Relocated herders celebrate Tibetan New Year

Tibetan herder Tenzin is wrapped in a thick traditional robe, a headscarf and gloves as protection against the chill wind that sweeps across the vast prairie in southwest China's Xizang Autonomous

Region. Even so, she had her nails meticulously done to celebrate the Tibetan New Year.

At the most important festival for Tibetans, which fell on Saturday this year, she and her family cleaned their 50-square-meter clay house, fired up the yak dung stove and prepared barley wine and traditional snacks they bought in the regional capital Lhasa -- some 800 km away from home -- to serve the visiting guests.

Tenzin, 22, comes from a village in Ngoqu Township, Nyima County, at an altitude of more than 4,700 meters. The village is part of the Changtang National Nature Reserve, China's biggest and highest nature reserve.

In August 2022, Tenzin and her family were relocated to a new community called Singpori some 10 km from Lhasa airport, as part of a relocation project to offer herders a better living environment and hand over the nature reserve to wildlife. The government has set up a transitional period spanning the next few years, during which some young people will be taking turns at herding on the prairie.

Since then, Tenzin has been traveling between her two homes, enjoying the pleasures of modernity at her new home and herding back at the old one.

As the eldest child in her family, Tenzin is a major breadwinner, but herding in this area is not an easy lifestyle.

The oxygen in the air is mere 40 percent of that on the plain, and for some 200 days a year there are strong winds of up to 20 meters per second. The temperature after sunset can drop below minus 10 degrees Celsius.

"I often feel my fingers growing numb at the tips. Sometimes, the frostbite is really painful," she said.

Due to the high altitude and harsh environment, it is common for local herders to develop diseases like rheumatism, arthritis and heart disease. The medical and school facilities are also poor.

Ahead of the Tibetan New Year, Tenzin headed to her new home located on the northern bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River at an altitude of 3,600 meters.

Compared with her old one, the 120-square-meter two-story house is much more comfortable, with access to running water, a heating device and a gas stove.

The community, home to more than 30,000 residents relocated from high-altitude areas, is equipped with a newly-built hospital, a kindergarten, a school, a market and a recreation center. Tenzin's two younger brothers now go to the new school.

Wearing her beautiful Tibetan costume and a set of red coral ornaments, Tenzin attended a horse racing event and then went shopping in downtown Lhasa, where she had milk tea, pizza and a manicure with her friends.

"That's why I prefer my new home," she said with a smile.

Yao Peng, Party chief of Ngoqu Township, said a cooperative has been established to help take care of the sheep so that more young people can be freed from herding and find other jobs near their new home.

Lu Ke, an official with the management committee of the Singpori community, said the community has developed industries including apple farming and modern husbandry to create more jobs for the relocated residents.

Gadzong, Tenzin's mother, said that when the cooperative was initially established, they doubted if others could care for the family's sheep as well as they could, so she and Tenzin decided to continue herding on the grassland.

"Seeing that the cooperative has offered considerable dividends, we are also considering joining in," Gadzong said.

Tenzin has headed back to the prairie to look after the sheep and stayed through the Tibetan New Year with her family there.

"Next year, I'll definitely celebrate the festival at my new home," she said.