Every year, the nomads of Dzachuka must cross the substantial Dza River at least twice, traveling to summer grazing grounds and back. Every year for millennia, hundreds of animals were lost to the swift, deep waters. Some years, as they struggled to save their animals, nomads also drowned. Though born and raised for this challenging life, in recent years the siren call of modern life combined with the dangers of river fording began to erode the resolve of families to maintain their traditional way of life. In answer to this and the simple but profound wish to save lives, Kilung Jigme Rinpoche determined to build a bridge across the Dza River.
Kilung Foundation took on this project, and with funding from generous donors and the local county government, the bridge was completed in October of 2004. The Dza is a major river in east Tibet and a tributary of the Mekong. The cable suspension bridge is 275 feet long, engineered strong enough for a small herd of panicked yaks to surge across. The cement pilings are set seven meters below the surface into bedrock. The location is next to a steep hillside where the river tends not to meander. It is accessible by several tribes, including Kilung, Gemang, and Gegong, comprising some 3,000 people and their substantial herds. The crossing is now counted in minutes rather than hours, and no one, animals or people have been lost.
The day the bridge was officially opened in 2004, the sky let loose with an all-day show of unusual lights and rainbows. Many people laid on their backs on the flat river plain and just watched. People, including government officials, asked the question: We might expect to see this at the opening of a monastery, but for a bridge? The answer came: It was because of the great compassion and vision that was the ground from which the bridge came into being.
In June of 2007 the bridge was damaged by unheard of flooding probably due to climate change. Local officials pointed to unusual glacial melt combined with heavy rains as the cause of the flooding. Scientists have been reporting that the Tibetan plateau has been particularly susceptible to global warming, with increased temperatures more than twice the planet’s average. One article in 2007 warned, “The melting glaciers threaten to unleash massive flooding followed by severe droughts across South Asia.”
The deck of the Dzachu Bridge was pulled into the raging flood. To reach the summer grounds the nomads had to ford the river once again. But by fall, the bridge was repaired, thanks to swift donations from Kilung supporters and the aid of the county government. It was just time, for days later, the nomads returned to winter grounds, and were able to herd their animals safely across the planks of the bridge. In the repair, the bridge deck was raised a full meter, to avoid a repeat of this costly danger.
Crossing Dzachu River is a gorgeous and captivating documentary featuring a nomad family from Kilung Valley, Dzachuka. The film depicts the family as they prepared and then forded the Dzachu River with their herds and belongings to go to the summer grazing grounds before the Dzachu Bridge was completed. The documentary leads us to understand the consequences nature has on nomad life, the important social role that the monastery plays, and how big an impact something as simple as a bridge can have on a people. Finally it shows that a third world country can improve life on its own ground. Crossing Dzachu River was filmed in Dzachuka in July 2004 by Danish film-team, Addy Ipsen and Kathrine Krake. The film won the first place award in a Danish competition of short documentaries. The English version of the film is HERE.