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14:08 Sep 12 2009

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English>>Tibet Online
Sleepy Yushu boasts legends, beauty, Tibetan culture
14:06, September 12, 2009  

Yushu, a remote Tibetan county in the depths of northwestern China's Qinghai Province, used to be two days' drive from the nearest airport in the provincial capital Xining. But last month it was opened up to the outside world with a brand-new airport.

As the source of China's three major rivers, center of Kham Tibetan culture and the site where a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) princess languished in a political marriage, it is a well preserved and, so far, little visited place to explore.

The first thing that hits you is that the gleaming new airport has been finished but the road to it has not. It speaks volumes about the sleepy pace of development here.

For many kilometers around Jiegu Town, the biggest in the county, nature runs rampant and unchallenged. Comprising a few dusty streets with slow moving restaurants and hotels, Jiegu hardly makes a dent in the wild green grasslands and towering mountains.

It does, however, make a good base for excursions and is also a center for Kham Tibetan culture which dominates this part of Qinghai. There is a massive horse racing festival from July 25, a record-breaking Mani stone mound, an ancient prayer site, a Kham culture museum and lots of Buddhist temples and stupas.

Holy script

In Tibetan culture, prayers are often represented by a pebble or stone carved with holy script placed in a certain spot -- called a Mani mound. It's an ancient practice which, accumulated over time, results in massive monuments to devotion.

In Xinzha Village (a part of Jiegu Town), the Gyanak Mani Mound is believed to be the world's largest of its type with, at last count in the 1950s, over 2.5 billion stones accumulated -- two for every person in China.

Opinions differ on when it was founded -- tourist material says 600 years ago, though our guide insisted it was more than 1,000 years old. According to legend, the spot for the mound was chosen because the six sacred letters of Sanskrit miraculously appeared on a rock in the mountains nearby.

In a temple within the mound complex this mythical rock is on display, though it looks suspiciously modern and carved. However the symbolism of the place holds great meaning for believers who come from surrounding areas just to walk around the mound up to 1,000 times over a month.

Selling stones carved with Sanskrit prayers has also become the main industry for local villagers. Prices can range from 5 yuan (73 US cents) for a pebble to 2,000 yuan for a large, machine-carved rock slab.

For a more lively intro to Kham culture, the Jyekundo Festival is staged every year at the end of July when the weather is at its most pleasant. Two weeks of horse racing and horsemanship are the star attraction, plus colorful singing and dancing.

But if you can't wait another year, 32 kilometers outside of Yushu there's a comprehensive Kham culture museum. Originally a temple, it now has an exhibition section with nearly 10,000 artifacts including Buddhist texts, traditional hunting tools and instruments, and stuffed animals.

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