Yushu rebuilds its identity as tourism destination after quake

Updated: 2015-07-18 11:13


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Yushu rebuilds its identity as tourism destination after quake

Monks and herders walk in front of cranes in Qinghai province's Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture, following the 2010 earthquake. The prefecture is not only rebuilding its infrastructure but also reconstructing its identity as a tourism destination to shift its economy away from husbandry. Photos by Erik Nilsson / China Daily

Following the 2010 quake and fledgling Belt and Road Initiative, Yushu is courting tourists to improve Tibetan nomads' livelihoods

A car crunches into a yak, destroying both.

The driver confronts the herdsman: "Why'd you guide your yak on the road? There's no grass on it!"

The nomad retorts: "Why'd you drive your car over my yak? There's no pavement on it!"

So goes a joke in Qinghai province's Yushu autonomous Tibetan prefecture.

For good reason. Traffic jams' triggers are more likely to have hooves than wheels.

And be steered with "Tibetan guns" - that is, slingshots used to herd.

This is yak country.

That's not to mention the perpetual pinball game of pikas that make every rural road a gauntlet. Drivers veer to try to miss them - "try" being the operative word - adding zigs and zags to rides outside downtown.

One night, a wolf flashed in of our headlights. Our brights cast him in ghostly illumination and made his eyes burn neon.

My first year visiting Yushu's hinterlands, 2011, we stopped to help when we saw an upside-down car. Last year, we saw a coal truck on its side, spilling black nuggets down the mountainside. The driver paced atop the overturned truck's side, clasping a cellphone to his ear.

I can only imagine the conversation he was having.

Piles of stones mark fatal crashes' locations.

They're essentially "slow-down" signs without words.

But roads have continued improving since the 2010 quake pushed the government to invest in transportation and tourism. And the Belt and Road Initiative is paving ways toward better motorways.