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“I’m a child of the Meili Snow Mountain, and I’ve never stopped worshipping the mountain god,” says Ani Ga, a 54-year-old Tibetan farmer who has lived at the foot of Mt. Meili in Deqen County, Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, all his life. “Every time I feel under the weather, I look at the sacred peak of Kawakarpo and instantly feel peace. The snow-capped mountain has been an indispensable part of my life.”
Guji, a village composed of five households, was once the only community Ani Ga knew. Across generations, the villagers have relied on the mountains’ resources for survival, but things are starting to change. Ani Ga now works full-time for Songtsam Meili Lodge, where he earns a monthly income of 3,000 yuan. The dramatic change in earning power has brought chances to meet people from every corner of the planet along with it.
Now a seasoned user of the social media app WeChat, Ani Ga begins his “WeLife” day as the first ray of the sun creeps over the summit of Kawakarpo. Over the past five years, he has been capturing the beauty of his sacred mountain with his cellphone and sharing photos with friends near and far.
Ani Ga loves hiking the mountain paths, thousands of meters above sea level. “It’s tons of fun!” he insists. He now guides more than 20 tours a year for the hotel, and his virtual circle of hiking friends grows with each WeChat post.
“I am grateful for everything I have: I get to meet different people every day,” he continues. “Every hiking tour is unique because of different weather, different groups of hikers, and different physical situations. Still, one thing always remains consistent: the joy of returning to nature. I am always delighted by the opportunity to introduce our lifestyles to tourists.”
He can’t count how many times he has hiked the mountain paths, but every time he is still awed by the snow-capped mountains and his heart melted by the little creatures he meets along the way. He captures everything he sees with his cellphone camera and shares it with his friends via WeChat.
Not only has the lofty mountain fueled his passion, it has also nourished his heart. As part of his job, he often invites his guests to his home and serves them buttered tea. On one excursion up the mountain, a hiker was struck by severe altitude sickness and could hardly move. Ani didn’t hesitate to pick him up and carry the man back to the vehicle.
In recent years, the volume of visitors and pilgrims visiting Mt. Meili has increased dramatically, enabling greater numbers of people to enjoy the beautiful scenery and brilliant local Tibetan culture. But the influx of people has also placed greater pressure on the environment. “I pick up any trash I see whenever I hike,” he remarks. “The tourism boom has clearly improved locals’ lives, but we worry about upsetting our mountain god too much. So far, most of the tourists have been friendly, which I hope doesn’t change.”
Ani Ga started using WeChat five years ago, and he is now connected to more than 240 friends through the social networking app. After work, he likes to sit by the stove to find out what’s happening with his friends and send his greetings from the foot of the snowy mountain.
“I’m so proud I get to bathe in the glory of the sacred mountain every day,” Ani grins. Hiking it has become an integral part of his life. “My heart feels peaceful each time I turn my prayer wheel while looking up at the holy peak and listening to the whispers of its million-year-old glaciers.”