The traditional economy of the Ser Shong (Golden Valley) is three tiered. The valley floor has a river running through it and is planted with wheat that is interspersed with rapeseed, a cultivar or what the west calls canola. The yellow crop in the picture below is rapeseed, this is the typical dispersion.
Natural rapeseed oil contains erucic acid, which is mildly toxic to humans in large doses but is used as a food additive in smaller doses. Canola is a trade name for low erucic acid rapeseed that is sometimes mis-applied to other cultivars. The seeds produce oil used for cooking and as a lubricant, the leaves are use as a livestock feed, while the stems are used for winter bedding and or plowed back into the earth. The rapeseed comprises a small percentage, less than 10%, of the arable land usage and primarily for local domestic use for cooking. The wheat is the predominate cash crop, with the fields in the Buddhist cultivated areas tended by women. This is primarily because the men are all painters of Buddhist art in the form of Tangkas and Mandalas in the winter and generally travel to other areas of Tibet and Asia to paint under contract during the rest of the year. Note that during planting and harvest the men always return to help in the fields. This applies to both the secular painters and the monks at the monasteries in the 3 main villages of the valley. Wheat is baked into round relatively flat loaves of bread; the loaves are about 12-14 inches in diameter and 2-3 inches thick. Pieces are broken off and eaten plain, which for us peanut butter and jelly people is a rather tasteless and dry delivery. The wheat stalks are mixed with cattle manure and dried into 9 inch patties and dried for winter heat, they are also mixed with mud to make a stable paintable coating for the earthen walls of the residential compounds and the village outer walls. There are also trees planted in the valley, surrounding the fields, river and close to the village residences.
They are willow, cotton wood and a form of popular. Willow branches are used for the spring festival or commemoration and stored on roof tops to be used for winter fuel for cooking and heating. Cotton wood and popular are used as construction wood for roofing support as it grows straight and relatively quickly.
The second tier of the economy is the live stock; goats, sheep and cattle. They are grazed on the steep mountain sides during the day and then brought down close to the villages during the night. The Buddhist herders sell the animals to be slaughtered to the Muslims, who are the butchers of the area, and then buy back the butchered parts that they want to eat.
The small villages of Sange, Ghomar and Nyantok have no restaurants, and only one to 3 very small grocery stores, where beverages, fresh eggs, tea, cigarettes and an assortment of noodles and snacks may be purchased. In each village I saw one store that was operated by monks from the local monastery. The stores were very small by western standards, from about 8’ x 8’ to the largest at 10’ x 20’, each connected to a residence and there was also some type of art work, usually Tangka painting that was underway between customers. The largest commercial and only free standing building in Sange was the pool hall, with one pool table and plenty of room to maneuver your pool stick for that expert shot. Rongwu has several butcher shops and plenty of Muslim restaurants along with the usual hardware, dry goods, and department stores. The northern part of the valley close to Thig Mo ruins there is a large facility for forming and baking bricks from the local clay. From the amount of construction that is taking place in the valley these are probably all for local consumption. The traditional construction of compacted earthen walls is now giving way to brick walls. Two story residences are becoming commonplace utilizing the brick construction, with the floor of the second story being pre-formed reinforced concrete with regularly spaced round hollow cores traveling the length of the slabs for heating during the long winters.
The 3rd tier of the economy is the art work. Most men, probably 98% engage in tangka painting in the Buddhist villages. The men also forsake most education, especially higher education as they feel that they can make more money painting. It is also very difficult for any Tibetan to find a job as most enterprises are owned and operated by Chinese transplants. Until 2005 Rongwu monastery was the only tourist stop on the scheduled tours; additionally Rongwu was the only monastery on the historical preservation list. The upper and lower Sange monasteries are now on the guided tour list of places to stop. Ghomar and Nyantok on the western side of the valley are not on any guided tour stops as of the time of publishing. There is a new road under construction on the west side of the valley that should be completed in 2007 that will undoubtedly put those monasteries on the tour list. Ghomar with its very large 5 story Stupa, and Nyantok with its 3 forms of Tangka art should do very well in getting their share of the tourist dollars. During the late spring, summer and early autumn all of the monks except for those with one of the 12 duty stations are dispatched else where painting. Each of the 12 duty stations are taken for one year by an assigned monk. Once a duty station period has been completed they never repeat that duty. Duties include custodial duties of one of the temples; locking and unlocking, collection of visitor fees, maintaining the offerings, cleaning and light maintenance. This year long duty poses a financial hardship for the monk involved and they must solely rely on the sales of Tangkas and Mandalas to visitors and regular clientele.