Photographer Phil Borges has a new book from his travels on the Tibetan Plateau. Tibet: Culture on the Edge shows a people facing a triple threat: global warming, development, and cultural devastation.
Tashi Dolma, daughter Tasang Dolma, Herding sheep and Yaks over pass near Amye Machen.
Nima, 30, a Nomad sheep herder. The grass has steadily gotten more sparse since he was a boy. This year there was a bit more rain, but the grass does not seem to be growing back.
The Tibetan plateau averages 14,800 feet, but it’s at a relatively low latitude, so it’s heating up twice as fast as everywhere else. The frozen water on the plateau – in the form of permafrost and glaciers – is essentially a bank account for Asia. The whole continent will be affected by the desertification of the so-called "Third Pole" because it feed the Ganges, Indus, Mekong, Yellow, and Yangtze rivers. Governments are rapidly damming rivers in response to the coming water crisis.
Lamo Tso, 26, on the road from Henan to Langmusi. She was never educated but owns 500 sheep, 100 yaks, and jewelry worth thousands.
The Chinese government is blaming the Tibetan nomads for desertification, saying they have over-grazed the land. Tibetan nomads have been on the plateau for thousands of years, and when the grasslands got dry, they would cut down on their herd. The government's plan to control the herders involves an extensive system of fences, making herding extremely difficult and forcing many into resettlement camps.
Forced resettlement camps like these stretch for miles. Borges wasn't able to meet the inhabitants, but he was told that gambling, drinking, and divorce rates are much higher than in the small villages or encampments they used to occupy. He says it isn't surprising. "Their animals were their life. It’s like your job being taken away from you and you’re left with nothing."
Kyiba, 25, is a Barley farmer with 3 children. She has a third-grade education.
Interviewing farmers, nomads, and monks, Borges was repeatedly told that everyone is having a hard time growing barley, their main staple. The crop is growing too fast because it’s warmer, and they say it tastes funny.
Machen Lhagong Monastery, newly constructed by the Chinese, will be an academy.
A China Mobile solar cell phone tower in western Tibet.
Borges found the cell service in Tibet to be excellent. The Chinese have covered the whole Tibetan plateau with cell towers, so you can make a phone call everywhere.
Prayer flags on a hill in eastern Tibet.
Tibet is largely closed to Westerners at present as riots and self-immolation continue in Lhasa. The protests are in response to continued crack-downs on religious freedoms.
Puchun, 37, on the Nojin-Kangtsang Glacier.
Puchun has been coming to this summer pasture since he was seven to herd his family's yaks.Thirty years ago, this glacier used to reach the valley floor.
The holy Mount Kailash Kora. A pilgrim passes through a hole in the rocks that determines whether your karma is good or bad.
For over thirty years Phil Borges has been documenting indigenous and tribal cultures, striving to create an understanding of the challenges they face. His work is exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and his award winning books, which have been published in four languages, include Tibetan Portrait, Enduring Spirit, and Women Empowered. He has hosted television documentaries on indigenous cultures for Discovery and National Geographic channels.
For more photos from Phil Borges, visit his website.