Tourism breathes new life into quake-stricken Tibetan city of Yushu

Vultures circle the sky burial site near a camp base by the Batang River in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Region, NW China’s Qinghai province, as the region prepares for an ancient and honorable Tibetan ritual feast involving a human spirit’s reincarnation. 

“This reminds me of the earthquake that happened nine years ago. Families died, but I didn’t,” said Nganor Phursang, a waiter and actor of a hotel in Yushu, before getting lost in quiet contemplation. 

“It took more than luck for our people to survive that earthquake and we needed more than just belief to bear the weight of that loss and to recover,” said Nganor. 

Nine years after a magnitude 7.1 catastrophic earthquake battered Yushu, killing more than 3,000 and leaving many others missing, locals rebuilt their homes with over 6 million yuan (around $895,000) in aid for post-quake reconstruction from the central and local governments, restoring infrastructure, rehabilitating wildlife, and recovering the environment. 

Yushu was reborn from quake debris, echoing the Tibetan meaning of its name: “ruins.” Under the only building left before the earthquake, a memorial hall was established to commemorate the disaster and the huge amount of aid and care that had come from all over the nation. 

“We want to repay that generosity with Yushu’s fresh air and folk melodies, and our people’s sincerity,” Pu Tsaiwa, deputy general manager of the camp base said with gratitude. 

Yushu, which is located at an elevation of around 3,700 meters above sea level, serves as a crucial northeast entry point of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, as well as a cultural center of four major Tibetan Buddhism sects and the world’s largest Mani stone mound. Also, Yushu’s Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve is the birthplace of three of China’s greatest rivers: the Yangtze, Yellow, and Mekong, whose watershed covers 47% of Chinese territory. 

Beijing partnered with the city in 2018 in a bid to boost the local economy by developing the local tourism industry. 

Such resourceful natural beauty requires more complete management of environment protection, as well as more effective policies that contribute to local economic development. 

Local herders in the mountains have been hired by travel agencies to act as protectors of public facilities, which were built by the local government, such as parking lots, toilets, and dumpsters. This not only doubles locals’ incomes, but forges an efficient human resource system of environmental management. 

Employment in the tourism industry in Yushu has seen continuous expansion and this supports the local service industry, creating positions for tourist guides, waiters, and translators, thus offering an increasing number of jobs to Tibetans, as well as business opportunities for those who are thinking about returning to start new businesses. 

“I don’t want to see Yushu’s tourism become over-commercialized. Otherwise, it would lose more cultural sentiment than natural beauty. The economic flourishing should not cost in terms of its folk culture,” stressed Hu Yuchuan, general manager of Jingyu Travel Agency, a Beijing-Yushu accompany that supports projects from Beijing to Yushu. 

Having experienced both pain and gain, Yushu’s rebirth is sending the message of readiness to the world: welcome.