About Sunlight Valley

About Sunlight Valley

This article was posted in August 28, 2011. This is a journal about a journey from Amdo Xining to Lhasa, on the train which starts from Beijing. The train began running in 2006 and made it much easier for Chinese travelers and migrants to come from the mainland to Tibet. The writer compares the attitude of the present travelers’ versus the attitude of travelers twenty years ago, when the Tibetans took off their hats when they entered Lhasa as a sign of respect for the holy city.

About Sunlight Valley


–Journal of a Lhasa visit

After waiting for several hours at the Xining Train Station (Tib: Xiling), I finally got a ticket. The intercom announced, “The train that you can’t see from one end to the other is going to Lhasa.” “How many trains go to Lhasa everyday? How many guests are in one train?” I talked to myself, but it seems there was no one who could understand Tibetan, so I asked these questions to myself. I looked carefully, everyone was carrying luggage piled sky-high. I listened to their accents, the people entering the compartment with their spouses and children were from Sichuan and Shanghai. Actually, it looked like these travelers were not traveling, but rather, returning home.

Some time after the train started moving, the travelers began talking about various things in Mandarin and local dialects while eating dry instant noodles. One of them said, “At the Snowland Gang-Tai Bath Center in Lhasa, there are many beautiful Han-Chinese prostitutes, and a few Tibetan prostitutes from Lhundrub County.” They gradually discussed Lhasa’s bath centers, bars, foot message centers, gambling houses, dancing halls and brothels, in detail. I was the only listener that night, but since I had never been to Lhasa except once when I was nine, I couldn’t imagine the Lhasa of their conversation except as something like Xining City.

At one point, I looked outside the window and saw a large plain. It seems it was Chaidam Basin. There were trucks and big machines everywhere. The sky was not completely clear, so I couldn’t see more than that. A young girl from southern Beijing pointed a camera at the window and made a few clicks, but the train window was too thick and it was too dark outside, so the camera didn’t capture any clear images. The Han-Chinese girl was disappointed and said there was no meaning. I didn’t know what she meant by that, but I copied her words; I also said there was no meaning.

After many hours of traveling, it suddenly became noisy inside the train. In Mandarin and in various local dialects, the travelers were proudly shouting, “We are arriving in Lhasa. Put on your hats.” What was this? When I was brought to Lhasa by my grandpa twenty years ago, people shouted, “Take off your hats.” But now, when I came to Lhasa twenty years later, why did people say put on your hats? I was very puzzled for a moment. Meanwhile, all the people put on their caps and hats of various shapes. Besides hats, women also put some stuff on their faces and cloth covering their faces from below the eyes to the collar of their jackets. Who knows what would happen next? Some women also wore dark glasses to cover the space between the hat and cloth wrapped just below the eyes. It was hard to know what was happening.

I was so impatient so I asked the person next me, “What are they doing?” He replied, “Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight! People call Lhasa the upper city of sunlight and the city closest to the sun. Some just call it the sunlight city. The annual average temperature is 8 Celsius degree and it gets 3000 hours of sunlight in a year. Due to the power of the sunlight, generally there is no need of heat in the houses in the winter. Also because of the strong UV-ray, it is hard to keep your face fair. Don’t you know that?”


Translated by Reb Sa