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Journey Through Gacha: A Travelogue

Ascending Gacha Mountain: A Path Through History

Our journey from Zedang to Gacha County begins with an eastward trek through Quxu. As our jeep climbs the modest heights of Gacha Mountain, a landscape not particularly distinguished among the many highlands of the plateau unfolds. From the base, the mountain’s slopes show a pale greenery tinged with touches of light yellow, and the rocks, rather rounded and smooth, stand out against this backdrop.

The road snakes up the mountain, each turn more challenging than the last. Our vehicle struggles like an old ox, gasping at full throttle. Reaching the summit, we are greeted by a piercing cold, like countless tiny needles against the skin, and a sharp pain in our ears.

A Spiritual Crossroad at the Summit

Atop the mountain, two towering peaks form a pass. Strung across the stones bridging these giants are yak ropes, adorned with red, yellow, and white cloth strips, hadas (traditional Tibetan scarves), cypress branches, and hair. The ground is dotted with mani stone piles (prayer stone stacks), and the environment feels as if every rock hides a ghostly presence.

Suddenly, clouds gather, and a mix of rain and pearl-sized snowflakes falls. In this blend of elements, I experience shortness of breath, purpling lips, and a dizzying urge to kneel – unmistakable signs of altitude sickness. Hurrying down the mountain seems the only prudent action.

A Melting Pot of Commerce in Gacha County

After descending the pass, our jeep speeds along, emerging from the valley to reveal the county town. This modest settlement, wedged between the Linzhi Highway and the roaring Yarlung Tsangpo River, is a hub of activity with buildings scattered across the floodplain. The town’s merchants, hailing from Jiangsu, Shanghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Henan, and more, bring a vibrant diversity.

Here, craftsmen and vendors from across China mingle – Zhejiang cobblers, Jiangsu tailors, Sichuan chefs, Gansu peddlers, Henan monkey trainers. They import electronics, food, toys, fashion, even seasonal fruits and seafood from the mainland, focusing on branded goods due to the high transportation costs.

Some successful merchants have even partnered with local Tibetans to open shops, hotels, and restaurants. Despite increased competition from savvy Tibetan entrepreneurs, these businessmen remain committed, finding Gacha’s market expansive compared to the mainland.

The Walnut Groves of Gacha

Gacha’s roadsides and riverbanks are adorned with dense walnut trees. Their endless greenery, accompanied by a subtle, refreshing fragrance, brings a sense of peace and tranquility. In Gacha, walnut trees are a significant source of economic income. Known for their thin shells and rich, crisp kernels, Gacha walnuts are widely cherished.

Previously, the walnut trees grew naturally with modest economic return. During the Cultural Revolution, they were even targeted as symbols of capitalism. However, post the 11th Party Congress, these trees became “money trees.” The county now produces over 300,000 kilograms of walnuts annually.

The county leaders proudly mention a thousand-year-old walnut tree, the “King of Walnut Trees,” still fruitful and reluctant to shed its beautiful green foliage even in winter.

Gacha’s Walnut Varieties: A Connoisseur’s Delight

Our guide, Badeng Yixi, enlightens us about the rich history and diversity of Gacha’s walnut trees, including cultivated and wild varieties.

  • Maben Walnut: Known locally as “Jisaida Gaga,” this variety has a thin, paper-like shell, hammer-shaped fruit, and a light-yellow kernel. It boasts a high kernel yield and oil content, renowned for its sweet taste.
  • Butter Walnut: Called “Mada Gaga,” these are elongated and weigh 5-6 grams. They have a light-yellow kernel, high oil content, and a sweet, aromatic flavor.
  • Egg Walnut: “Gong Ada Gaga,” resembling an egg, has a plump, light-yellow kernel with high oil content and a sweet, fragrant taste.

An Evening Walk by the Yarlung Tsangpo River

Post-dinner, we stroll along the Yarlung Tsangpo with elder Yundeng. He points to the opposite riverbank, historically a site where the Tibetan government exiled prisoners. The landscape resembles the spread wings of a mythological bird, with towering pines and cypresses, vibrant wildflowers, and dense rhododendrons and shrubs.

Yundeng recounts tales from before the liberation: serfs, punished for minor transgressions like losing a sheep or stealing a pinch of salt, were maimed and exiled here. He shows us a ruined wooden house where the People’s Liberation Army found a young Tibetan girl, the daughter of exiled ‘prisoners,’ who had survived six years in the wilderness after her parents were killed by bandits. She later became one of the first Tibetan engineers.

Gacha’s Stone Pot Craftsmanship

At Yundeng’s home, we admire his collection of stone pots, a Gacha specialty. These cylindrical pots, with large bases and smaller mouths, feature exquisite patterns and stone ‘ears.’ Made from soft sedimentary rock collected at high altitudes during spring, the largest can cook for 25 people, and the smallest resemble milk pots.

One unique, spoon-shaped pot, blackened from use, has been in his family for generations. These pots, favored for their flavor-enhancing and heat-retaining properties, are a cherished part of local cuisine.

The Sacred Lake: Lhamo Latso

Yundeng speaks of Lhamo Latso, a sacred lake revered by Buddhists as the “soul of the goddess.” Since the 2nd Dalai Lama, successive Dalai Lamas have made pilgrimages here. Believed to show visions of the future to the faithful, the lake is also integral to finding the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama, with officials seeking divine signs in its waters.

Regrettably, our schedule doesn’t allow a visit to this mystical site, leaving us with a sense of longing as we wrap up our day in Gacha.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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