Dzachuka, High Grasslands Region of Kham, east Tibet
Vast expanses, touching sky, infused with clarity, Dzachuka is an area of northern Sichuan Province in the Tibetan area of Kham. It is known as the High Grasslands, with sweeping views and a mixture of green rolling mountains and craggy snow peaks.
The glacial-fed Dzachu River, one of the region’s major geographic features, becomes the Yalong, and then the Mekong on its journey to the South China Sea.
The sky is close and clear, the air thin. The land is above the tree line, with the valley floors at 14,000 feet above the sea.
Summers are short with the monsoon spilling over from southeast Asia, watering a lush and green landscape. Wildflowers, medicinal and edible herbs abound. Walking on this thick carpet unleashes intoxicating perfumes. Winters bring a severe cold—dry and windy—changing the land to a stark brown. Snow falls occasionally and then usually blows away, evaporating quickly in the intense sun.
The 18 tribes of Dzachuka are nomadic herders. Their famous Khampa attributes—fearless, tough, resilient, resourceful, independent, proud, devout, direct—serve them well in this challenging environment. They own large herds of yak, and also sheep, goats, and horses which are grazed in two or three distinct areas throughout the seasons. Life is lived on the edge of survival in this severe environment, but it is self-sustaining, and for the most part, still outside a cash economy. Most of these original-culture nomads do not read, and speak only their native Dzachuka dialect. The inaccessibility and harsh environment continue to be the culture’s protection, although modern forces are making inroads, sometimes potentially destructive to its sustainability.
Dzachuka is renowned for many enlightened Buddhist masters over the last thousand years, and religious activity continues to be practiced as a central part of life. The Tibetan form of Buddhism, as vast as the Tibetan sky, has been sustained by this indigenous culture through these centuries. It’s a richly symbiotic relationship that has, in turn, nourished the people, the animals, and the land of Dzachuka.
Sershul is the name of the county and the county seat. Sixu, Shiqu, or Serxu are common Chinese transliterations on maps of China, at 33.0° N 98.1° E. It is 1,070 kilometers from the major Chinese city of Chengdu, a three-day drive. The main “industry” of Sershul town is government, but it is also an important local trading center. The local government offices are headed and staffed by a significant number of Tibetans, and they are known to work together for the real benefit of the local people who number 63,000 county-wide.
The projects of the Kilung Foundation serve a portion of Sershul County in the nomad communities of Kilung, Gemang, Gegong, Tromza Gongma, and Ponru. The first four communities are contiguous, each up side valleys with creeks that feed into the Dzachu River. Their combined area, including winter and summer grazing grounds, is about 9,500 square kilometers, their population about 8,000. The fifth community, Ponru, an hour drive away by road, has a population of about 1,800.
While all five communities have been included in the Foundation’s scope, the primary focus has been Kilung. The Kilung tribe numbers about 300 families, with herds of about 30,000 animals. In the winters most families camp near Kilung Monastery and in the wide Dzachu River Valley below. In summer they spread out to the north across vast areas of higher grazing grounds.