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The modern life of Sherpas deep in Himalayas

Updated:2022-05-11 10:18:23   Xinhua

After spending a day toiling in the field on the high hills, Tenzin, 27, used his smartphone to make videos of the natural beauty that surrounds him.

With his lens, he captures the beautiful forest landscape, the traditional Sherpa dance, hot springs, the Chinese caterpillar fungus, and finger millet -- a kind of grain that locals use to make wine.

"I hope my camera can be a window, through which more people can learn about my hometown and the Sherpa culture," Tenzin said.

Photo taken on April 13, 2022 shows the houses built on a mountain in Zhentang Township, Dinggye County of Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Liu Ying)

Tenzin hails from Zhentang, a remote township bordering Nepal in Dinggye County in the city of Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

Besieged by forests at the foot of Qomolangma deep in the Himalayas, the township has an average altitude of over 2,000 meters and is home to more than 2,600 Sherpa people.

Zhentang, meaning "path for transportation," earned its name some 1,000 years ago when humans and yaks would carry large amounts of timber for the construction of the renowned Sakya Monastery.

Thanks to improved transportation and telecommunication facilities, the Sherpa people in the once-isolated township at the China-Nepal border are now connected with the outside world and embracing modern life.

Photo taken on April 13, 2022 shows a Sherpa woman in Zhentang Township, Dinggye County of Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Liu Ying)


Tenzin drives his pickup between his home in the township and the summer camp, where the Sherpas live and grow barley, potatoes and finger millet in summer.

"In the past, my parents had to carry the farming yield on their backs. Now all I have to do is throw the yield in the pickup and start the engine," he said.

With total spending of 718 million yuan (about 107 million U.S. dollars), a high-standard highway section reaching the township opened to traffic in 2020. Local Sherpas living along the road no longer need to climb the mountains while carrying a heavy load on their backs.

Better traffic also improves the logistics services, with delivery trucks arriving at the township on a regular basis.

Tenzin and his friends enjoy online shopping just like most urbanites do. "All the clothes I wear are bought online, which are much cheaper and more stylish than those sold in the stores nearby," he said with a smile.

Tenzin's account on a short video-sharing platform has attracted more than 12,000 followers, including local online celebrities. They have become friends with him and often travel to his village to collaborate on livestreaming and videos.

"More and more people know about my hometown and come to visit. I feel very proud," he said.

Along the road, tourists make road trips from Sichuan, Jiangsu and other provinces to enjoy the township, the forest landscape and the Sherpa culture.

Nyima, a 52-year-old farmer in the township, began offering homestay last month, providing eight beds.

"With more tourists set to come because of the better traffic conditions, I'm confident that my homestay business will be prosperous," said Nyima.

Largely thanks to the growing tourism industry, the per capita disposable income of the township surged to 11,805 yuan in 2021, up 10.5 percent compared with the previous year.

Photo taken on April 14, 2022 shows kids playing in Zhentang Township, Dinggye County of Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Liu Ying)


Born in 1999, Sidar is a photography lover in Zhentang. Working in a multimedia center in the county seat of Dinggye, he often returns home to take photos and videos. His mother, Namkha, is one of the main characters in his works.

Namkha is an inheritor of the Zhentang Sherpa dance, a national intangible cultural heritage.

"Although I don't like dancing, I'd like to contribute to its preservation, for example by making documentaries," Sidar said.

He has participated in the shooting and translation work of an eight-minute video about the Zhentang Sherpa dance as part of the Xigaze city government's efforts to introduce the city's intangible cultural heritages.

With the support of the government, each village of Zhentang has established a performance group with an average of 16 members. The government also poured money into building performance centers where they can dance. "More young people should help pass the dance down to the next generation," said Namkha, 57.

Tenzin's daughter is 1 year old. Wearing a diaper, she is dressed just like an urban toddler. Tenzin said now that children in Tibet can go to school free of charge, he wants his daughter to receive a better education.

"When she grows up, I will send her to a school out of the mountains so she can have a look at the outside world," he said.

Keywords:   modern life Sherpas