Litang: A Town up in the Air?

Updated: 2007-08-22 16:57



Blending the New and Old

Litang, which is thin on oxygen, is never thin on gaiety.

It possesses a strong frontier flavor, with fortress-like stone houses and streets filled with nomads shopping with silver swords bound to their belts.

Many local houses are made of brown stones that blend with the region's barren landscape. Only the richly decorated windows stand out in a flurry of green, red, yellow and blue hues to match the numerous small flags overhanging the main streets. Litang is also a place where new technology, like the Internet, flourishes alongside horseback riding, which is still the preferred method of transport. The result is an incredible blend of timeless tradition and modernity.

Near dark, the multicultural population of Litang gathers in the street at food stalls which line the town center. Chinese and Tibetans alike congregate around warm barbecues to share in a diversity of grilled meats before heading inside a bar to watch the latest video filmed in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

Eight Oddities of Litang

Litang is a region inhabited mostly by Tibetans, whose exotic customs are attracting tourists from both near and near. The most popular topic about Litang among tourists is its "eight oddities":

1. Dishes ordered at noon can arrive as late as suppertime. Tourists are surprised by the region's "remissness" since guests are never served in a timely manner.

2. The lights are turned off as the first guests come for breakfast in the morning - even though daybreak is not until 8 am. No fluorescent lamps are used in the town: People conserve energy since electricity is scarce in the region.

3. People handle affairs very mechanically in Litang. In a restaurant, for example, a table can only be served after the previous customers have finished -- no matter how hungry the latter group may be. Also, once an order is made it cannot be changed.

4. Bread stays fresh for quite a long time in Litang. It is said that even bacteria cannot withstand the rarefaction of oxygen.

5. Take-out meals are packed in paper bags. A fine of RMB5,000 will be imposed on those using plastic. The locals say this plateau is the last pure and unpolluted piece of land in the world.

6. As simple and isolated as they are, the locals never pass up an opportunity to examine strangers from a "50-centimeter distance" from head to toe.

7. One is sure to run into a foreigner with an English-Chinese dictionary in hand at any given moment. It's funny to see them communicate by drawing pictures and flipping through a dictionary.

8. Litang hairstyles are especially impressive. The local women often have 108 braids under their ornamental headdresses, while long-haired men put their hair up with by rings of coral jewelry and mastodon ivory along with characteristic red or black tassels.

The flat plateau is also a cradle for horse riders. Every July, Litang hosts a world-renowned horse festival -- a highlight among tourist areas in the country.

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