Text and photographs by Fan Jing
Over the past 16 years, I have been to Tibet many times. However, since most of my tours of Tibet were in summer, I always dreamed of a winter experience, different in every way. Motivated by my friends, my winter trip to Zayul, known for its beautiful scenery rivaling southern regions of China, finally came to fruition.
Resting on the gorge between the Himalayas and the Hengduan Mountains, the northern side of Zayul County is higher than its southern side. The average altitude of the county is below 3,000 meters, with an average temperature above 10 degrees Celsius year round. Zayul has a very pleasant natural environment where a large variety of plants co-exist with thick forests. Along with crops such as wheat, rice, sugar cane, tea, and tobacco, Zayul, known as a rare subtropical zone in Tibet, grows many subtropical and tropical fruits like bananas, oranges, and grapefruit.
Setting off from Lhasa, we headed towards the Demo La Pass, about 4,800 meters above sea level. The pass connects Ra-ok Town and Goyul Village of Zayul County. After passing magnificent Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon and beautiful Midui Glacier in Pome County, we stopped in the pass, as chilly wind from the plateau stung our bare faces. Along the rutted surface of the road, everything came to abrupt stillness except the colorful prayer flags dancing against the snow.
As we drove across the pass, more colors delighted our eyes: the red ground and green forests were reflected in the car’s mirror. Moving forward, we were welcomed by wild peach trees in Goyul Village, with shrubs and pine forests as well as square-shaped farmland on both sides of the road. As the altitude dropped, the increased temperature caused us to take off our heavy coats while the oxygenated air injected us with energy.
Our first stop at Zayul was Shaqiong Village, the homeland of the Deng people. The Deng, also known as the Dengba, is an ethnic group that has not been officially recognized by the Chinese government. Members are scattered through Zayul County, numbering a mere 1,300. As we approached the village committee, a senior man dressed in red-striped cotton sleeveless jacket and white headscarf, appeared in front of a two-story wooden building with a saber across his shoulder. The man, Ani Song, director of the village committee and former chief of the Deng people, guided us through a delicate fairyland shadowed by banana trees on the green mountains.