This is a patch of the Karakoram mountain range claimed by India but currently occupied by China. It lies in the contested region of Kashmir.
Except, of course, that it isn't located where it's supposed to be, but rather deep in central China besides a military installation near the remote village of Huangyangtan.
A 450x350-kilometer area of rugged terrain — whole peaks, ridges, valleys, an entire hydrology — is scaled down to a 700x200-meter sandbox. There are two obvious questions that must be asked immediately: 1) How was it made, or rather, what is it made of? Since it would be more than a bit ironic to find that a part of the Himalayas, maybe even the actual source of its simulation, was dynamited, then transported for thousands of miles to the Gobi Desert, grounded up, mixed with cement, and finally painted as it were a Qing vase. Or maybe it's more likely that China, with its limited supply of so many natural resources, had to import the aggregate material from Africa and Australia.
And 2) what is it for? Pruned's resident Busby Berkeley fanatic thinks it's the stage setting for another lavish production of the Mahabharata. Vishnu made in China. Because apparently, filming in Bollywood is a lot more expensive now.
The Register, meanwhile, posits this “sensible explanation”: rather than a bewildering landscape expression of globalization and mass entertainment, instead “it's a training aid for pilots - possibly helicopter jockeys - designed to familiarise them with the landscape should military action ever be required.” But then one wonders why there are no Spratly Islands, arguably a more strategically important target than Kashmir, to be found.
Not content with any of these speculations, we telepathically interviewed BLDGBLOG, who guessed it to be yet another example of topographical terrorism gone voodoo: “simulacra as a threat to national security.” Or simply a form of tactical intimidation. Instead of being blasted with nighttime sonic booms and recursive Spice Girls medleys until they capitulate, your enemy watches televisually on Google Earth as you rape and pillage their own backyards, growing ever more paranoid of the real invasion, the one precisely choreographed and endlessly practiced, to the point of civil unrest.
This is landscape architecture as tactical psychological warfare.
It could also be the modern equivalent of spoils-taking. Forget about the gold, the obelisks, the giant menorahs, the virgins (supposedly), or chunks of churches, mosques and palaces. The victors will slice off entire topographies and then cart it all the way back to the homeland.
For instance, once the current incursion provisionally ends, the Israeli army shaves off a whole mountain (or two) from the Anti-Lebanon and transplant it to the Negev Desert. Similarly, after yet another Greco-Turkish skirmish on the high seas has concluded, a Greek island gets yanked off from the Aegean and placed atop a pedestal in front of Atatürk's mausoleum. Perhaps just before the U.S. forces leave Iraq, a segment of the Tigris and the Euphrates will be flown off on a C-130 halfway around the world to Nebraska, where landscape architects, in the spirit of Albert Speer and Leni Riefenstahl, have prepared grand parades and mass celebrations as lavish as any organized by Kim Jong-il for the arrival and installation.
In any case, whatever the conflict and the geography, all terrestrial spoils will be assembled in plain sight for all Google Map and Google Earth tourists alike.
Finally, above, a photo of the Karakoram mountains and its analogue, their lakes in perfect rhymming scheme.