There are about 75 houses in Xidang and approximately 350 people. The village is located in the Mekong river valley near the Tibet and Myanmar borders. Xidang is a part of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture which consists of the counties of Zhongdian, Deqin and Weixi Lisu autonomous county. In 2001 Diqing officially changed its name into Shangri-la, although it’s mainly Zhongdian which is known by that name now.
The nearest town from Xidang is Deqin which is about two-hour bus ride away from here. The local bus leaves to Deqin every morning between seven and nine o’clock in the morning (not very punctual) and leaves Deqin at three in the afternoon. So, the trip to town takes all day. Not that I visit Deqin often anyways. The locals go there to do shopping but other than that there’s nothing to do. Nowadays you can’t even use internet there unless you have a Chinese ID-card.
Deqin is located 3 500 m above the sea level. As Xidang is in a river valley, we are only in 2 400 m. So, the temperature here is much warmer and even wine grows here. Farming is the main source of livelihood. Well, that and tourism. We get two harvests a year; the first is highland barley and second is corn. Every house also has a vegetable garden for their own needs. Every family also owns walnut trees around the village, and walnuts, corn and grapes are the money crops. The rest of the harvest goes to the needs of the family and their animals. From the mountains they collect mushrooms (i.e. matsutake) for sale, and many of the herbs of Tibetan medicine grow here (i.e. snow cabbage, which grows only at an altitude above 5 000 m).
Tourism has brought some opportunities, for example every family owns mules with which they transport tourists up the mountain to Yubeng. Many (especially young men) want to do guiding. There are a few guesthouses in the village. Now many boys wish to buy cars to drive tourists up here from Shangri-la and Lijiang. But tourism has also brought many side effects with it. Obvious one is garbage. There is no garbage disposal in the village. We burn what can be burnt. For example, empty beer bottles can’t, so they are dumped everywhere. Another one is the so-called sex tourism. It seems to be fashionable among the wealthy Han-girls to have a holiday romance with a Tibetan guy. They buy the guys cell phones, computers and even cars (many of the cars in the village are acquired this way). But some of these girls also fall in love with the guys braking up their marriages with Tibetan girls and disturbing the traditional family structures.