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Tibet, the water tower of Asia

Whether the Mekong, the Brahmaputra, the Yangtze, the Indus, or the Yellow River, some of the biggest waterways in Asia run across the “Roof of the World.” This rich heritage comes with the challenge of preserving the glaciers and streams that feed into these sacred rivers that are indispensable to the survival of part of our planet.

Tibet is nicknamed the “Roof of the World,” and offers year-round snowy regions, some of the globe’s tallest peaks (including Everest at a gigantic 29,000 feet), the planet’s highest concentration of ice other than the poles, and infinite stretches of desert inhabited by antelopes and birds of prey. And occasionally, lost in the heart of this untouched wilderness, you will spot a scattering of nomads’ yurts. This is a landscape of countless extremes steeped in natural riches including deposits of some 50 precious minerals. And, above all, there is water.

Tibet is located on a continent where spirituality is a way of life. A place where, according to a popular proverb, “spiritual and physical life is found where the river flows.” However, 100 million years ago the high Tibetan plateau was covered by the Tethys Ocean, and in fact represents the original source of all life on Earth. A starting point for a mythical waterway joining heaven and Earth. Today, the sources of more than a dozen rivers are found here, at more than 13,000 feet of altitude between the Himalayas to the south, the Karakoram Mountains to the west, and the Kunlun Mountains to the north. Six of them are among the biggest in Asia, and ensure the continued existence of half of our planet.

It is on the world’s biggest plateau that these rivers are born, and most often within the glaciers themselves. This is the case of the Brahmaputra River, located at more than 16,000 feet not far from the city of Lhasa. These origins are shared by the Salween River that runs through Burma, the Indus that snakes through Pakistan, the Mekong that flows across Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Yellow River and the Yangtze that first emerge amidst the glaciers at more than 19,000 feet before rushing down into China. Tibet is known as “the water tower of Asia,” and it’s easy to see why. As well as being home to this immense natural reservoir of fresh water, it also has countless lakes such as Namtso – one of the leading holy sites in Tibetan Buddhism. However, this water tower is now under threat from global warming and complex geopolitical challenges.

“This blue planet is our only home, and Tibet is its roof,” said the Dalai Lama. “The plateau must be protected, not only for those who live there, but for the health and future of the whole world.”


© 500px/Mikhail Vinnikov