-- Tibetan herder Tamdrin, 20, has become the latest internet celebrity in China, after a video clip and photos featuring his handsome face went viral online.
-- Thanks to Tamdrin's instant fame, interest in his home county of Litang has surged wildly, especially since a promotional video titled "Ding Zhen's World" was released online last week.
-- Poverty alleviation officials have made every effort to further boost local tourism to enhance people's livelihoods in recent years.
CHENGDU, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- Staring at rocky meadows through a car window at an altitude of 4,700 meters, Tamdrin knew he was almost home.
The weeklong trip to Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, was the 20-year-old's first time outside his hometown. The herder now holds the title of tourism ambassador for his home county of Litang in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze in the province.
Tamdrin is pictured on his way home from county seat of Litang, the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Dec. 2, 2020. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
Less than a month ago, he was still an ordinary herder, until a 7-second video featuring a smiling Tamdrin went viral, making him the latest social media sensation in China.
His Mandarin name Ding Zhen and related topics continue to trend on major social media platforms, and even his horse Pearl has gained some 90,000 followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
What makes Tamdrin stand out from other internet celebrities is not just his "sweet and wild" look, as it has been described by fans. As he releases more videos, his innocence and sincerity have also made legions of Chinese urbanites eager for a closer look at his home.
In the Tibetan language, "Litang" means "grasslands as flat as a bronze mirror." Located 4,000 meters above sea level, Litang has also been dubbed "the city in the sky." With a yearly visitor flow of around 1 million, Litang's tourism is not as robust as neighboring areas such as Daocheng County, though locals believe its views are no less impressive.
File photo taken on April 17, 2019 shows the scenery of Litang County, the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, southwest China's Sichuan Province. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
Thanks to Tamdrin's instant fame, interest in Litang has surged wildly, especially since a promotional video titled "Ding Zhen's World" was released online last week.
In the video, the young man shows viewers his life: herding yaks at the foot of the snowy Geyen Mountain, racing horses across endless meadows, and singing romantic songs with his friends around a bonfire.
Millions of viewers were touched by the breathtaking views in the video. "Tamdrin's sincerity and the beauty of Litang soothe our anxious minds," read a comment on short-video platform Douyin.
"My eyes are filled with tears," another netizen wrote on Weibo. "I believe more people will visit there, and I give my best wishes to Litang, Tamdrin and his horse."
Tamdrin (L) reads messages from his fans with a friend at home in Litang County, the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Dec. 2, 2020. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
Many are seriously considering traveling to Litang. A recent report from Trip.com, a major Chinese online tourism company, said the search volume for "Litang" had increased more than sixfold in the 10 days after Nov. 20, four times more than during the National Day holiday in early October.
According to online travel service provider Qunar.com, hotel bookings in the Garze prefecture from Nov. 11 to Nov. 25 had increased 89 percent year on year and continued to rise in the following week.
Travel websites are tapping into the trend by introducing routes, hotels and places to visit in Litang, and Trip.com has projected Litang will be a hotspot over the upcoming New Year's holiday for tourists from both inside and outside Sichuan Province.
BEHIND THE SCENES
As many netizens have pointed out, Tamdrin would not have been discovered if the remote, once poverty-stricken area had not been closely linked to the outside world. Through videos of the young Tibetan, people have also been able to see the changes in the country's southwestern plateau regions.
To the local government, Tamdrin's accidental success came as both a gift and a reward. With a population of around 73,000, the majority of people in Litang are engaged in animal husbandry. The development of Litang had long been restricted by inconvenient transportation and harsh natural conditions.
Poverty alleviation officials have made every effort to further boost tourism to enhance people's livelihoods in recent years. New roads were opened across the precipitous mountains and deep valleys in the region, leading travelers to famous spots such as "the Eye of the Geyen Mountain."
Photo taken on Dec. 2, 2020 shows wood cabins of a homestay scattering along a road in Litang County, the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, southwest China's Sichuan Province. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
Other infrastructure has also been improved along the way. A small village close to Tamdrin's home became the last village in the county to be connected to the national power grid in late 2019, and internet coverage in the mountain-locked plateau areas laid the foundation for Tamdrin's overnight fame.
Zhou Peng, 30, was dispatched from Chengdu to Litang as a poverty alleviation official for three years. He and his colleagues went door to door to understand the villagers' real conditions and implemented poverty-alleviation plans accordingly. They have carried out various programs including those for medical support and tourism promotion.
Facing a tough natural environment and daunting tasks, local cadres exhausted their strength in the fight against poverty, and several of them died on duty due to overworking or traffic accidents, Zhou noted.
In February 2020, Litang shook off poverty. Zhou, who is finishing his tenure in the county, is proud that he's played a part in the achievement. "My heart will always be tied to this land, and my experience here will be treasured for life."
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Soon after Tamdrin's first video went viral, a local tour operator hired him as the tourism ambassador for Litang and brought him to his first destination, Chengdu, about 600 km away.
During his days in Chengdu, he had dozens of interviews and visited local tourist spots. The experience of a modern city was fresh and exciting, but he was already missing his family, friends and horse Pearl.
"My hometown is the most beautiful place in the world, with mountains, grasslands, lakes, and most importantly, and the kind folks," he said.
Tamdrin listens to the sound of some traditional tools at the Sounds of Himalaya Museum in Letong Town of Litang County, the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Dec. 2, 2020. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
Despite his homesickness, Tamdrin has promised to be a diligent tourism promoter for his hometown. But he said that eventually, when he is not so popular online, he will probably continue his life as a herder.
His dream is to win every race as a "prince on horseback," and to ride his horse "across the mountains and over the hills," he said in his promotional video.
(Reporting by Chang Yuan, Kang Jinqian, Yu Li, Yang Di, Lou Chen; Video reporters: Shen Bohan, Zhang Kefan; Video editor: Yang Zhixiang) ■