China to build the world’s biggest dam on sacred Tibetan river

The dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo is part of China’s bid to achieve carbon neutrality, but experts worry about the impact on the mighty river.

In the foothills of the Himalayas, where the ancient Yarlung civilisation established the first Tibetan Empire, China has plans to build the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam.

In November of last year, China’s state-owned media shared plans for a 60-gigawatt mega-dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo river in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

Now with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, Beijing has redoubled its efforts on its hydropower projects in Tibet, even though the dams have drawn criticism from Tibetan rights groups and environmentalists.

Tenzin Dolmey has never stepped foot on the Tibetan Plateau, but she was brought up with the stories of the great rivers and mountains, which form her ancestral home.

“Respect for nature is so deep-rooted,” said Dolmey, who was brought up among Tibetan exiles in India and now teaches Tibetan language and culture in Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city.

“When we would swim in the rivers, we were told to never use it as a bathroom, because there are river gods in the water.”

The Yarlung Tsangpo is of particular significance, as it represents the body of the goddess Dorje Phagmo, one of the highest incarnations in Tibetan culture.

Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, the head of Environment and Development at the Tibetan Policy Institute, says this reverence for the natural world was born from the Tibetan Plateau’s unique landscape and dates back centuries.

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