In the plateau county of Nyima, the yearly average temperature stays at -4 C and herding is the main walk of life for most of its residents. But there is one exception-Ombu township, where two major lakes, Tangra Yumco and Tangqung Co, help create a rare climate for farming in the grasslands. One of the three holy lakes of the Bon religion in Tibet, Tangra Yumco covers an area of 1,400 square kilometers. The lakeshore, several hundred meters long, on the side of South Ombu village is a long strip of emerald green canopy, complementing the azure blue water in the lake.
About 4,645 meters above sea level, the village is semi-agricultural and semi-pastoral and was listed in the third batch of Chinese traditional villages in 2014. A total of 2,109 farmers and herdsmen live in Ombu with a combined cultivation area of 666.19 mu (44.41 hectare) and the grassland area 443.16 mu. The average annual income per capita is 9,853 yuan ($1,529).
The altitude cap for farmland in China is 4,750 meters, and the altitude here is close to this limit. Endowed with the unique location, Ombu abounds with highland barley. It is also a reason behind such a vast field of highland barley, rarely seen in northern Tibet. In late autumn, the highland barley on the northern Tibetan Plateau has ripened, and the villagers in South Ombu begin their busy harvesting season.
The herdsmen who seed the land or the farmers engaged in animal husbandry are called samadro in Tibetan, which means half farming and half pastoralism. However, the uniqueness of South Ombu village lies in the imprint of its Zhang Zhung culture that has lasted for thousands of years. Zhang Zhung, or Xang Xung, was an ancient culture and kingdom of western and northwestern Tibet, which predates the culture of Tibetan Buddhism. Zhang Zhung culture is associated with the Bon religion, which in turn, has influenced the philosophies and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
The township is also unique in its cultivation management. The head of the field is in charge of the farming, irrigation and harvesting time, as well as rituals worshipping the gods and praying for blessings. The head of the field has to spend three years following his predecessor to all the farmland in the village and memorize the names of more than 400 blocs. As farmland is scarce and extremely precious, every piece of farmland has a name.
Observing the sun is a skill he must master-placing a small stone on the back of his neck, and then pressing it against the wall to observe the position and time of the sun's rise and fall; or observing the angle and time of the sun's rays entering the house from a hole in the roof. In the past when electricity was far from universal, Tibetans used to open a small hole in the roof to let in light. Three years later, the head will lead the whole village to grow barley, and host four large-scale worship ceremonies every year. The farming time he has calculated using this method is almost the same as calculated by the calendar published by the Tibet Hospital every year.
Traditionally, harvested highland barley was directly made into zanba (a traditional rice cake). With updated production techniques, various highland barley products have been produced after further processing, such as zanba biscuit, zanba pastry and barley noodles, which boosted the added value of agricultural products and also promoted sales. In the highland township, villagers have witnessed barley harvest in happiness.