TOURISM BOOM OFFERS VILLAGERS NEW SOURCE OF INCOME
Horse riding businesses, family inns, ethnic handicraft sellers benefit
As the first rays of morning sunshine crest the snow-capped mountains of the Tibetan plateau, Kalsang Dorje makes his way to the sacred palace of Yumbu Lakhar with his beloved horse.
Built around 200 BC atop Jomo Tashi Tsering Hill in Nedong county, Yumbu Lakhar is held to be the Tibet autonomous region’s first palace.
According to legend, it was the home of the first Tibetan king Nyatri Tsanpo, and its name literally translates as “palace built on the thigh of a female deer”, because of the shape of the hill on which it stands.
Like many of his fellow farmers living near the palace, Kalsang Dorje runs a horse-riding business at the foot of the hill during the peak summer tourist season, earning a living by allowing visitors to ride his horses or pose for pictures with them.
By offering horse rides to one of the region’s most recognizable landmarks, alongside the sale of ethnic handicrafts such as prayer beads, Tibetan farmers can improve their incomes and living standards.
Today, there are about 70 villagers engaged in the area’s horseriding business, but Kalsang Dorje was the first to start hiring out his horse. His wrinkled, sun-tanned face stands testament to the diffi of making a living at an attitude of almost 3,600 meters.
“Horses have supported me. Without horses, my life would not be as rich as it is today,” said the 61-year-old, with a grin.
When asked how he came up with the idea of offering horse rides to tourists, Kalsang Dorje said it all began one day 20 years ago, when he was transporting water near the palace on donkey back.
At the time, a tourist had joked that he would pay for a ride on the donkey, and the farmer was so taken by this idea that he could not get it out of his head.
The next month he bought a horse, fitted it with a decorative harness and within a year he was earning good money from his new business.
“I treat my horses as I would my own children. I have had five different horses in the past two decades,” he said.
“Horses give me the greatest pleasure in life — and indeed, it is not just me, but most of our villagers who are now engaged with the business.”
Since 1999, Kalsang Dorje has encouraged more than 40 villagers to start offering horse rides, sharing his experiences with them.
They have set up two teams to serve tourists, ensuring that all get a fair chance to make money.
One such villager is Gesang Tsering, who has been engaged in the horse-riding business for four years.
“Kalsang Dorje is our trailblazer in this business, thanks to him, I have found a good way to earn a living for my family,” he said.
“So far this year, we have had fewer tourists than last year, but I hope more will arrive in June.”
The 40-year-old said he could earn about 200 ($30) to 300 yuan per day when business was good, as a ride costs 30 yuan.
This has helped his family’s annual income to increase from 10,000 yuan it was four years ago to more than 20,000 yuan today.
According to local officials, the increase in tourists in recent years has also provided other opportunities for villagers to supplement their income.
Beside horse rides, many villagers run family inns, and some sell local tourism products near the palace.
“On one hand, tourism has widened the job opportunities of the villagers, and on the other hand, it has injected a new source of income for the rural residents,” said Luo Yun, head of the tourism bureau in Lhokha, the closest city to Yumbu Lakhar.
Tourism has been a major contributor to economic development and has helped Mondrolgang villagers improve their quality of life, Luo added.
Khedrub, vice- chairman of Lhokha’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference committee, said the city and surrounding area were enriched with historical and cultural resources.
“Many cultural scenes in the city are still being discovered by tourists, and this can become a driving force of the city’s tourism in the near future,” said the 58-year-old.
Yumbu Lakhar Palace (top), standing on the Jomo Tashi Tsering Hill, is the first palace of Tibet with a history of more than 2,000 years. More than 70 residents (above) iving at the foot of the Jomo Tashi Tsering Hill are making a living by providing horse-riding service to tourists.