It has been nearly a year since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed the town of Jyekundo. Though the official death toll is around 2700, everyone who was in the quake, including myself, knows that the death toll is much, much higher than that (20,000 is how many most people believe died). Literally every Tibetan I know from Yushu prefecture lost at least 1 family member and most lost multiple. One of our good friends lost no less than 10 of her family members. This past year has been a grieving time for the 275,000 Tibetans from Yushu prefecture, which is part of the traditional Tibetan region of Kham. Though some small villages outside Jyekundo have now been rebuilt, rebuilding in town has not yet begun. Nearly every building has been torn down and government officials and city planners have been busy surveying the area and drawing up plans for the new Jyekundo. Though many Tibetans from Yushu have temporarily relocated to Xining and Lhasa, there still are roughly 60,000 to 70,000 homeless people living in government issued tents throughout the prefecture.
It is still difficult to predict when the new Jyekundo will be finished being rebuilt. Construction will begin this year and will probably take at least 18 months and maybe even up to 30 months to complete. All families will have a new home built for them paid for by the government. Though the houses will be rather small (roughly 80 square meters or 860 square feet), they will be in a nice Tibetan design. City planners will include several nice parks in town and the streets will be built wide to reduce the traffic problems the old Jyekundo used to have. The Qinghai provincial government plans to build a nice 4 lane highway connecting Xining with Jyekundo. This will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to drive the 820kms between these two places. The government has already completed the highway connecting the southern Yushu county of Nangchen with Riwoche in northern Chamdo prefecture. When all the road work is completed, it should be possible to cover the 500kms between Jyekundo and Chamdo in about 7 hours. Just a few years ago this journey took 2 1/2 days!
The current word is that the annual Yushu Horse Festival will take place this year on July 25. It supposedly will be held on the Batang Grasslands just south of Jyekundo. For the past 10 years or so, this has been the largest horse festival in Tibet drawing anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people. This years event will be funded by the provincial government and is supposed to be quite elaborate. Tibetans from Yushu prefecture have not participated in any festivals, including this years Losar, since last years earthquake. The horse festival would mark the first major celebration that these Tibetans have been a part of since the earthquake.
Though Yushu prefecture is open to foreign travelers, it is best to avoid Jyekundo and the other areas of Yushu county that were destroyed by the earthquake. Jyekundo is extremely busy with rebuilding and there are limited places to stay (there are a few hotels set up in temporary buildings as well as numerous "tent hotels", which are very simple). Yushu prefecture is a huge, covering more area than Nepal. The other 5 counties of Yushu prefecture (Nangchen, Drido, Chumarleb, Dzado and Trindu) suffered relatively little damage compared to Yushu county. These areas are extremely beautiful, are almost entirely 100% Tibetan and only a handful of foreigners know they exist. I have traveled extensively from one end of Tibet to the other and Yushu prefecture easily is the most beautiful and unique place I have been to. There is little about this area written in guidebooks so you will have to either go with a guide who knows the region or just set out on your own. The county towns are not where the attractions are so don't expect much from them. Places like Gar Monastery, Surmang Namgyaltse, Gado Jowa and Shari Monastery are remote and not easy to get to, but are well worth it.
Though Yushu has experienced a horrible tragedy, peoples' lives are being put back together. A new Jyekundo will be finished in the future and I am quite sure that it will be a very nice place. The government has allocated huge amounts of money for the rebuilding and are planning on developing it as the next premier tourist destination on the Tibetan Plateau. Of the 16 prefectures that make up the Greater Tibet area, Yushu is one of the most remote, has the highest percentage of Tibetans (97%), has amazing scenery and has, in my opinion, the best preserved Tibetan culture. Due to its remoteness, it sees very few tourists. All of the pictures on this post were taken in various places of Yushu prefecture. For more information about Yushu or any other region of Tibet, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.