Ti­betan innkeep­ers cash­ing in on tourism boom

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET - By XINHUA in Ny­ingchi, Ti­bet

Ti­betan innkeeper Phuntsog de­scribes his fam­ily ho­tel as the “dwelling place of the im­mor­tals”.

His busi­ness card dis­plays a beau­ti­ful scene in his home­town: two-story Ti­betan houses sur­rounded by green pas­tures with a full moon against a snowy moun­tain in the back­ground.

Phuntsog’s home vil­lage is Tashigang, part of Lu­nang town­ship in Ny­ingchi pre­fec­ture, lo­cated at an av­er­age al­ti­tude of 3,300 me­ters.

It is near “China’s most beau­ti­ful thor­ough­fare”, a 5,476-km­long high­way that runs from Shang­hai to Zham on the Chi­naNepal bor­der within the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

As tourism booms in Ti­bet, the re­mote vil­lage has re­ceived a grow­ing num­ber of sight­seers, par­tic­u­larly back­pack­ers in search of scenic, less-known at­trac­tions. Hid­den among craggy snow-cov­ered moun­tains and ev­er­green forests, Tashigang is home to only 311 peo­ple from 68 fam­i­lies, but it has be­come a ma­jor stop on many tourists’ itin­er­ar­ies.

Last year, 20.2 mil­lion tourists vis­ited Ti­bet and tourism rev­enue topped 28 bil­lion yuan ($4.2 bil­lion), 15 times more than a decade ago. The flood of tourists has be­come a gold mine for vil­lagers, and Phuntsog was among the first to try his luck in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

Born in 1950, he never re­ceived any for­mal ed­u­ca­tion and only learned to speak Man­darin af­ter China’s re­form and open­ing-up drive be­gan in the late 1970s, when tourists started to ar­rive in his home­town.

“There was lit­tle ac­cess to traf­fic, so I of­fered tourists rides on horse­back and told them ev­ery­thing I knew about the land,” Phuntsog said.

Fas­ci­nated by the land­scape, many tourists asked him if they could stay for a cou­ple of days.

“There were no ho­tels any­where near the vil­lage, so I said they could stay with my fam­ily if they did not mind,” Phuntsog said.

In 1998, he opened the first fam­ily ho­tel in the vil­lage, a small, tra­di­tional Ti­betan house with eight beds. He charged 70 yuan ($10) a day for three meals and a bed. The price was low and ne­go­tiable when lodgers were short of cash. In one ex­treme case, a guest paid only 10 yuan a day.

Phuntsog is a friendly innkeeper, beloved by his guests.

One time, a care­less guest left his video cam­era in the ho­tel and Phuntsog, who did not have a car or mo­tor­bike at the time, hiked all the way to town to re­turn it to him.

He keeps ev­ery­thing that has been left be­hind and un­claimed, in­clud­ing cloth­ing, cam­eras, hand­bags and cash. “I hope their own­ers will even­tu­ally come back and get them,” he said.

Phuntsog be­came a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party of China at 62. “I feel com­pelled to live up to my obli­ga­tions and lend a help­ing hand when­ever I’m needed,” he said.

He of­ten brings food and other sup­plies to his bedrid­den neigh­bor, Sang­gyai Yeshi, who is over 70 and lives alone. Phuntsog took the older man to the hos­pi­tal sev­eral times when his con­di­tion wors­ened.

Xiao Li­u­jun, a pho­tog­ra­pher based in the re­gional capital Lhasa, stays at Phuntsog’s fam­ily ho­tel ev­ery time he vis­its Tashigang Vil­lage. “There are a num­ber of fam­ily ho­tels to choose from nowa­days, but I still pre­fer Phuntsog’s place,” he said.

Phuntsog’s ho­tel has hosted guests from France, the United States, Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore and Ja­pan.

As his busi­ness con­tin­ued to ex­pand, Phuntsog built three new houses that could ac­com­mo­date 53 peo­ple.

Last year, he re­ceived nearly 3,000 guests and made about 300,000 yuan.

“It’s not enough for me alone to be­come rich,” Phuntsog said. “I want ev­ery­one’s busi­ness to pros­per, too.”

CHOGO / XINHUA

Left: Tashigang vil­lage nes­tles right in the mid­dle of pic­turesque Lu­nang for­est farm. Right: Ti­betan innkeeper Phuntsog wel­comes vis­i­tors from He­nan prov­ince at Tashigang vil­lage in Ny­ingchi pre­fec­ture, Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

PALDEN NYIMA / CHINA DAILY

Two Ti­betan ac­tors per­form for Dradul’s film in Sichuan’s Aba Ti­betan au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture.

Phuntsog, Ti­betan innkeeper

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