Feb. 21, 2024
Decades River Project 2010 (14) Re-entering Plateau Mugecuo

(14) Re-entering Plateau Mugecuo

Writer: Wang Yongchen
Pictures: Wang Yongchen

Since I went into Sichuan Province, I have been feeling sad for the environment. On the morning of 7 December, the members of Decade River Project 2010 set off from Kangding for Mugecuo, the place locally known as “wild-men’s lake”.

The entrance of Kangding Love Song Scenic Spot (By Song Lisha)

Entering Mugecuo (By Song Lisha)

I have been to Mugecuo seven times since my first visit in June 2003. I have taken many photos that captured the natural beauty of this place in different seasons. Following are some of these pictures.

June 2003

July 2004

November 2006

May 2007

December 2007

October 2008

December 2010

It’s difficult to maintain Mugecuo, the magic lake. It was renamed as Kangding Love Song Scenic Spot in 2008. I talked with people working at the promotion department. They claimed that through contracting, Mugecuo would get more financial support and more advanced management. However, our team members hope that when we come back here in future projects, the natural scenery in the region will remain the same.

New signs in the scenic spot (By Ge Haiting)

Mugecuo under the snow-capped mountain

After Mugecuo was renamed as Kangding Love Song Scenic Spot, its introduction goes like this: located in Kangding, the capital city of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garzere in the western Sichuan Province, Kangding Love Song Scenic Spot is situated along the critical Sichuan-Tibet Highway, which in ancient times, served as the core corridor for people in the north and south to travel along. It lies in the center of the Ancient Tea Route which is comparable to the Silk Road and is said to have displayed the best natural scenery and culture in western China. Known as the origin of love songs, it is a place that has produced ancient tales, folk arts, ethnic customs, and folk dances and songs.
The person who shapes this scenic spot does not only contract to build tourism in the region, but also wants to develop the regional folk and ethnic arts. He is insightful. It is worrisome that nowadays people associate traveling only with visiting places of beautiful scenery, and neglect protecting nature or understanding ethnic customs.
Decade River Project has five more years to go, and we will continue to focus on and record changes taking place here.
It was in June 2003, when we first visited Mugucuo because of a letter from the local people to the state leaders. The letter was concerning the construction project of a hydropower plant in Mugecuo. In July 2004, I visited here for the second time, because this letter caught the attention of some leaders and some domestic and foreign media.
In November 2006, I came to Mugecuo for the third time, because it was listed among other places that Decade River Project members would visit and record. It was also because the local government declared to the public that it aimed to become the first region in China to focus on cultural and ecological traveling, with an emphasis on developing nature and ecotourism and Kangba culture-related tourism. From 1999 to 2005, the total income brought in by tourism has increased from 10 million to 1.57 billion in Ganzi. In the competition of the most beautiful places in China held by the Chinese National Geographic in 2005, Ganzi was honored with several awards such as China’s Most Beautiful Grassland, China’s Most Beautiful Snow-capped Mountains, China’s Most Beautiful Lake, China’s Most Beautiful Village and China’s Most Beautiful Glacier, reflecting the immense charm of its ecological economy.

Moving towards Mugecuo

Walking towards Gongga Mountain

In the mountains of Mugecuo

Several years ago, the related departments planned to build a 60-meter high dam in Mugecuo. If it had been done, the dam would have had serious impact on the environment in the area surrounding the dam, including such tourist attractions as Qisehai, Dujuanxia, Honghai, Wumingfeng, Yaochi, Fangcaoping, and Jinshatan. Mugecuo is a glacial lake 3850 meters to 4000 meters above sea-level. If the water level rises, the original dark coniferous forest, alpine shrub meadow and meadow ranch will be engulfed. As a result, many animals will be impacted by the loss or change to their habitats, and there will be damage to the resources and scenery that formed gradually during hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

China has only a few glacial lakes. With an altitude of nearly 4000 meters, the Mugecuo glacial lake is at the highest altitude at which original forest can grow, because the snow line is just a little higher. Scientists haven’t conducted any research about the fish species in the lake yet. If the 60-meter high dam were built, the water level would rise by 45 meters. Although this would expand the lake size, the natural Mugecuo glacial lake and the 3-month freeze-up period would also disappear. As the lake is regulated by people, the unique glacial fish species living in the lake might be affected or even  become extinct. Qisehai, an important scenic spot located downstream of the lake, would be in barren sands during the low water period, with only a small amount of water supplied by rainfall. Many rivers and brooks in its downstream area would dry up as well.

Qisehai in 2004

Qisehai in 2007

Qisehai in 2008

Qisehai in 2010

Near Mugecuo is the Gongga Mountain 7556 meters above sea level. It is the highest mountain in the east part of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and East Asia. With Gangga Mountain as the center, snow-covered mountains and the eastern Hengduan Mountains play a key ecological role in western China and the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. There are snow-covered mountains, ice lakes, hot springs, grasslands, sandy beaches, firs, spruces, over 36 types of cuckoo and other rare animals living in this region. The distance between Dadu Valley and the main range of Gongga Mountain is less than 30 kilometers; however, the altitude difference is as much as 6500 meters. Therefore, it is regarded as the most rugged place on earth. 
When I first came to Mugecuo, I only saw clouds wafting in the air and saw no lofty mountain peaks. But this time when we arrived at the mountain, it was a cloudy day. It just snowed last night. The local residents accompanying us said that it was almost impossible to see Gongga Mountain today.
I believe that nature knows we are in deep love with her, so it often offers us big surprises. However, I was not that confident to say the words—you can get what you want—the weather was not nice at all. The guide urged us to hurry up since if it snowed, we could hardly even get into the mountain.

Gongga Mountain in 2003

Gongga Mountain in 2010

It seemed that the gods had opened another window for us. When we moved into the mountain, it turned into a sunny day. When hearing that we came from Beijing to protect Mugecuo, the local people made an exception for us, allowing us to leave our horse at the foot of Gongga. We were lucky enough to see the beautiful Gongga Mountain in sunshine.

Decades River Project 2010 went into Gongga Mountain

We were at the foot of Gongga Mountain

Muggecuo is on the opposite side of Gangga Mountain

In 2003 when I stood on the side of the Mugecuo lake on a beautiful day, an expert from Sichuan Forestry-Science Academy told me that firs and larch are the main tree species in Mugecuo. A variety of animals and insects live in the area including China’s first-class protection animal Lophophorus thuysii, Tetrastes sewerzowi, China’s second-class protection animal wolf, Pseudois nayaur, goral, Serow, black bear, deer, Crossoptilon crossoptilon etc. Tibetan people and monks often participate in religious activities held near the lake and seven-color sea. Every year on 8 April and 8 October according to the lunar calendar, it is the Tibetan people’s day to free their captured animals.

When I came to Mugecuo again, I was deeply impressed by the natural beauty. But at the same time, I also learned about the worries of several villagers who made a living by offering tourists meals and tents to rent. Yimalama, one of the Tibetan people there, was worried that the unique scenery would disappear if the dam was built, and as a result, visitors from home and abroad wouldn’t come again. These innocent people had doubts about the idea that dams and reservoirs could attract tourists. They asked us: there are dams in other places; but are there similar sea views in other places? They were also concerned if they would even benefit from the hundreds of millions of annual revenue to be brought in by the dam.
I was standing beside the lake when the local herdsman told me that the safety in Mugecuo was the priority of their concerns. As everyone knows, a strong earthquake that occurred in the region in 1955 destroyed the entire village. Over the years, small earthquakes have happened every now and then. The dam is only 21 kilometers away from Kangding city. If an earthquake strikes and the reservoir is damaged, the city of Kangding will be doomed with no doubt.

Kangding was living under a big “water jar”

Interviewing local people in 2003

Interviewing local family in 2003

Kangding is situated on a plateau and surrounded by mountains. Up high on the plateau, its nearby rivers from thousands of highland lakes form millions of rapid streams. In 2003, several senior Tibetans told me that the government had wanted to cover the Yarra River and Kangding River with fenders in order to expand the city’s size. At the beginning of this project,the roaring floods crashed the Kangding city and put an end to this crazy idea—“man will triumph over nature. As local people described it, they live under a huge “water jar”. Anyone who wanted to change nature in a place like this must lack some fundamental understanding of nature.


After learning of our project goals, the Living Buddha Buchu from Kongōji Temple in Kangding said with emotion, “The temple can be rebuilt again if it is damaged, but we cannot have another lake like this if it is ruined.”

Dajin Temple’s Living Buddha Jia Deng, who is also a deputy director of National People's Congress of Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, said to us that these sacred mountains and lakes should not be changed by any human forces.
Mr. Wang Jie, born in Garze, and a professor at the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told us in an interview before our departure that if we do not take care of our planet, our future generations won’t have other places to live; we must not turn this colorful planet into a desert. We should approach the issue of building a dam in the region from a long-term perspective, in order to avoid further ecological losses. We still have little understanding about biodiversity in places like Mugecuo. If damage is done, its value will never be understood. We did a lot of silly things in the West Development Project, and we must learn lessons from past experience.

Zhaxi Dunzhu who led the horse for me

Today, we rode a horse to Gongga Mountain. I had a very nice conversation with Zhaxi Dunzhu. The following is the transcript of the recording of our conversation.
Wang: How many people are there in your family?
   Zha Xi: Five.
Wang: Who are they?
Zha Xi: A parent, my wife and two kids.
  Wang: Is the parent your father?
   Zha Xi:Yes.
Wang: How old are your kids?
  Zha Xi: The older one is 18 this year.
  Wang: Does he still go to school?
   Zha Xi: No, he dropped out of school.
   Wang: Which grade was he in before he dropped out? Junior high?
Zha Xi: No, only elementary school.
Wang: Why didn’t he continue his study?
   Zha xi: We couldn’t afford it.
 Wang: Is it because you didn’t have enough money or he didn’t like to go to school?
   Zha xi: We couldn’t afford the school fee. We have had snow disasters in recent years.
    Wang: Was there snow storms this year?
Zha xi: Yes, but not serious compared to the one we had last year when the snow on the ground was over one meter thick.

    Wang: Were all the bulls dead?
   Zha Xi:Yes.
    Wang: How many bulls died last year?
   Zha xi: All of them. Over 20 bulls and nearly 60 sheep died.
Wang: For how many years did you raise those bulls and sheep?
 Zhaxi: Roughly 15 years.
    Wang: 15 years of hard work has gone all of a sudden! Simply because of the snow?
Zha Xi: Yes.
Wang: Did you sell some before?
Zhaxi: Yep, but only a few. We still lack money.
  Wang: Then, how many bulls do you have now?
   Zhaxi: About 5 or 6.
    Wang: So how long does it take for those bulls to grow mature enough to be sold?
Zha Xi: It may take 5 or 6 years.
Wang: How about sheep?
Zha X: I have over 10 herds of sheep now.
   Wang: How many years does it take for a herd of sheep to grow mature enough to be sold?
   Zhaxi: 3 or 4 years.
   Wang: How much does a bull cost?
Zhaxi: It usually can be sold at 5000 Yuan or 6000 Yuan.
Wang: How about sheep?
Zhaxi: About 300 to 400 Yuan
Wang: Are all the villagers in similar condition?
Zhaxi: Yes, some may be in a more miserable situation.


Winter scene on the side of Mu Ge Cuo.


Forests near Mu Ge Cuo


Talking with local people is a significant way for us to keep record of a certain place. But what happened later gave us an unpleasant experience. When we were riding a horse, all of us heard about local people’s tough life. Some stories were about someone sick in a family, and some were about children’s school fees being too high.

Therefore, each of us not only paid 80 yuan we had agreed to pay for the horse riding and another 10 yuan for circling around a tree that was regarded sacred in the region, but everyone, out of sympathy, paid even more.
   However, after hearing a story interviewed by Zhao Lanjian from Phoenix.com, we felt pretty puzzled. Zhao Lanjian learned from the local person who led his horse that when off work, those young people would go to bars in Kangding to do unhealthy things.
  Li Lu, a CCTV reporter, lost his cellphone on the way and never found it there.

  We did not know how to make a conclusion based on these things. Was the money people donated to help the poor spoiling them? Did any of them pick up the cellphone but not return it? Mu Ge Cuo was considered the most beautiful in terms of natural scenery by “Decade River Project 2010” members; however, at the same time, we had recorded the aformentioned experience as well.
   With these concerns, we finally found RongDongJiangCuo’s home, of which we would spend ten years to keep record, when we were about to leave Mu Ge Cuo.


Teaching LuoRong to use computer in 2006


The grown-up LuoRong in 2010,


Only after one year, LuoRong started working.


Unexpectedly, LuoRongGongBu, the grandson, has already started working. The first picture was taken in “Decade River Project 2006”, when we were teaching him to use computer at his home. Having grown up into a big young man in only a few years, he now works at a resort area. While we were talking, LuoRongGongBu,  who was working nearby, was called to come back home.


I think it is pretty good now


Let’s have a look at more pictures taken at LuoRong’s home during these years.


In 2006


In 2007


In 2008


We did not visit Mu Ge Cuo in “Decade River Project 2009”, and I was afraid that we couldn’t make it this year either. Before leaving Mu Ge Cuo, we saw JiangCuo’s spouse, while JiangCuo was sick in hospital



RongDongJiangCuo’s home

Dissatisfaction of LuoRong’s mother


The house was still the same one. LuoRong’s mother told us that their house had been placed outside the resort area, but the ground on which the house was built became part of the resort area. She said back from Zhuhai, she had planned to start agritainment (agriculture plus entertainment) business with her husband, as she had management work experience in Zhuhai. However, because the ground did not belong to them any more, they could not renovate the old houses in the yard. The resort area officials had told them that if they moved out, their jobs could be arranged; if not, they wouldn’t get any compensation. Their negotiation with the resort area has been on for more than one year so far.

LuoRong likes his current life. I asked him why he did not continue his education while in 2009, he was awarded as Excellent Young Pioneer. He answered that he did not like going to school but enjoyed working in the resort area. He thought it was pretty good that Mu Ge Cuo was contracted by outsiders, because they brought in advanced management skills. Then I said it was so hard for his family to start the agritainment business.


RongDongJiangCuo’s wife

It would be solved. That was what LuoRong, a 17-year-old boy who grew up in Mu Ge Cuo and now works as a law enforcement officer at the Kangding style resort area with 1200 yuan monthly income, believed. Things in the outside world never fail to fasinate him. In this light, it makes sense that the young men who led horses for us would like to have fun in town. Being poor doesn’t deprive them of the right to entertainment. We shouldn’t stop helping them simply because they wanted to have some fun.
We hope they will have their own agritainment business and RongDongJiangCuo will be healthy when we visit them in next year’s Decade River Project.

We also look forward to talking with Zhaxi and other people when we see them again.

In addition, as China’s mass media and environmental organization have been calling and taking actions to protect the natural beauty, can we keep Mu Ge Cuo the way it is supposed to be?
turbulent currents at Mu Ge Cuo

Tomorrow before we end Decade River Project 2010, we will interview a geologist finally for questions we have had throughout our visit, such as influence of global climate changes in 2010 on southwestern China, and the reason why China has so many geologic disasters this year.


One more look at the GongGa mountain


The GongGa Mountain surrounded by other mountains


Translator: Luo Xijing Miao Qing Luo Jia
proofreader: Bao Lan/Karen marshall