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These are the hot springs at Yangpachen, about 90 km north of Lhasa. The site features the PRC's oldest geothermal power station and an outdoor swimming pool at 4300m above sea. The power plant, built in 1976/77, produces a substantial part of Lhasa's electricity needs; the pool – sometimes advertised as the highest in the world – is filled with mineral water from the hot springs and offers splendid views of the broad Yangpachen valley and the Nyenchen Thanglha mountain range.

Yangpachen attracts many tour groups on their way from Lhasa to Lake Namtso and back. Souvenir sellers have set up make-shift shops between the power station and the entrance to the spa.

Were the site constructed today, it would probably incorporate all sorts of Tibetan stylistic elements. A Tibetan-looking Tibet a) sells better and b) showcases the Party State's efforts to "safeguard traditional Tibetan culture". The spa-cum-power-station at Yangpachen is a visual reminder of times when "heritage" was not yet a dominant idea.

I like Yangpachen precisely for its rough socialist charm. No attempts are made to conceal the ugliness of the power plant. On the contrary, spa and power generation are presented as part of the same modernist tale of socialist development: harnessing Tibet's wild natural resources for the benefit of civilised society.

I visited Yangpachen twice in October and November 2007. Construction work was going on. I wonder how the place looks now.

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