Tourism changes lives of Tibetan villagers in NW China

In early autumn in the Gannan, northwest China's Gansu Province, the tourism peak season is gradually off from the summer.

The 48-year-old Tashi is the head of Drakarna Village in Tewo County, Gannan Prefecture. He has three children, with the oldest currently studying at Tibet University; the second child at Southwest Minzu University and the youngest in his second year at Tianshui Normal University in Gansu. Having three children all in university in the village is so rare that Tashi's family is often talked about.

In 2014, Tashi and his wife opened up an inn called "Stone City", because the translation of "Drakarna" means "stone box". Born and raised in Drakarna, Tashi has witnessed the changes in this mountain-surrounded village from poverty to high-rise buildings and crowds of tourists. Sometime, even thousands of people visit here on one day and it is "difficult to find a bed". For the last few years, many farmers have begun driving small cars.

"When I was young, my family was very poor. We often didn't have enough to eat, let alone have money to go to school, so I can only read a few characters," Tashi said. "Not learning to read has been the biggest regret of my life. So, even if I have to sacrifice everything, I will make sure that my kids are able to read." Tashi said that in order to provide for his three children to go to school, he did everything he could to earn money, such as sheepherding, digging for medicinal herbs, helping others hunt, doing manual work, and digging for cordyceps.

About seven or eight years ago, tourism in Drakarna became more and more popular, and tourists started coming in droves. Tashi and his wife cleaned their upstairs room and put in a few beds for tourists. They never expected that in the summer months, they would be filled to capacity, and the income they earned was very impressive.

In 2014, Tashi managed to pool around 400,000 yuan (57,831 US dollars). He borrowed from the bank another 450,000 yuan (65,059.9 US dollars), leveled the cow and sheep pens and vegetable plots in front of their home, and built a two-story house which they renovated with guestrooms and bathrooms. During the peak travel season, one room costs 280 yuan (40.5 US dollars) per night. His wife also makes some local specialty foods and sells them to tourists. In four years, they have paid back more than half the loan.

"It's easy to earn more than 200,000 yuan (28,910.5 US dollars) during the peak season every year. Half of this I give to my three children for their studies, and half to pay back the loan. In a year we will have paid it all back, and my children will be graduating soon," Tashi said. Recalling his own childhood, Tashi said that he never dreamed he would have had a life like he does today.

Although he hasn't read many books, Tashi is honest in his work and is a steady person, so the other villagers chose him to be the village head. "I don't have any skills, but the people in the village trust me, so I must do a good job. Everyone works hard to bring themselves out of poverty, and all the children in the village go to school. It's not like our generation.

In recent years, Tewo County has invested nearly 300 million yuan (43.4 million US dollars) to implement infrastructure construction in Drakarna, Goje, Tserana, Latsekhok, and other scenic areas. 27 special tourism villages such as Drakarna Village have also been built, and at the same time, this has encouraged farmers and nomads to develop ways in which they can earn incomes from tourism, such as opening Tibetan family homestays and rural homestays, providing tourism transportation, selling tourism products, opening hotels and restaurants, and working in tourism companies.