It has now been 9 weeks since the 7.1 earthquake that struck Yushu county. I recently returned from Jyekundo and the surrounding area. It was my first time back since my family and I escaped the earthquake from our apartment on April 14th. I made the long 825kms drive to Jyekundo from Xining. Over 8 hours of the 14 hour drive was through snow and blizzard like conditions. This is not uncommon during the late spring and early summer as moisture in the air is met with temperatures that are still below freezing. There was close to 6 inches / 15cm of snow in places.
There are no hotels remaining in Jyekundo so my only option was to camp. Literally every single person in Jyekundo, and most in the surrounding area, are living in blue government issued tents. I set up camp at the horse festival grounds on the far west side of town. Some good friends of mine from Save the Children Lhasa had a large camp set up, so I set up camp next to them. Save the Children was busy each day running education programs. They had over a dozen tents set up, all containing classroom and learning material. I brought along 2 huge bags of toys and candy and distributed them to around 60 elementary aged children who were living around my camp. It was a lot of fun seeing their faces when I gave them their small gifts. Along with losing many relatives, these children also lost most of their belongings.
I was quite surprised at the state Jyekundo was in when I arrived. Nearly all of the downtown buildings and most of the Tibetan style homes in town are gone. Not just gone, but completely gone. All of the debris has been removed. There are tens of thousands of workers in town tearing down destroyed buildings and clearing up rubble. The town as I have known it for the past 7 or 8 years, does not exist anymore.Over 90% of the buildings were destroyed during the earthquake and workers have removed a substantial amount of them. It appears that the plan is to remove most of the buildings in town and start rebuilding from the ground up. The government hopes to have the town rebuilt by summer 2013.
I was able to see the entire town and assess the damage to each region. The eastern region in and around the Gyanak Mani was not as badly hit as the western part of town. Around the Gyanak Mani, most of the buildings were damaged, but are still standing. The Gyanak Mani itself suffered heavy damage though and will need to be rebuilt. The 3 main monasteries in and around Jyekundo will need to be rebuilt. The hilltop Jyekundo Dongdrubling Monastery had several monks die in the quake. One of the main assembly halls is completely destroyed. Damkhar Monastery, 12kms east of town, also suffered heavy damage. This monastery was most likely going to be moved before the earthquake happened due to landslides and large portions of the mountain falling. Since the earthquake, there is no doubt that this monastery will be relocated. Trangu Monastery, 7kms south of Jyekundo, is completely destroyed. There were a large number of casualties here. Very little remains standing here.
Though it was difficult to be back in my Tibetan hometown seeing it destroyed, it was still a good trip. I was able to see a lot of friends and share my story of the earthquake with them as well as hear their stories. Shops, restaurants and stores have all reopened in town. They are all in tents now. You can pretty much find anything you want in tent stores...everything from TV's and freezers to ice cream and books. There are still no hotels or running water, but there is electricity during the evenings. I have even heard that there are internet cafe's set up in tents.
Many thanks to all of you who have sent emails asking how my family and I are doing. I plan to start writing more on this site in between my travels. If you have any questions regarding travel in Tibet or which travel agency to use, please send me an email at email@example.com