncertainties have raised concerns because of other actions of the Chinese government elsewhere in the Tibetan Plateau. In 2003, a policy called tuimu huancao, or “converting pastures to grasslands,” was established in the plateau, which makes up about 85 percent of the country’s rangelands. The policy puts grasslands into zones where grazing is completely banned, where it is banned to grazing for three to ten years, and where rotational grazing or seasonal bans are put into place.

When the herders, largely ethnic Tibetans, were relocated beginning in 2004, many were not fluent in Chinese or have the skills to earn a fair income in the Chinese-dominated towns, leaving them unemployed. According to the agreements, if the Tibetans resettled, they would receive job training and educational opportunities for their children, but, unfortunately, many did not. When asked about the future impact of the World Heritage Site on the Tibetan herders, Lucia Parrucci, an advocacy officer at the Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (UNPO), said, “It remains to be seen what China’s promise not to displace Tibetan people is worth in practice. In this regard, the role of UNESCO itself is crucial, as it should ensure Tibetan livelihood, culture and way of life remain unaffected.”

Tibetan herders’ economic and social well-being remains at stake. Some have argued that herders are a main cause of grassland degradation, due to overgrazing. As a result, a policy of herder resettlement  — now also justified as a form of climate adaptation- has been put in place. “The ill effects of resettlement have now been amply documented by researchers,” Emily Yeh, professor of geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told GlacierHub. “They include a lack of job training; a lack of jobs that make use of the linguistic and other abilities the herders do have, leading to idleness and attendant social ills; lowered income, even with subsidies, in part due to rising inflation; subsequent declines in health status; and shoddy house construction.”

Some suggest that the situation is shifting from its harshest phases. Throughout his research, Marc Foggin found that “the focus now is increasingly on working with nomad families in-situ (on the grassland) and providing development support, rather than on their re-settlement.” He added, “In other arenas, I have also come across indications that resettlement policies are (partially) reversing, with some instances of people even being supported to return, if they wish, to their prior grassland homes.” The attention and resources from the new World Heritage Site status could prove positive for the area. 

 

Circumambulation of Mount Kailash

Mount Kailash, or Gang Rinpoche (Gangs rin po che), is associated with Mt. Meru, the axis mundi or center of the world, and is thus considered one of the world’s most sacred mountains.  Four major rivers – the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali – originate in the four cardinal directions nearby.

 

Mt. Kailash The north face of Mount Kailash (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
The north face of Mount Kailash (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

As such, it is a destination for pilgrimage and circumambulation for Tibetan Buddhists, Bonpos, Hindus, and Jains.

 

The town of Tarchen is the starting point for circumambulations of Mount Kailash. In the market one can find prayer flags, incense, thangkas, and other religious items, as well as jewelry and clothing. Here a shop displays prints with Khenpo Jigphun's injunction for Tibetans to speak Tibetan, as well as prints of Gendun Choepel. Though Khenpo Jigphun's influence is greatest in Kham and Gendun Choepel was from Amdo, theiir presence is also here in the far western part of Tibet. Many of the shop-keepers are from Markham and other parts of Kham ((Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
The town of Tarchen is the starting point for circumambulations of Mount Kailash. In the market one can find prayer flags, incense, thangkas, and other religious items, as well as jewelry and clothing. Here a shop displays prints with Khenpo Jigphun’s injunction for Tibetans to speak Tibetan, as well as prints of Gendun Choepel (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

A thangka depicting the Karmapa's 3rd eye (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
A thangka depicting the Karmapa’s 3rd eye. Thangkas depicting the 17th Karmapa are very popular in Tarchen (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Tibetan Buddhists consider it a dwelling place of Demchog (Chakrasamvara) and for Hindus it is the abode of Lord Shiva. For Jains, it is the place where the first Tirthankara attained enlightenment, and for Bonpos, Mt Kailash is a nine-story swastika mountain that is the seat of spiritual power.

 

Indian yatris at the Purang Customs and Immigration Building (Source: Photo courtesy of Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Indian yatris at the Purang Customs and Immigration Building (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Moreover, the region of the mountain and nearby Lake Manasarovar is where Thonpa Sherab founded and disseminated Bon.

 

A street in Tarchen. Gurla Mandhata (Memo Nanyi) in the distance (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
A street in Tarchen. Gurla Mandhata (Memo Nanyi) in the distance (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Our complicated tour group consisting of people of three different citizenships (US, Nepal, India) had a police escort wherever we went (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Our complicated tour group consisting of people of three different citizenships (US, Nepal, India) had a police escort wherever we went (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

n the grand ticket collection and information center by the shore of Lake Manasarovar were a number of items for sale, including tea and instant noodles, plastic jugs in which pilgrims could take the sacred lake's water home, and a number of books, including several of Larung Gar's Khenpo So Dargye, who is particularly popular with Han Chinese disciples. The entire area is managed by Tibet International Shangdi Travel, which has quite a few CSR signs about their environmental protection and development work in the visitors' center (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
In the grand ticket collection and information center by the shore of Lake Manasarovar were a number of items for sale, including tea and instant noodles, plastic jugs in which pilgrims could take the sacred lake’s water home, and a number of books, including several of Larung Gar’s Khenpo So Dargye, who is particularly popular with Han Chinese disciples. The entire area is managed by Tibet International Shangdi Travel, which has quite a few CSR signs about their environmental protection and development work in the visitors’ center (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Located in western Tibet, near the contemporary borders of the PRC, Nepal, and India, the symmetrical cone-shaped Mount Kailash, at 6638 meters (21,778 feet), rises alone above the rugged landscape.

 

Here one can see both Rakshas Tal (lag ngar mtsho) to the right (west) and Manasarovar (ma pham gyu mtsho) to the left (east) (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Here one can see both Rakshas Tal (lag ngar mtsho) to the right (west) and Manasarovar (ma pham gyu mtsho) to the left (east) (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

 Heading for a dip in Manasarovar Rakshal Tal, which means "lake of the demon" in Sanskrit, is a closed drainage basin, and thus its water is saline. We saw dark, brackish water lapping up on its shores. Manasarovar is a freshwater lake which is connected to Rakshal Tal by a small channel. For Hindus, taking a ritual bath drinking the water of Manasarovar is said to cleanse all sins, and the lake is a more important destination than Mount Kailash. Here, most of our group is heading for a dip in Manasarovar (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Heading for a dip in Manasarovar Rakshal Tal, which means “lake of the demon” in Sanskrit, is a closed drainage basin, and thus its water is saline. We saw dark, brackish water lapping up on its shores. Manasarovar is a freshwater lake which is connected to Rakshal Tal by a small channel. For Hindus, taking a ritual bath drinking the water of Manasarovar is said to cleanse all sins, and the lake is a more important destination than Mount Kailash. Here, most of our group is heading for a dip in Manasarovar (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Tibetan pilgrims typically complete the 52-kilometer circumambulation route over the 5600-meter (18,500 feet) Dolma La pass in 15 hours, rising at 3am and finishing at 6pm.

 

Tibetan pilgrims packing up at a simple guest house at Thrugo, the main bathing gate at the south side of Manasarovar (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Tibetan pilgrims packing up at a simple guest house at Thrugo, the main bathing gate at the south side of Manasarovar (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Most do more than one circuit; we met quite a few groups of pilgrims who had done or were planning to complete 13 circumambulations.

 

First prostration point (lcags tshal sgang) around the Kailash kora. This pilgrim, who came with his family from the Ngari prefectural seat for circumambulation over the weekend, decided to crash my photograph (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
First prostration point (lcags tshal sgang) around the Kailash kora. This pilgrim, who came with his family from the Ngari prefectural seat for circumambulation over the weekend, decided to crash my photograph (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Second prostration point (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Second prostration point (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

One Bonpo pilgrim in his 50s, a former businessman who had renounced everything, had walked the circuit 800 times over five years and was planning to complete 1000 circumambulations altogether.  Still others complete the circuit doing full-body prostrations. Whereas Buddhists and Hindus circumambulate clockwise, Bonpo pilgrims circumambulate counter-clockwise.

 

Pilgrim performing circumambulation by full-body (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado). prostration
Pilgrim performing circumambulation by full-body prostration. Rather than simply walking around the 52 kilometer path, some pilgrims perform full-body prostrations along the entire circuit (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

At the time of our visit, most Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims we met were from Ngari prefecture, especially from Gerze, Gegye, and Tsochen counties.

 

Just beyond the second prostration point, Gyatso (Sagar), Abhimanyu, Pasang and I stopped to take a break with three women from Gerze who were doing full-body prostrations around Kailash. They are pastoralists who herd sheep, goats, and yaks. They come every year, though this is their first time doing full-body prostrations. They said they do so to rid themselves of demerits (dikpa) and to repay the kindness of their parents (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Just beyond the second prostration point, Gyatso (Sagar), Abhimanyu, Pasang and I stopped to take a break with three women from Gerze who were doing full-body prostrations around Kailash. They are pastoralists who herd sheep, goats, and yaks. They come every year, though this is their first time doing full-body prostrations. They said they do so to rid themselves of demerits (dikpa) and to repay the kindness of their parents (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

We also met pilgrims from Nyingtri, Dechen (Yunnan) and Kyirong.  The Tibetan Bonpos we met were mainly from Bachen County in Nagchu and Dengchen County in Chamdo. Passing each other as they walked in opposite directions, they greeted each other with “blessings” (byin rlabs byed) or “Tsering!” (“long life,” a common greeting in Nagchu).

 

Line of stupas in front of the newly reconstructed Drira Phug ('bri rwa phug) monastery. In back of the monastery is painted the Tibetan alphabet. Four monasteries were built around Mounta Kailash in the four cardinal directions. Drira Phug is one that also serves as a nail to hold it down and prevent the mountain from changing (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Line of stupas in front of the newly reconstructed Drira Phug (‘bri rwa phug) monastery. In back of the monastery is painted the Tibetan alphabet. Four monasteries were built around Mounta Kailash in the four cardinal directions. Drira Phug is one that also serves as a nail to hold it down and prevent the mountain from changing (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Drira Phug ('bri rwa phug) means 'cave of the female yak ('bri) horn.' Gyalwa Gotsangpa, who 'opened' the circumambulation route around Kailash in the thirteenth century, was led by Sengdongma, the manifestion of a goddess of Dzogchen, in the form of a female yak to a cave at the place where the monastery now stands, where it put its horns onto and then disappeared into a rock. He meditated in the cave here for 3 years, eating only the food of gods and dakinis, rather than human food. The cave around which the monastery is built is said to have a history of 2500 years. Yeshe Tsogyal, Guru Rinpoche's consort, meditated here in the 8th century, in the 11th century, Marpa ordered Milarepa to meditate in this cave, and Shabkar also meditated here. The monastery was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In 1996, the main lama, Tenzin Namgyal, began to rebuild a small part of the monastery. In 2013, the monastery received permission to rebuild more of it, and when we were there, there was quite a lot of activity, with a number of interior rooms being painted (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Drira Phug (‘bri rwa phug) means ‘cave of the female yak (‘bri) horn.’ Gyalwa Gotsangpa, who ‘opened’ the circumambulation route around Kailash in the thirteenth century, was led by Sengdongma, the manifestion of a goddess of Dzogchen, in the form of a female yak to a cave at the place where the monastery now stands, where it put its horns onto and then disappeared into a rock. He meditated in the cave here for 3 years, eating only the food of gods and dakinis, rather than human food. The cave around which the monastery is built is said to have a history of 2500 years. The monastery was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In 1996, the main lama, Tenzin Namgyal, began to rebuild a small part of the monastery. In 2013, the monastery received permission to rebuild more of it, and when we were there, there was quite a lot of activity, with a number of interior rooms being painted (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

There is now a government agreement in place that allows Indian pilgrims to visit Kailash and Manasarovar. However, the quota to come directly from India, which requires a long trek, is very limited and so most Indian pilgrims instead fly through Kathmandu and visit through private tour operators. Upon arrival in Simikot, they take a 15-minute helicopter ride to the border (in contrast to our many-day walk) and then head directly for a ritual bath in the waters of Manasarovar.  Because of their sudden arrival at very high altitudes, twelve pilgrims had already died in 2016 when we visited.

 

Second sky burial site A pilgrim stopping to meditate at the second of two sky burial sites, Srid Pa Tshal (or srid pa chags p'i dur khrod). Pilgrims leave pieces of clothes, or cut their nails or a bit of hair and leave them at this sky burial site to represent their bodies, as dying at Mount Kailash is considered very auspicious (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
A pilgrim stopping to meditate at the second of two sky burial sites, Srid Pa Tshal (or srid pa chags p’i dur khrod). Pilgrims leave pieces of clothes, or cut their nails or a bit of hair and leave them at this sky burial site to represent their bodies, as dying at Mount Kailash is considered very auspicious (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

The place to see if one has repaid one's parents' kindness Here there is another well-worn rock with many kathaks draped around it, in front of which are two prominent round indentations and one less prominent. One's task is to close one's eyes, and then aim one's finger toward the indentations. One should pray and then try three times. If one is able to hit an indentation exactly, then one has repaid one's parents kindness; otherwise not. To do it is nearly impossible, and that's the point. As one tour guide remarked, "It's impossible! How can one ever repay parents' kindness? Children don't give birth to parents." (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
The place to see if one has repaid one’s parents’ kindness. Here there is another well-worn rock with many kathaks draped around it, in front of which are two prominent round indentations and one less prominent. One’s task is to close one’s eyes, and then aim one’s finger toward the indentations. One should pray and then try three times. If one is able to hit an indentation exactly, then one has repaid one’s parents kindness; otherwise not. To do it is nearly impossible, and that’s the point. As one tour guide remarked, “It’s impossible! How can one ever repay parents’ kindness? Children don’t give birth to parents” (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Along the route, Tibetan pilgrims visit monasteries and other important sites. Among these are a number of footprints, including those of Milarepa, the Buddha, and Gyalwa Gotsangba (who ‘opened’ the circumambulation path in the thirteenth century), as well as numerous self-arisen forms, including a saddle of King Gesar, the Karmapa’s black hat, and prayer beads.

Pilgrims touch the various manifestations with their own prayer beads or bow to touch their foreheads upon them.  In still other places pilgrims test their level of merit, sin, and fortune through physical encounters with the landscape.

 

Pilgrims at the "unmovable spike" Pilgrims at a tent on the east side of the route. It is called "the unmovable spike" ('gul med sa gzer), referring to one of four nails that the Buddha is said to have put in each of the four cardinal directions around the mountain to make sure it would never change. Nearby is Buddha's footprint on a boulder (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Pilgrims at a tent on the east side of the route. It is called “the unmovable spike” (‘gul med sa gzer), referring to one of four nails that the Buddha is said to have put in each of the four cardinal directions around the mountain to make sure it would never change. Nearby is Buddha’s footprint on a boulder (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Further along the path toward Drolma La is this auspicious boulder on which pilgrims have used butter to affix photographs of themselves as well as money. Someone affixed a photograph of an entire junior high class from Shigatse. Some say this was the original "place to see white or black karma," where one's karma will be white if one manages to affix one's photograph or other item on the boulder (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Further along the path toward Drolma La is this auspicious boulder on which pilgrims have used butter to affix photographs of themselves as well as money. Someone affixed a photograph of an entire junior high class from Shigatse. Some say this was the original “place to see white or black karma,” where one’s karma will be white if one manages to affix one’s photograph or other item on the boulder (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Lake Manasarovar (ma pham g.yu mtsho, the Unconquerable Turquoise Lake) lies at 4590 meters and is located to the south of Mount Kailash. Pilgrims also circumambulate the lake, which is eighty-eight kilometers in circumference.  This is now possible by car as well as foot. For Hindus, bathing and drinking from the lake cleanses all sins and guarantees going to the abode of Shiva after death.  Though Kailash is now the more important focus for Tibetans, there is considerable historical evidence that the earliest sacrality was of the lake rather than the mountain.

 

Restoration at Guru Gyam currently taking place with artists hired from Kham, meticulously painting wall murals under the direction of a master painter.(Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Restoration at Guru Gyam currently taking place with artists hired from Kham, meticulously painting wall murals under the direction of a master painter (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Stairs up to the cave temple above Guru Gyam (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Stairs up to the cave temple above Guru Gyam (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Indeed, Alex McKay has found that as late as the early 1900s, Kailash was more an ideal heavenly place than one associated with any particular place on the earth’s surface. He finds little evidence that the earthly mountain was considered sacred until the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, or that Kailash was considered the premier pilgrimage site of Tibet until the twentieth century.

 

Guru Gyam Valley below (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Guru Gyam Valley below (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

An occupied cave room (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
An occupied cave room (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Its emergence as sacred in the 12th/13th centuries was related to a power struggle between Buddhism and Bön, now told as a contest between the magical powers of Milarepa and Naro Bönchung.

Our visit to Kailash, Manasarovar, and the associated sacred site of Tirthapuri was motivated by a proposal by ICIMOD to have Nepal, India, and China nominate the larger Kailash Sacred Landscape as a transboundary World Heritage Site.

 

The place to take white or black stones (Source: Photo courtesy of Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
The place to take white or black stones (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Limi woman weaving in Taklakot (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).
Limi woman weaving in Taklakot. This 72 year old woman from Til village in the Limi Valley, is weaving a carpet.  She is paid piece-rate in Purang (Taklakot) for weaving carpets and chubas.  A widow with no children, she first started to come to Purang three decades ago to weave for income.  (Source: Emily Yeh/University of Colorado).

 

Our goal was to understand historical pilgrimage routes, document the cultural landscape, assess current tourism, and seek to understand what effects such a designation, were it to come to pass, might be.

 

A version of this photo essay, with additional images, was published by the Tibet Himalaya Initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder on January 6, 2017.