LHASA - When Tsering Dekyi was young, she learned from the elders in her village that minerals were "treasures" buried by the living Buddha.
The villagers believed that if the minerals were dug out, the god would become angry and environment would deteriorate.
Tsering Dekyi, having since acquired a college degree in geographical surveying and exploitation, still keeps the warnings of her elders in mind while working for Tibet Huatailong Mining Development Company at Jiama Copper Gold Polymetallic Mine, the largest of its kind in Tibet.
"Be as perfect as possible. That is the wish of the people from my hometown," the 24-year-old said.
In her hometown Medrogungkar, the holy mountain where the elders believed "treasures" had been buried is called Shargang La, the Tibetan word for "Snow Mountain in the East".
A word-of-mouth myth says that 21 hilltops on the mountain are 21 Taras, the female Bodhisattvas representing the virtue of success. Across from them is another hilltop in the shape of the crown of Padmasambhava who established Tibetan Buddhism in the eighth century.
Local Tibetans take this myth and a Buddha statue in one copper shoe inside the Monastery of Songtsen Lhakang at the foot of the mountain as the signs that older generations had stayed on top of the mountain's mineral deposits since ancient times, and thus are particularly cautious with mining.
For fear of the revenge by the god, local residents habitually keep watching on a sacred spring, which legend says suddenly appeared on their grassland after the birth of Songtsan Gampo, a Tibetan King who married Princess Wencheng of Emperor Li Shimin of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) some 1,400 years ago.
"If the spring is gurgling, the elders feel a relief," Tsering Dekyi said. "They were gravely concerned before 2007, when a dozen (private mine) bosses camped here and drilled holes wherever they wanted.
"Those selfish people thought only about getting rich quickly. I saw many coming with briefcases under arms but leaving in Audi A8. They left behind only garbage," a local resident Ngawang said. "But Huatailong is different and responsible."
Huatailong's efforts to protect the environment have ranged from upgrading its production technologies to company activities such as organizing employees to pick up trash along stretches of highway.
"Many residents have been touched. I remember when we picked up rubbish in front of a convenience store along the road, the store owner felt very embarrassed," Lodro Yeshe, deputy chief of the company's processing plant, said.
To facilitate local employment, Huatailong has established a policy of hiring local residents to provide transportation services and restore damaged land in mining areas. The residents manually move vegetation from areas that will be mined to nearby areas, helping to preserve local ecology.
As few plants can survive in the high-altitude region, the company is currently working on cultivating Mongolian grass and sea-buckthorn to increase local vegetation.
"If the species can survive, we will consider mass planting next year," Lodro Yeshe said.
The company's dedication to preserving environment has been reciprocated by local residents. Ngawang, for instance, sold out his 70-or-so yaks and gave up livestock breeding.
"I didn't want yaks to roam into the mining areas and cause unnecessary trouble," he said.
To enrich local community, Huatailong invested 19 million yuan ($3 million) to install Jiama Industry and Trade Company, a platform specializing in transportation, green and labor services within the mine, but held only a 51-percent stake. The remaining stake advanced by Huatailong was equally distributed among 665 households of Jiama township.
Ngawang works for Jiama Industry and Trade Company as a doorman, earning an extra 2,000 yuan a month.
The mining history in Tibet dated back a century ago when Mendong Sherab Goszang, one of Tibet's four earliest overseas learners, was sent to London to study geology and mining.
Although he had prospected gold deposits in the north of Lhasa, exploitation stalled amid firm objections of Buddhist clergy who feared such activities would irritate the deity of land and bring calamities to the people.
Lodro, general manager of the company, recalled that in Jiama prospecting was started in 1992. Local people have since been told that developing mineral resources would bring tremendous changes to people's livelihood.
"I did not buy it until Huatailong took over the mining site. At the age of 65, I think I have gotten a sense of benefits of mining development," Lodro Yeshe said.
Ji Jianguo, secretary of Huatailong's board of directors, was one of the company's first employees to work at Jiama.
"In my experience, if you sincerely wish to do good for the indigenous community and respect their customs and traditions, they will truly help you and support you," he said.
For Ngawang, getting rid of poverty is good. But he never forgets the warnings of the elders and routinely prays with a rosary in hand every day. "My biggest wish is to secure the harmony among all beings and may our offsprings be continuously blessed."