"When I look at the big swans, I have the same feelings when I look at the Buddha figures," said Dripa. [Photo/ Xinhua]
From September to next April, big swans would fly to a wetland beside the Qinghai Lake in northwest China's Qinghai Province for wintering. A Tibetan monk who lives here has watch them, protect them and made friends with them for years.
"When I look at the big swans, I have the same feelings when I look at the Buddha figures," said Dripa, a 33-year-old lama at the Ga'rila Temple in Trelnag Village in Gonghe County, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.
After a short walk form the back door of the temple, a large number of swans could be seen on the Qinghai Lake. Dripa first saw large swans on Qinghai Lake at the age of 15 when he became a monk.
"They were so beautiful. I could not think, I was simply staring," he said.
He started visiting the lake to watch the swans regularly since that year. In 2008, SHANSHUI Conservation Center, a non-governmental environmental conservation organization, heard about him.
The organization and the Qinghai Lake Administration jointly held a special training program for local residents on protecting the environment and wild animals. Dripa was invited to the program, and he learned about basic knowledge of Qinghai Lake's wildlife, photography and monitoring methods.
From then on, Dripa started to record, in detail, the birds on the lake. He designed a table to record the number and behavior of different species, especially the swans.
"Swans are timid. They fly away when humans approach. But they are not scared of me," he said, with a shy smile, speaking in Mandarin. "They see you as friends when you are with me," he told Xinhua.
The young lama goes to the lake every two or three days and stays at the shore for two to three hours each time.
"I think nothing in my mind. The world is quiet," he said, standing still by the lake, staring at the swans, with the wind blowing through his red robe.
Dripa says the best time to take photos is the morning when the temperature is below zero, even though it is difficult to operate the camera in the cold. Sometimes he has to warm the battery with his hands.
"I went to see the swans on the very first morning of the New Year, and then I came home to greet my family members and lamas in the temple," he said.
Dripa, however, does more than record swans. He also picks up garbage by the lake in the summer when the tourism season comes with other lamas helping him. The number of swans in the lake had reached 4,000 this winter.
"To protect the environment, we mainly rely on the local residents, especially the Tibetan people, as they really love the place they live," said He Yubang, director of the Qinghai Lake Administration.
He said the administration had recruited more than 30 volunteers, mostly Tibetan herdsmen, to help protect the wildlife and report on damage around the lake to the administration.
"We have many, many other Dripas across the country," said Lu Zhi, founder of the Shan Shui.
"Human beings are damaging nature in many ways, including polluting waters, digging wild herbs and hunting wild animals. These will lead to serious consequences for our environment," Dripa said in his 15-minute-documentary.
In the short video, lamas are holding ceremonies under the blue sky, children are riding bicycles and playing games, villagers are yelling when riding horses in a competition....and swans are flying over the lake.
"The big swans fly up when the lamas blow the trumpet shells in the temple. The beautiful sounds of the shells and the swans interlace with each other and resound across the heavens," Dripa said in the video.
"To cherish and protect the lovely birds will be tied to my life. To live with them is my life-long wish," he said.