Tea kettles in Lhundrub
In Lhundrub, Tibet, water is heated using solar energy

By Alison Bate

Watching Brad Pitt in “Seven Years in Tibet” the other week, I idly wondered how any movie about Tibet could be so boring.

Tibet’s so striking, and there are so many surprises around every corner, that making a boring movie about the country should be impossible. But it did trigger a couple of my favorite memories while biking with my sister around Tibet in 2006.

Early one morning, we were in the small town of Lhundrub (Chinese name: Linzhou), east of Lhasa. We watched in bafflement as a local Tibetan woman carefully placed large kettles of water on what looked like makeshift satellite dishes.

A few minutes later, it all became clear. The kettles began puffing away merrily, and we realized she was using solar panels to heat the water.

We were travelling in October, and it was sunny every day for three weeks except the last one – when it snowed. I found out later that Lhasa, the capital, has more than 3,000 hours of sunshine every year.

Tibetan women working on the land
Tibetan women working on the land

Later in the day, we ran into another use for the popular kettles. As we biked up a wide valley northwest of Lhundrub, we met these Tibetan women, who were relaxing after a hard day’s work moving muck around. They waved us over to join the party and poured us a potent brew called chang from the big kettle. We drank it down . . .before wobbling away merrily on our bikes again.