TIBET, August 11, Chinadaily -- With age comes wisdom and helps a man get closer to nature – that's what life has taught Pasang Tsering over the past 53 years.
Tashigang village is surrounded by mountains and forest, Aug 7, 2015. [Photo by Chen Bei/chinadaily.com.cn]
"As my body ages I am increasingly caught in the beauty of untouched nature," said the Tibetan villager at his family inn.
He said the best time to visit the mountainous area and forests is at sunrise. That is when birds, animals and plants come to life.
"The reward for listening and watching is great," he said. "I am there, a quiet witness to the wakening life that graces the earth. It is something so delicate as to stupefy the senses".
A Tibetan Buddhist, Pasang stands in awe of nature.
As village head he also knows the additional value that unblemished nature has brought to the land where his home is situated.
Tashigang village, hidden in deep forest in southeastern Tibet's Nyingchi city, is dubbed by Chinese Internet users the "Oriental mini-Switzerland" for its rich vegetation.
Latest official statistics show that 47.6 percent of Nyingchi is covered by forest, and the figure reached 55.1 percent in Bakyub district where Tashigang village can be found.
The lush forests changed Pasang's life twice, ironically in diverging ways.
The first time was in 1984. The then-22-year-old cut down a spruce tree with the help of five other villagers.
"Six arms could barely encircle the tree, and we drove a horse cart to transport it to a timber factory in town," he recalled.
The tree was to sell for about 80 yuan ($13.7). That was a fortune at the time when an experienced urban worker in a State-owned enterprise was paid some 40 yuan a month.
The whole village began taking advantage of the abundance of forestry resources as the main source of family incomes. "I could annually pocket about 7,000 yuan by logging," Pasang said.
Pasang Tsering's family inn. [Photo by Chen Bei/chinadaily.com.cn]
It was not until 2003 that he realized he could earn more in other ways.
One evening around sunset, a backpacker knocked at his door asking to stay over. The sightseer left 40 yuan the next morning, plus some words that stunned him.
"We are cheesed off with the hustle and bustle of big cities, looking for a break in a green wonderland like here," said the man, who was from Tibet's capital Lhasa, about 410 km from the village. "But why are you all logging?" he asked.
Looking around, Pasang realized for the first time that the mountains had changed greatly – less green, less vital. The animals of his memories – bears, wild Marco Polo sheep and macaques – had almost disappeared.
The village could not live solely on the forest for generations unless the trees were well protected – that was a lesson. Pasang believed the Buddha had sent the backpacker to teach him.
The same year, the local government began to ban commercial logging in virgin forests.
"We overemphasized timber manufacturing for economic development in the 1980s and 1990s at the expense of a fragile forest ecosystem," said Tashi Dondrub, director of the Nyingchi Forestry Bureau.
"The case of Tashigang was not alone in Tibet during that period, and large-scale wood-cutting led to a decreasing number of endangered birds and animals as well as the frequent incidence of landslides".
But what would life be like after commercial logging was prohibited?
It became an urgent issue for the government, according to Tashi. "The injunction would mean nothing if we didn't help find new economic growth modes to raise villagers' incomes," he said.
"The ban did not immediately stop axes chopping through forests," Pasang said. He explained most villagers had lived by logging for nearly 20 years, which made it difficult to find new ways to earn money.
It was in 2005 that an effective brake was put on illegal logging, thanks to a national guide on the management of public forests.
The central government began earmarking 5 yuan for the protection of every mu (0.066 hectare) of forest, with 3 yuan going to a ranger and 2 yuan for local governments to buy saplings.
Tashigang village head Pasang Tsering, right. [Photo by Chen Bei/chinadaily.com.cn]
Tashigang village, comprising 64 households, has since received more than 1.3 million yuan, or 4,500 yuan per head, annually for protecting the surrounding forest from logging.
Mode of ecotourism
Several factors finally helped Pasang and his village get on track in developing ecotourism.
The unknown backpacker and the logging ban were incentives. As village head, he began publicizing the important role untouched nature was playing for the village's offspring and the nation as a whole.
The business savvy also saw a bright prospect as an increasing number of holidaymakers were seeking a break in his village and the surrounding area.
Support from government was another decisive force.
"The operation of the village's home inns was initially rough and on a small scale, with only a dozen households' spare rooms provided to tourists," said Liu Shunjiang, head of the tourism bureau in Nyingchi'sBakyub district.
The rapid development of home inns gathered pace in 2009 when 20 impoverished households were granted 910,000 yuan from the government to build home inns.
With more houses being built, more travelers were swarming to Tashigang.
Pasang profited from the boom. Revenue from his home inn topped 100,000 yuan in 2009, compared with 80,000 yuan in 2006 and 20,000 yuan in 2003.
Last year, Pasang was rewarded after investing 1.6 million yuan to rebuild 26 double rooms. In just July and August, during peak tourist season, he earned 180,000 yuan.
The whole village also rode the fast train. Of the 64 households 42 are now running home inns, with revenue totaling 5.89 million yuan last year.
"Wealth won't fall on us without the forest recovering," Pasang said.
A pure, holy and tranquil mountain village comes first forever – that's what a Tibetan village head, with business acumen, has learnt between the 1980s to the 2010s.