Aug. 09, 2022

Searching for China’s Water(18) Into the Geladandong Snow- Capped Mountain

Searching for China’s Water (18)  Into the Geladandong Snow- Capped Mountain

Words and Pictures by Yongchen Wang

On July 5, 2009 late at night, to respond to global climate change, Finding Water for China Team started from the Tuotuo River Township which was along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to the Geladandong Snow-capped Mountain, the birthplace of the Tuotuo River which was the source of the Yangtze River.
We walked in the no man's land of the Yangtze River source area for 12 days, experiencing car subsided in the plateau, lost, storm, hail, and car overturned into a turbulent river. At last, we determined a new birthplace for the Tuotuo River, which was 20 km longer than the Jianggudiru Glaciers, the original source of the Tuotuo River. Moreover, on July 16, 2009 late at night, we walked out with difficulty from the no man's land of the Yangtze River source area, and completed the first phase of the "Yangtze River Source Tour” whose goal was to find water for China to respond to global climate change. 
Buqu, a tributary of the Yangtze River under snow-capped mountains, whose water turns less and less
Study routes
On July 6, 2009, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway would be repaired, so we set out at 12:00 am on July 5, and reached a station of highway maintenance teams at the foot of the Tanggula Mountains at 3:00 am. We, 11 people, went to sleep one night in bed or underground at a maintenance worker’s home.
In the embrace of snow-capped mountains
The next morning, when we walked out of the house, what we heard were scriptures from loudspeakers, and what we saw was that we looked like in the embrace of snow-capped mountains.
Global climate changed, and snow lines were rising, but under the Tanggula at 4800 meters above sea level, we still saw snow-capped mountains under the blue sky and white clouds.
Rong Yang most worried about oil if we entered the no man's land of the Yangtze River source area. Many places are no-man's lands after we went into the Geladandong Snow-capped Mountain. It would not be easy to refuel at those places. Thus, this morning we made good consultation with the people in the maintenance team, and finally we filled the tanks of our cars and all oil drums in 10 Yuan per liter.
The coming route to find water was from the Geladandong Snow-capped Mountain to the Jianggudiru Glaciers, and then to pass through Kekexili, and finally to go straight to Xinjiang. Refueling was a big problem for the tour.
Gas up cars
Load cars
After starting, soon we saw another tributary of the Yangtze River, Qubu. It was under snow-capped mountains and white clouds, but water did not cover the riverbed.
However, after entering the Yangtze River source area, I often asked myself a question: why the lives in our hometown were much more affluent than here, but there was no blue skies and white clouds. And here, every day there were blue skies and white clouds, but lives were not as plenty as ours.
Our lives were richer than theirs, and their lives were too simple. Perhaps the comparison of our lives and their lives was meaningless. However, must it be true that rich lives have no blue skies and white clouds, while simple lives do? Walking under the blue sky and white clouds, my heart was also very clean, but the problem was still persistently attacked on my mind from time to time.
What we saw at the foot of snow-capped mountains
Under the bridge of Buqu
When we experienced being surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and enjoyed the blue sky and white clouds which were very difficult to see in today's cities, Rong Yang’s car leaked a lot of liquid which we did not know was water or oil.
Buqu under the Tanggula Mountains

We had no any other way except set a car to return the starting place to find a tube, and then made reparation by ourselves.
While waiting time, we saw that Tibetans had lived in houses left by people who repaired the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
Two cadres from nearby Gangni Township invited us for a cup of tea, which was a habit of Tibetans. No matter where you go, and no matter you were known or not, you could get a cup of tea if you walk into a tent. Moreover, the tea is enough. Bowl could not be empty even for half a minute.
They look at us, and we look at them
Only Labaciren could speak Chinese during the Tibetans in the house. He attended school in inland, and he said that he belonged to “Unity Ethnic Group”. As I know, in minority areas, one of parents belongs to a local nationality, and the other belongs to the Han nationality or other nationalities, then their children are called “Unity Ethnic Group.”
We asked Labaciren, what had ecological environment here been changed in recent years? He said that it was not obvious. Only in April and May this year, it still snowed for ten days which resulted in the deaths of 10,000 head of livestock in Gangni Township. I asked him if there were more natural disasters like this than before. His answer was yes, more and more.
However, now this township cadre’s most worry was that the local water quality had problems. As he said, after drinking water, the first effect was bloating stomach, and then was gaining in body weight. When the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was being repaired, the water was helped to be tested, but there were different statements. Some said that it did not matter, and the others said that the water should not be drunk, and it was the second most toxic water in China.
Labaciren earnestly hoped that we could bring some water to Beijing, and help them test it again. However, as we knew, the compositions of the water could not be exactly tested when we went back if we did not pre-treat the water after getting it.
We were very sorry that we were unable to meet their requirements to help them test water. Yong Yang said that the water quality of drinking water in the Yangtze River source area had been a big problem, but it had not attracted enough attention to the relevant departments.
I thought that when I participated in Chinese first women scientific expedition team for the Yangtze River source area in 1998, the fighters’ drinking water in the Tuotuo River army service station was also gotten from a few kilometers far away. For herdsmen, where could they get water? Now government helped some herdsmen dig wells, but for the herdsmen who living around the Yangtze River source area, river water was still the main source of drinking water for most herdsmen.

Crochet arts from hearts

The crafts in the hands of Tibetan women
When we started our trip again, we saw the nearest snow-capped mountains and glaciers. We were still disappointed with Bugu under the glaciers, because not only water became less, but also dredging was very serious.
Glaciers at the first sight
Under snow-capped mountains
This is also Buqu
Today we always walked along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, so not only our cell phones had signal, but also the dirt road was not bad.

A train was coming
Unexpectedly, I suddenly discovered that the sharp snow-capped mountain out the window was just the Geladandong Snow-capped Mountain when we were going to reach the Tanggula Railway Station, the world's highest railway station. It was the peak of the Tanggula Mountains!
The sharp mountain was the Geladandong Snow-capped Mountain which the Yangtze River originated from
In 1998, when I first came back from the Yangtze River source area, I wrote the following paragraphs in a radio program, which described what I first saw and heard about the Geladandong. I would like to copy it here. For me it was memories, but for the friends who had not seen the Geladandong, it was an introduction. This radio program got 1999 ABU broadcast Award.
 (Excerpt) today I saw the Geladandong Snow-capped Mountain which I had been longing for a long time. How to describe it to you? It looked like a sword, standing in high mountains. Except for white, what I felt more was exclusive. Otherwise, why did only it produce a stream of Yangtze River in so many great mountains?


Dog was barking: Wang ... Wang Wang...

Children were shouting...

Journalist: when we reached the foot of the Geladandong Snow-capped Mountain, we also reached Yue Ou’s home. Children had not seen his father for a long time, so they jumped together into Yue Ou’s arms, and a dog also wagged its tail aside.


In Yue Ou family’s tent

Butter tea was making ... Tong ... Tong...

Butter tea was pouring into bowls ... Hua ... Hua...

Journalist: Before leaving, Yue Ou’s wife kept pouring butter tea into our bowls. Although there was a language barrier, I could guess form her smile that she wanted us to drink, and drink...

People were drinking water...

Birds were singing in Plateau ... sheep were bleating...

Yaks were walking on the road...

Journalist: I was riding on the back of a yak. Yue Ou's wife stood before his home tent far away, quietly watching her husband who would travel with us. The children were still around Yue Ou, holding his legs, embracing his neck, and keeping close to his face.


Yue Ou was driving a yak: Oh Ya… Oh Ya...

Horses were breathing…herders were whistling...

Yue Ou was singing: ... there are a lot of good places, but the best place is Northern Tibet Grassland... I would like to choose the best and most handsome horse (girl) and ride it all my life... ...

Journalist: A geographer of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Professor Bangxing Tang was the commander-in-chief of our team. It was his second time to enter the Yangtze River source area. Today, when we walked, he told me the change of the Yangtze River source area in his view.

Professor Tang: the place where we are now walking originally was a swamp, and now it has no water. The area of desertification in the river source area is expanding. The place had been a swamp for ten thousand years. After the degradation of swamp grass mound no longer existed. This was a prevailing area of westerly, together with livestock trampling, so the turf was opened, and the under was gravel, then the place became a desert.
Journalist: Professor Tang also said that the effect of soil erosion was directly able to see an increase in the volume of sediment. Such a heavy disaster in the Yangtze River this year was related with the ecological change in the Yangtze River upstream. Now it was a small flood with a disaster, and a big flood with a serious disaster.
When we went to the Yangtze River source area in 1998, it was the time to flood in the Yangtze River downstream. After reaching the source area, we knew that there were snowstorms in both winter and spring in that year. Late monsoon made rain which originally occur in April or May occur in July or August. No one studied whether it would affect the flood in the downstream.
In May this year, what effect will the snowstorm in the Yangtze River source area make to the downstream? What relationship is between it and global climate change? Who could answer the questions?

Tanggula Railway Station

The world's highest point of railway
A train at the foot of the Tanggula
The train has brought more and more inland people to Tibet. It has become a trend to know the ecology and natural of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and to understand Tibet's culture and history. However, the most sensitive climate change of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has not gained attention from international community. We hope that this report can do some contributions for it.
We live here tonight
Anti-foot-and-mouth-disease vaccine
Rong Yang saw that there were some houses here which meant that we did not need to build tend anymore, so he decided to live here today.
There was often big wind accompanying with hail at night in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, so we could not sleep in tent roofs as we hoped. What we heard from the two cadres of Gangni Township when we repaired our car was that it was not far to the township. They already asked people in the township to wait for us. However, Rong Yang stopped car and lodged. He thought that the township was far away from here, so we could not go any further.
The all stops and goings of our tour were determined by Rong Yang, because he was not only the leader, but also the only one scientist in our team. I proposed my suggestion in the Yellow River source area that some things needed all team people’s opinions, but there was no response.
Then we would enter the Yangtze River source area. In the Yellow River source area, there were still primary schools, while in the Yangtze River source area we would truly enter a no man's land after passing Gangni Township tomorrow. In 1998, including walking and drifting, We spend a whole month on the no man's land of the Yangtze River source area. After walking out, my companions shouted in excitement when seeing poles, because it meant that there were human beings. It was unknown that how long it would take to get in, and when we could walk out.

A woman under the Geladandong Mountain
Sunset in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

After saying goodbye to the last night’s people and scenes which accompanied us in the Yangtze River source area, tomorrow we would pass through Gangni Township, and then would enter the no man's land of the Yangtze River source area.

 Proofreader:Ryan Yu

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