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Ngari is located in western Tibet and the most mysterious place in the region known as the "roof of the world."
Covering an area of 310,000 square kilometers, one-fourth of Tibet, it is situated at an average altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level. Ngari has mountain ranges like the Himalayas, the Gangdise, the Kunlun, and the Karakorum. Its natural sights are unique and it has rich historical and religious cultural relics. All these make Ngari an attraction to tourists around the world. Chinese and foreign explorers, travelers, and adventurers have come to Ngari in streams. In early summer last year, I was fortunate enough to visit Ngari as a member of the first group of Chinese visitors in the area.

The Tour of Chinese Tamarisk is not only a tourist route to Ngari, but also a route traversing Tibet from east to west. It includes many Tibetan attractions. The tour has Route A and Route B. Route A, which we followed, starts from Lhasa, passes Gyangze, Xigaze, Lhaze, Zhongba, Burang, Zanda, Shiquanhe, Ruto, and Yecheng, and ends at Kashi in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The 19-day tour covered 3,600 kilometers.

Chinese tamarisk is a tree unique to Ngari that endures cold and arid conditions. Like the yak, it is symbolic. The tour has been named after this tree species. Wang Songping, deputy commissioner of Ngari Administrative Office and the chief organizer of this tour once said, "Walking on the 'roof of the world', no doubt, is a tour of adventure, of life, and of spirit." The fierce competition of modern industrial society, the intense rhythm, and invisible pressure make people restless. But here, the Tibetan inhabitants live a quiet and tranquil life. We don't mean everyone should live the Tibetan lifestyle, but their lifestyle does soothe people.

Walking on the "roof of the world", even the most bouncy and vivacious people tend to become quiet. Climbing up one story is equivalent to climbing up six stories in Beijing. Even so, people think it is worth coming here. There are too many things that people have never seen yet are worth seeing: the sacred mountain Kangrinboqe, the sacred lake Mapam umco, the Burang Frontier Port, the earth forest in Zanda, the remains of the ancient Guge Kingdom, Tolin Temple, and Bangong Lake.

Kangrinboqe is the best known sacred mountain in tibet, situated at an altitude of 6,656 meters above sea level, the main peak of the Gangdise Mountains, and located in Burang County. The peak is in the shape of a circular cone, capped with white snow all year round. Buddhists worship it as a sacred mountain, and each year numerous pilgrims come here from afar. They walk around the peak, the circumference being 55 kilometers. Pilgrims also come from neighboring countries such as India and Nepal.

Mapam Yumco (co means lake in Tibetan), Namco, and Yamzhog Yumco are the three sacred lakes in Tibet. Countless brooks flow down the Kangrinboqe Mountain, like hair, stretching to Baga Grassland and converging in the depth of the grassland to form the Mapam Yumco Lake. The lake covers an area of 412 square kilometers, and the deepest spot is 77 meters. The lake is surrounded by quiet and beautiful snow-capped mountains.
According to a legend, Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the Year of the Horse. In each Year of the Horse, gods gather around the sacred mountain and lake. It is said that walking around the mountain in the Year of the Horse can increase accumulated merits by 12 fold. So, in the Year of the Horse, more Tibetans worship sacred mountain; and if one goes to the sacred mountain, one must go to the sacred lake", has become of folk custom. All pilgrims wash their bodies, heads, faces and eyes using the lake water to remove disaster and diseases. Some even carry jars to bring water back as gifts to their relatives and friends.

Proceeding along the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway (National Highway 219), turning southward, and crossign Ayila Mountain, one feels the climate suddenly turning warm. Tourists see a different land form: a vast stretch of earthen forest. When we arrived at the county town of Zanda, it was dusk. The setting sun shone over huge "strongholds." According to geologists, a million years ago the area between Burang and Zanda was a great lake with a circumference of 500 kilometers. The Himalayan organic movement made the bottom of the lake rise and the water level gradually lower. After years of weathering, an earthen forest came into being.

The remains of the 700-year-old Guge Kingdom are situated along the slope of a mountain. The structures were built along the slope with a difference in altitude of 175 meters. The structures have a floor space of 720,000 square meters. There are 445 houses (remains), 879 caves, 58 strongholds, 4 tunnels, 28 Buddhist pagodas, and a number of grain depots and weapon warehouses. Its scale is next only to that of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

Seeing the remains, one can imagine the exquisite architecture and wonderful military defense systems that once existed. In a group of well preserved building complexes, including the Red Hall, the White Hall, the Tara Hall, and the Law-Protecting Hall, there are murals depicting scens of Buddha worshipping, farming, herding, milking, singing and dancing. The scenes vividly reflect the life of the times. According to experts, the murals from the Guge remains and the murals from nearby Dongga which belong to the same system match those found in the Mogao Grottoes of Gansu's Dunhuang in terms of both scale and level of artistic achievement.

--Materials are provided by "Travel China weekly newspaper" by Liu Simin


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