Striving to preserve folk history from rooftop of the world

It can take an author years to finish writing a book, but Tibetan monk Thubthen Choejor's three-member team have published five works in just 12 months - and they plan to bring out another five soon.

Tibetan monasteries are not only places for practicing religion, they are also centers of cultural preservation and practice.

Thubthen is a high-ranking monk at Zabmo Monastery in the Tibet autonomous region's Palgon county, who is devoted to the collection and preservation of folklore.

Having attained Ngakrampa, one of the highest academic Geshe degrees of Tibetan Buddhism, the 27-year-old is well versed in the five volumes of Buddhist teachings.

Alongside his religious studies and practice, he also greatly values the importance of folklore, but is worried that these traditions are increasingly being lost.

Starting in 2013, the senior monk started work on a project that aimed to collect and publish more than 30 traditional Tibetan folk stories.

The county where he lives is located in western Tibet, about 500 km away from the regional capital of Lhasa. Its folklore is rich in stories of horse races, weddings, the songs of salt collecting, wool gathering and Shechen music and dance, part of China's national intangible cultural heritage.

With the support of local residents and the county's political consultative conference, Thubthen explored many of the county's remotest parts in search of stories to publish.

"We spent two months in the county's remote areas in 2013, exploring many historical sites such as cliff paintings, monastic ruins, sacred lakes and mountains," Thubthen said.

Two of the five books they have published are guides to two of the county's most famous sites, Namtso Lake and Mount Nyanchen Thanglha.

The other three explain the history of the county's tribes, monasteries and temples, as well as the cultural importance of its mountains and rivers.

"Currently we are working on the folklore surrounding horse racing, traditional dances, love songs and how to predict the weather," Thubthen said.

One book will also deal with wedding customs, giving a detailed description of the history, tradition and how the wedding customs have changed over the years.

"Wedding speeches are still commonly practiced on the northern grassland like elsewhere, but it is very important for the nomads to know the history of traditional weddings," Thubthen said.

The five books yet to be published include one that recounts how the county was featured in the Epic of King Gesar.

"Our county is known as the hometown of Du Achung, a wicked figure in the epic, and it has plenty of legends associated with it," Thubthen said.

Another book still to be published deals with Tibetan family names.

Compiling the books has not been easy, as Thubthen's team had to trek for more than 60 days around Namtso Lake and Mount Nyanchen Thanglha to collect the stories, at an average altitude of 4,700 meters above sea level.

But at least the team need not worry about funding, as it has the support of the county's financial bureau as well as its political consultative conference.

The bureau has budgeted 3 million yuan ($435,000) for the project and more than 600,000 yuan has been raised through publishing the first five books.

The books have been distributed among the county's officials, sold in the bookstores of Lhasa and circulated in the village near the monastery.

Tashi, chairman of the county's political consultative conference, said the work Thubthen and his team are doing is essential.

"We have helped to coordinate between different work units to aid the project," he said.

"The published books have been warmly welcomed, especially by the rural nomads, and many elders contributed much to the project."

Tashi added that there were plans to distribute the books among students in the area's schools. "We will also try to distribute the books among villagers in the near future," he said.

"It is very import for the locals and the young students to learn the folklore by reading these publications."

Striving to preserve folk history from rooftop of the world