Bala is so far from the road that villagers are limited in their access to the cash markets of Gonjo. Household income here hovers around $300 per year.
Still, the lone teacher at Bala's school, Lobang Tashi, sees the arrival of television as a potential force of economic ascendance. Educated in town, he is one of the only people in Bala who can speak proper Mandarin Chinese, the national language that students must master in order to pursue advanced studies. Most here speak only a unique Tibetan dialect. Now, his students -- who range in age from 6 to 11 -- are parked nightly in front of the television, absorbing entertainment in Mandarin.
"It has improved their listening comprehension and it helps them understand life outside the village," the teacher said. "They see airplanes, cars, things they would never see here. It broadens their view."
Two hours' walk farther upriver, in the village of Shuizhuang, the age of hauling buckets lingers. Electricity did not arrive here until last December. The five families of the village pitched in about $10 each to buy the tiny generator. They limit its operation to minimize wear and tear: Electricity is strictly an 8 p.m.-to-midnight affair.
Still, the changes have been significant. Once, villagers devoted about three days of every month to climbing up into the mountains and harvesting pine branches they used as torches.