With a tradition of frontier trade amounting to about 500 years, Burang has seen frequent communication and a thriving trade between the inhabitants of China, India and Nepal. At the close of the 1950s, the Chinese government officially approved the establishment of the Burang International Market, where the Nepalese traders are allowed to build their shops and sell various Nepalese products. The annual land use tax is as low as RMB 1 for each room the traders occupy. The products they carry include cloth, bed sheets, heavy woolen cloth, brown sugar, perfume, jewelry, cosmetics, jade items, and various Nepalese fresh and dried fruits.
Mesas and the Guge Kingdom Ruins
The topography is a result of violent geological changes. [Photo by Wang Ying/China Today]
Zanda County is especially attractive for nursing the Guge Kingdom ruins within its boundaries. However, I was more impressed by the expanse of the mesas that stretched for tens of kilometers en route. The clay forest formed as part of massive geological events that gave rise to the Himalayas; what once was the bottom of a lake was pushed skyward and mesas formed over time through exposure and erosion. Driving through this forest felt like passing through the hands and feet of many giants.
An ancient, powerful kingdom with more than 1,000 years of history, the Guge Kingdom was built on one of the mesas. Records suggest that it was established by a descendent of the king of the Tubo Kingdom. During its zenith its influence reached every corner of Ngari, not only carrying on the Tubo royal lineage, but also reestablishing an environment for Buddhism to reach the zenith of its expansion.
The ruins of the kingdom extend for about 300 meters from the base to the peak, with some 600-odd houses, pagodas and caves spread densely across the surface of the whole mountain. While standing at the king's palace hall on the hilltop and taking it all in, it was really difficult to imagine how people built such a huge complex more than 1,000 years ago. What did they eat? How did they keep out the cold and fend off diseases at such a high altitude? How did they spend their days in such small caves on the hill-side? Did those female figures in silks and satins depicted in the rock paintings really exist? How did they make their gorgeous dresses? What kind of life had they led to form such graceful and elegant mannerisms? Later I consulted an expert who had been engaged in archaeological studies on the Guge Kingdom for many years. He told me that during the kingdom's prosperous times, many merchants from Nepal, India and China's hinterlands recognized Guge as an important trade zone, bringing various goods such as cloth and grains to the kingdom. However, it was suddenly and completely destroyed by wars. 【1】 【2】 【3】 【4】 【5】