Zone of Peace
Winter, Beauty in Tibet
The George Washington University The GW Hatchet - Washington,DC,USA
Monday, November 06, 2006
Senior Sam Sherraden, an international affairs major and former Hatchet
photo editor, spent the summer studying abroad in Beijing, China, and is
spending the fall semester further north in Harbin, China. Twice a month, he
will share his experiences and observations from East Asia as one of GW's
I turned onto my back prepared to spoil the warm habitat I'd created and
pushed aside 30 pounds of military blanket. As the cold air rushed in, I
threw on long johns and stumbled to the window. The sun was rising above the
mountain tops littered with the snow from the night before and amidst the
pines, yellow and red patches of autumn leaves were strewn across the steep
deep green valley walls.
To warm my hands, I turned and filled a glass with hot water from the
thermos beside the bed. Light poured into the room, illuminating the colors
of the traditional Tibetan paintings that covered the walls of the large
wood house. Checkers, circles and curving shapes of orange, yellow, reds and
blues covered the inside walls and ceilings, and the walls of the houses in
the valley below.
Holding my cup of steaming water, leaning on the windowsill, looking from a
room of rich cultural heritage that is looking to the valley of colors
above, all things seemed to come together. Any awareness of countries, races
and life in large cities left my consciousness. I was in Shangri-La.
In reality, I was staying within the borders of Jiuzhaigou, known as Natural
Preserve in Sichuan province, with a Tibetan family who live in one of the
nine ancient Tibetan communities after whom the park is named. Located in
the northern tip of Sichuan between the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and the
Sichuan Basin, the remarkable preserve is actually not far from Shangri-La,
which takes its name from the mythical Tibetan city of moral goodness and
scenic beauty called Shambalah.
Living in a house with a Tibetan family along streams of crystal clear,
aqua-blue rivers and lakes in a valley of colorful autumn leaves is as close
as I will ever get to being in Shambalah. My hosts were friendly and
beautiful, as we found most Tibetans to be.
Children running around on the street have snot running down their noses
onto their upper lips and the rosy red cheeks of a Raggedy Anne doll. People
on the street are cheery, anxious to speak a few words of English and
converse a little in Chinese, sometimes even over a bit of rice wine and yak
Last year, to reduce tourist traffic inside the park, officials made it
illegal for tourists to sleep in the park with Tibetan families. But if you
discreetly ask a Tibetan on the street, and are inside the house by closing
time, families are still willing to take the risk of fines to recover some
of their lost income. I ate breakfast and dinner with the family, and by the
end, we were laughing and talking together regularly.
Year round, men wear thick woolen robes sometimes with lamb pelts sewn in as
a lining. Since I left Harbin in the far north for Sichuan province in the
south, I thought I was going to be greeted by warm weather. But I was wrong.
Thankfully, as the rule of traveling light states - if you need it, you can
buy it there - and by the end of the trip, I too was walking around town in
a thick woolen Tibetan robe, toasty and receiving lots of waves and "looks
good!" from passersby.
Chinese tourists, who, like most Chinese, are eager to compare the U.S. and
China, often asked me, "How does it compare to Yellowstone?" I would reply,
"Oh, about the same."
I would pause for them to smile and nod, half-contented, and then say, "But
you have ethnic minorities in China, so you win." This of course made them
very happy and I now have lots of friends.
But flattery of Chinese egos aside, the scenic landscapes of China that are
complimented by the 52 ethnic minorities who live within China's borders,
are unique in geology and wildlife and rich in culture.
In modern times, Shangri-La has been denigrated by a chain of five-star
hotels, but its origin in the scenic beauty of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau
and the good people who live there remain.
Back to Archived Reports List