Devastating fire destroys ancient Tibetan town
A fire that raged for nearly 10 hours on Saturday 11th January has burnt down more than two hundred buildings and destroyed countless historical artefacts in the 1,300-year-old ancient Tibetan quarter of Dukezong, located in the northwestern province of Ynnan. It was the largest and best-preserved Tibetan city among China's 147 Tibetan counties and the site of the largest ancient Tibetan community.
Most of Dukezong's buildings are made of wood and, coupled with dry weather, the fire spread extremely rapidly, requiring more than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers, police and volunteers to bring it under control. But by then, much had been lost.
Often called the ‘fossil of Tibetan culture’, the ancient Tibetan quarter of Dukezong is known for its preserved cobbled streets lit up at night by hundreds of lanterns, ancient structures, authentic dwellings, gilded prayer halls, and traditional Tibetan culture.
Dukezong was a key stop on the Ancient Tea-Horse Trail and a focal point for Han-Tibetan exchanges. The town has a history of 1300 years, during which time it has experienced both the flames of war and prosperity of frontier trade. Tibetans regard the shade of white as a sign of respect for their forefathers, the ancient Qiang people, who worshipped white stones. Shortly after the town was established, craftsmen found white clay in the region that could be ground down and used as paint. All dwellings were accordingly painted white.
On a clear night, the ancient town reflects a silver sheen, thus it became known as the City of Moonlight. Its counterpart is the town of Niwangzong Town, known as the City of Sunshine. The Sun and Moon cities gave rise to the song "Sun and Moon in the Heart", which Tibetans have sung for more than 1,000 years.
And, as one of the oldest towns in the region, it is also known as the 'footstep of Shangri-La'. According to Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, there is a lost city called Shambhala in the Snow Mountains, shaped like an eight-petal lotus flower. Dukezong Old Town Town is also laid out in this design. All 1,084 of its houses radiate out from Turtle Hill at the center, arranged in conformity with Tibetan Buddhist geomantic theory.
Chinese Government officials immediately ruled out any arson or sabotage as cause for the fire. However, coincidentally, two days earlier, a mysterious blaze badly damaged the Larung Gar Institute in Serthar, Sichuan province, one of the world's largest Tibetan Buddhist learning centres and home to some 10,000 monks and nuns. And two months ago, the Lithang Monastery, Sichuan, was also badly damaged in a fire, said to have been caused by faulty wiring. The string of incidents has caused Tibetan solidarity websites to speculate on a possible arson campaign.