Thursday, October 22, 2015

Using Google Earth to track [over] development in Yunnan and Sichuan

I've long suspected that there has been a lot of development in the the areas I have revisited in the footsteps of Joseph Rock - but it's always been hard to put a finger on exactly what has changed. Recently I have been browsing some of my former trekking locations using Google Earth's archive feature - this allows you to switch between satellite views from different years.  You can see the changes in the split picture above.

This is just one example of the huge changes in Yunnan: compare the Fei Lai Si viewing area outside Deqin in the decade between 2002 and 2012. I first visited the place in the late 1990s - or was it early noughties:

As the top photo shows, there was already a little viewing area at Fei Lai Si and  line of specially erected stupas from where the Meili Xueshan/ Kawakarpo could be viewed. There wasn't much else there - a couple of shops selling tourist trinkets and a noodle shop, if I remember rightly.

Fast forward to 2012 and Fei Lai Si had grown into a small town with scored of shops, restaurants bars and guesthouses - plus several rather grand hotels. The viewing area had been massively expanded and there was a big wall around it - with a ticket office now charging 70Y admission:

There's quite a few other examples of this kind of massive development. It's sad that some beautiful and quiet places have become over-run with tourists and spoiled by development - but that's the way of the world, I guess. This used to be a quiet road down a forested hillside - now it is lined with bars, shops and hotels:

More Google Earth then-and-now comparisons: Kangding

Yulin, near Kangding, 2002 (top) and 2014 (below)

When I did the trek to Gongga Shan (Minya Konka) in about 1996 the starting point was small village outside of Kangding called Yulin. It was just a few farm buildings along a dirt track about 5km out of town, in a narrow valley. I found a friendly local Tibetan called GerLer who was willing to guide me on the four day round trip to the Konka Gompa monastery.

Yulin was a quiet place with just a few Tibetan stone buildings and some strips of arable land next to a river rushing down from the Minya Konka range. There was a hot spring which had a baths built into a small brick building. That was about it. You can read about my adventures here.

I tried to find the village of Yulin again about three years ago but it had been completely overbuilt with what is now the New Town area of Kangding. It had literally been obliterated. In its place was an array of concrete civic buildings such as Law Courts and local administration buildings, in the usual Chinese government megalomaniac style. You can see in the top photo from Google Earth how the development has spread right up the valley, over what used to be rustic farmland and grazing land.

There was also a huge triple block of 12 storey  condominiums. you can see them in the Google Earth pic, but they don't look as tall on that as they are in real life. The Tibetan farmhouses and fields of old Yulin has just been swept away under roads and concrete. I didn't stick around and I didn't take any photos of the New Yulin. It was ugly.

I'll leave you with a picture of Yulin (looking back towards Kangding) from 1996, before the bulldozers moved in:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cangshan Dali

No updates for a few months, I know. I've been in Heilongjiang - opposite end of the country from Rock's territory. Here's a picture of the horse pool from the mountains above Dali.