Officers take high road to guard nation's border

Publish Time: 2020-11-18 Author: YANG ZEKUN From: China Daily

Immigration officers from the Pumaqangtang border police station patrol grassland in Nakarze county, Lhokha, Tibet autonomous region, on Aug 8. [Photo by Wang Jing/China Daily]

Police at China's highest security facility beat lack of oxygen, altitude sickness to patrol mountains, save lives. Yang Zekun reports.

Driving for hours across uninhabited grassland to reach isolated settlements and solve residents' problems, and patrolling a glacier more than 5,600 meters above sea level every month is hard work.

But that's life for Sonam Daje and his fellow police officers of the National Immigration Administration, who are never deterred by low levels of oxygen, the cold, windy weather or strong ultraviolet radiation.

Instead, they are proud to work at the Pumaqangtang border police station in Nakarze county, Lhokha city, Tibet autonomous region. It's China's highest police station.

The facility-established in 2012 at 5,373 meters above sea level-has nine officers. As the only law enforcement body in the area, the officers are required to undertake public security work, such as checking ID cards, in addition to their border duties.

Pumaqangtang covers 1,200 square kilometers and has a permanent population of 1,100, with most residents involved in animal husbandry. The residents of the once-impoverished town are scattered over a wide area, which presents challenges for the officers.

Sonam Daje became station chief in June 2016 after eight years working at other high-altitude police stations.

Though he is a member of the Tibetan ethnic group and was born and raised in the region, it still took him months to get used to the lack of oxygen and regular altitude sickness.

Last year, he became deputy chief of the Nakarze border management team, which oversees the police station.

Officers traverse the Kampug glacier near Pumaqangtang on Aug 19. [Photo by Wang Jing/China Daily]

Change of life

The 35-year-old's parents both died in 2003 when he was in junior high school, leaving him introverted and with low self-esteem. Later, he was admitted to a high school in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, where he met Yang Hua, his adoptive mother.

"At one time I thought my life was over and I would have to become a farmer like many of my peers, but I was not reconciled to that and was eager to change my situation. Then, my adoptive mother appeared in my life," he said.

Yang adopted Sonam Daje in 2005 and introduced him to her family. She realized that the young man's biggest problem was that he was diffident and lacked confidence, so she urged him to change his life and embrace the world, saying she and her family would support him.

"My biological parents were great; they gave me life and raised me until junior high school. My adoptive mother and her family are great, too. I appreciate them from the bottom of my heart. They encouraged me when I was down, helping me feel the warmth of a family. I will never forget the day my adoptive mother introduced me to her relatives," Sonam Daje said.

As being surrounded by people had helped him overcome his problems, Sonam Daje was determined to try his best to help those in need.

After graduating from Southwest Minzu University in Sichuan province in 2009, he applied to join the immigration police, which he saw as a good way to serve society.

To help local residents improve their incomes, he guided herders to connect with supermarkets and sell beef, mutton, ghee and other agricultural products. He also funded two girls from impoverished families so they could finish junior high school, and helped 75 residents get new jobs.

Sonam Daje looks at the road map of Pumaqangtang at the police station. [Photo by Wang Jing/China Daily]

Glacier rescues

The Kampug glacier, located near Pumaqangtang at an altitude of more than 5,600 meters, attracts hundreds of tourists every year. However, visitors often become trapped in the glacier's steep, intricate crevasses, enduring frostbite and even dying.

Glacier rescue missions are important tasks for the police officers.

There are no roads, location signs or mobile phone signals near the glacier. Self-driving tourists may face severe consequences, including death, if their cars break down or they slip into ice seams. It usually takes the officers about two hours to drive to the glacier from the station, but in winter the journey can last much longer as the grassland is covered by heavy snow.

Sonam Daje recalled a rescue mission in March 2017, when a 61-year-old member of a tour group from Shanghai got lost on the glacier.

After being alerted, Sonam Daje and four colleagues drove to the spot immediately, arriving at about 10 pm.

Later, about 30 local people-including doctors and firefighters-were dispatched to join the mission.

They searched for four days, eating instant meals and keeping warm by burning dung.

When they finally found the man's frozen body in an ice cave, where the temperature was -25 C, Sonam Daje and the other rescue workers had varying degrees of frostbite.

He has attended more than 100 rescue missions during his time at the border police station, and hundreds of rescued tourists have sent thank-you letters to the officers.

This year, there have been far fewer visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic and local policies to protect the environment. Those factors have resulted in a sharp fall in the number of rescue missions.

"I hope there are no more rescue missions on the glacier-then everyone would be safe," Sonam Daje said.

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