National Geographic : 2009 May
• A cheerful group of Chinese tourists, all from eastern cities, are pushing against an enormous Tibetan prayer wheel. On a bus tour of China s wild west, they re having fun trying to get the giant instrument spinning. No less than 50 feet tall and 25 feet in diameter, the Fortunate Victory Prayer Wheel depicts, in bas-relief, China s 56 ethnic groups working together in fabled harmony. Three maroon-robed monks, shorn and strong, arrive to give a hand. e tourists have been trying to push the prayer wheel coun- terclockwise---the wrong direction in Tibetan Buddhism. e monks reverse their energy and get the wheel twirling like a gargantuan top. Perched by a blooming rapeseed eld on the Nu Valley road, a farmer seeks a buyer for his berries. Level, fertile cropland is scarce here, and proposed hydropower dams would ood much of it. Someone s cell phone trills a Chinese pop tune. A woman in lavender tights digs into her oversize purse. A man in a suit reaches into his black leather overcoat. A girl in plaid Converse high-tops rummages in her silver backpack. But it is one of the monks who steps away from the wheel and pulls the gadget from the folds of his robe. He shouts into the phone while staring out across the city below. There is the Paradise Hotel, a ve-star colossus enclosing a swimming pool and an enormous white plastic replica of sacred Mount Kawagebo. ere, sprawling in all directions, are gray concrete tenements. ere, against a far hillside, is the restored 17th- century Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, a smaller but no less inspiring version of the grand Potala in Tibet, gleaming in the wood-smoke haze like an imaginary palace. Welcome to Shangri-La.