SW China & Tibet, place descriptions for travel
SW China & Tibet, place descriptions for travel

ABA  阿坝镇  (Ngawa) in Amdo/Gyarong (northern Sichuan)   area code 0837  /  zip code 624600
(updated Jun '08)

Alt: 3200 m   Population: 12,000 (60,000 county)   People: Tibetan (90%), Han, Qiang   Weather: Click here.

Description: Capital of Aba Tibetan and Qiang AP (Autonomous Prefecture), est. 1953, which includes Wolong Panda Reserve, Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou within its borders. Less than 30 km from the borders of both Qinghai and Gansu provinces. A slightly windswept town on a high grassland plateau, surrounded by gorgeous country literally dotted with monasteries. An important centre of trade and amusement for the many nomads who herd these lands of northern Aba AP, and whose yak-skin tents dot the landscape.

History: Once a major trading town, owing in part to its local resource - gold, as well as lots of other minerals. Qiang people are believed by many to be the ancestors of both the Tibetan and Han peoples. Aba has been under the influence since the 8c when Tibetan troops first arrived here.

Points of Interest: 40+ monasteries county-wide representing a real cross-section of religion (Geluk, Nyingma, Jonang, Bön). Kirti gompa (Geluk) in town centre, founded 1472, one of the largest monasteries in the county, ~1000 monks. Ser gompa (Jonangpa) - also large. Narshi gompa - Tibet's largest Bön gompa. Mt. Nyenpo Yurtse (5369m) - north of town, one of the most sacred mountains in the Golok region.

Festivals: Hongyuan Horse Racing Festival (lunar 7.15), Zachong Festival (Jul 15-17)

AMNYE MACHEN  阿尼玛卿  in Amdo (SE Qinghai)

Alt: ~4000 m   People: Golok and Amdo Tibetan   Weather: Click here.

Description: Amnye Machen is positioned on the remote grasslands on the south-western edge of the Amdo area in the heart of the nomadic Golok people's country, stretching almost 30km in length. Its snow is the source for both the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. South of here the land breaks up into the high mountains and deep valleys of Kham. The snowy peaks of the Amnye Machen (Magyel Pomra) range are scene as sacred by all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Bön followers and the Golok nomads. Its main peak - Machen Gangri ( 6282m) - is considered home of Machen Pomra, a very powerful worldly protector god, and one of the most important deities in Amdo, Though many have died in the trying, it remains unscaled. Every year thousands of pilgrims come here to do the kora (7 to 9 days), especially in the Tibetan Year of the Horse. The western starting point of the kora is the small Guri gompa (Nyingma), formerly the seat of Dzogchen master Thubten Tsering up until his death.

BAIMA SNOW MOUNTAIN Nature Reserve  白马雪山保护区  in NW Yunnan   area code 0887

Alt: from 2080 m to 5430 m    Population: ~9000 (distributed across about 100 villages)   Weather: Click here

Description: Located between Zhongdian and Deqin, it's Yunnan's largest (and highest) state nature reserve, in the middle section of Hengduan mountain range. Given the drastic altitude change within a relatively small area, spanning over 3000 metres (it's highest point is the 5430-m Zalaqueni peak), as well as the Yangtze and Zhubalong rivers which cut through the reserve, it's no surprise that this is an incredibly bio-diverse area. Though chances of seeing them rare, some species of Class-A that inhabit this region are snow leopards, clouded leopards, and golden monkeys. Owing to its protected status, it boasts some of the most preserved old growth forests, and some stunning gorges. People who live here are mainly Tibetan; the bulk of their income comes from collection of songrong (matsutaki) - highly valued in Japan especially, they're the cause of the occasional turf war!

BAISHUITAI  白水台  (White Water Terraces) in NW Yunnan
  area code 0887

Alt: 2380 m

Description:Located on the back road between Lijiang and Zhongdian, near the village of Sanba, at Baidi village. Cradle of Naxi culture, according to some. An intriguing natural formation of cascading karst terraces, the result of a continuous piling up of calcite sediments resulting from the disintegration of calcium bicarbonate in the water, covering up 3 sq. km. Particularly lively during Sanduo Festival, when people gather here to sing and dance & slaughter chickens while paying homage to the founding father of the Naxi people, who settled here to spread his beliefs on his way back from Tibet, many many years ago.

Festivals: Sanduo Festival (lunar 2.8), Honouring the White Mountain (lunar 2.10), Bathing Day (lunar 11.2)

BAIYU  白玉  (Pelyul) in Kham (western Sichuan) 
 area code 0836  /  zip code 627150
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 3260 m    Population: 6,000 (41,000 county)   People: Kham Tibetan (93%), Han (7%)    Weather: Click here.

Description: County capital (called Jianshe Zhen). Set in a steep valley straddled along the northern banks of Horpo River in an extremely remote area, just a stone’s throw from the TAR border to the east. Traders, miners and Khampan cowboys form the backdrop of this town. Dominated by Pelyul gompa and the surrounding old town which climbs up eastern side of valley.

History: A prosperous trading town back when Pelyul was part of the DÍrge kingdom. Historically (and to this day) a focal point for the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Today its architecture reflects a strong Tibetan style, the streets are lined with trees, and the Ding-chu river runs right through town.

Points of Interest: Katok gompa - an hour out of town, one of the biggest power bases of the Nyingmapa school (as true today as ever), founded early 12c, once housing over 1000 monks. Pelyul gompa (Nyingma) set atop hill behind town, founded 17c under auspices of its royal patron, the king of DÍrge, over 100 monks today, serves as a school of traditional Tibetan medicine. Great architecture.

BAMEI  八美  (Garthar) in Kham (NW Sichuan)
  area code 0836

People: Kham Tibetan

Description: Transit town, up until 1998 a lumber yard once ran half the length of the town and the town’s main source of income came from the proceeds of the lumber traffic.

History: DL11 was born here.

Points of Interest: Garthar gompa (Huiyuan Monastery) (Geluk) dates to 1729 when Qing court invited DL7 to the area, allocating resources for the construction of a monastery, thrice reconstructed, a rich interior includes golden tiles, dharma wheels and thangkas. Qianyan Stone Forest covers 5 sq. km. - similar to stone forests in Guangxi and Guizhou. Yala Sacred Mountain and grassland with glaciers, waterfalls, high mountains, lakes, hot springs.

BANGDA  帮达  (Pomda) in
Kham (eastern TAR)   area code 0895

Alt: 3780 m    Population: 7,000   People: Tibetan

Description: Set on a broad plain of the Yu-chu river valley, Bangda is a crossroads town at its most purest, built by the largish military base nearby. It's got the basic facilities in town - couple of shopfronts, restaurant, place to stay, and that's about it. It's a three-fork junction, with the road heading out due north leading to Chamdo, the road westwards to Lhasa, and the road southeast to Sichuan and Yunnan. Not too far from Bangda, following the road to Chamdo, is the world's highest airport, built 1978 at elevation 4300m, though it didn't become operational till 1994.

Points of Interest: Sangak Dechen - small Geluk sub-monastery of Chamdo gompa.

BAOSHAN STONE CITY  宝山石头城  in NW Yunnan
  area code 0888

Population: about 100 families   People: Naxi   

Description: An ancient town built atop a huge outcropping of rock. About 100km north of Lijiang within the 2nd bend of the Yangtze, quite near the Yangtze River. Houses here built in stone, either upon the rock or on the surrounding hills. Pristine village. The surrounding landscape is gorgeous. Very lush and green, remote villages set in the hills, separated by terraced fields.

History: Built during the Yuan Dynasty between 1277 and 1294. Settled early on by Naxi people.

BAQING  巴青  (Bachen) in Kham (NE TAR)
  area code 0896  /  zip code 852100

Alt: avg 4500 m (county-wide)   Population: 7,000 (36,000 county)   People: Kham Tibetans

Description: Tibetan name means Big Yak Fur Tent. It's the centre of the Horjyad nomads. Baqing city itself (named Laxi Township) not tremendously inspiring - a bit muddy and run-down. But valleys and passes around the town do inspire.

BASONG LAKE  巴松错  (Draksum Tso) in Ü-Tsang (east central TAR)

Alt: m   Population:   People: Tibetan

Description: Especially sacred for Nyingmapa order - is surrounded by forest and soaring white-capped mountains. Huge Tibetan tents on its shores provide lodging. There’s a small 17c gompa on the island in the lake. Has gotten unfortunately touristic in recent years.

Points of Interest: .

BASU 八宿  (Pasho/Pema) in Kham (eastern TAR)
  area code 0895  /   zip code 854600

Alt: 2600 m   Population: 5,500 (40,000 county)   People: Tibetan

Description: Basu is the county capital (called Baima Zhen) of Tsawo Pasho county, in the mid Salween basin, an area of alpine forests.


Points of Interest: Neru gompa - built '90, an imposing Tsongkhapa figure in main central hall tells you it's Geluk; in back main hall is Maitreya; 80+ monks.

BATANG  巴塘  (Bathang) in Kham (extreme western Sichuan)
  area code 0836  /   zip code 627650

Alt: 2670 m   Population: 10,000 (51,000 county)   People: Kham Tibetan (94%)   Weather: Click here.

Description: County capital (called Xiaqiong Zhen) is set in a wide, prosperous valley with a mild climate, along side the Batang River, 32 km east of the border between Sichuan and the TAR (demarcated by the Yangtze). While a small town, in these parts it rates as quite a hub of activity (boasts its own radio station) owing to flow of trans-border traffic made of truckers plying the Lhasa-Chengdu route. The Batang area is an extreme, unforgiving environment, where nomadic pastoralism is uniquely suited.

History: Once a politically important southern state in Kham, ruled by hereditary lay rulers until mid 19c, after which by Lhasa-appointed regents. The Gelukpa school (the DL's school) has been established here since the 16c under DL3. Relatively long history of foreign contact in the guise of missionaries and Chinese settlers (earliest for this region). Independent of Lhasa throughout the 19c and 20c. Among one of the first places in area to be subdued by the Chinese in the Sino-Tibetan wars of the early 20c, during which the castles of the Bathang chieftains were destroyed along with the Bathang monastery.

Points of Interest: Bathang gompa (Geluk since 1639), where some 400 monks reside (destroyed early 20c, it's been gradually repaired over the years). Jakyung Rito Pendeling Gon – smaller and older.

Festivals: Cuopu valley Horse Racing Festival (Tib. 6), Yangle Festival (Sep 10-17)

BENZILAN  奔子兰  (Pontselang) in NW Yunnan on the Yangtze
  area code 0887

Alt: 2240 m    Population: 10,000 (township)   People: over 90% Tibetan   Weather: Click here.

Description: A small one-road Tibetan mountain village with the Jinsha River below, and Sichuan Province just across the river. A regular stop off for those headed to or fro Zhongdian (only 3 hours away, but be warned the road is a bit hairy at times, but great scenery to divert one’s attention). An idyllic setting, the attractive villages and hill paths are worth exploring.

History: Historically, Benzilan was a prominent stop on 2 ancient trade routes – the Southwest Silk Road from Chengdu (ancient capital) to Yunnan, Burma and beyond, as well as the Tea Horse Road going between Yunnan and Lhasa - in fact, tea from all over China was known to Tibetans as ‘Benzilan Tea’ as this used to be the last major staging post (a long time ago...).

Points of Interest: Yilin Monastery north of town – getting here involves a short walk uphill from the road; Dongzhulin (Tongtaling) gompa (Geluk) on the eastern slope of Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve, overlooking a valley, in the middle of a compound of attractive, spacious timber monk residences, it’s the county’s second largest, and is a sub-monastery of Songzanlin (county's largest), now 200 and growing. Shusong Nunnery (Geluk) located at original site of Dongzhulin gompa, just up the road, also a sub-monastery of Songzanlin, it's a practicing nunnery and as such, very rare indeed!

Festivals: Cham dances (lunar 9.28-29), Dongzhulin lama dances (lunar 12.26-29)

BOMI  波密  (Tramog) in Kham (eastern TAR)
  area code 0894  /  zip code 860300

Alt: 2750 m   Population: 7,000 (31,000 county)   People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here.

Description: County capital (called Zamu Town) set deep in a densely forested gorge of Parlung Tsangpo. The winds blowing in from India make for a unique sub-tropical climate here. Clear days offer views of Jiabawa peak. The area around here is well-known for its terma - treasure texts placed here in the time of Guru Rinpoche (tantric master who converted native gods of Tibet into protectors of Buddhism), and rediscovered in this case in the 14c and 17c. Amongst other things these texts revealed the existence of hidden valleys lying to the south towards Metok (Pemako), one of Tibet's 'hidden' lands.

History: In pre-modern times (pre-1950s) ruled by hereditary monarchs whose status in the eyes of Lhasa was quite high owing to their claims for being descended from Tibet's early kings (from 9c and before). Indeed Bomi was formerly known as Bowo, meaning 'ancestors'. The State of Po-me - considered a 'frontier region' with large numbers of Mönpa and Lopa people - was generally sufficiently strong and wealthy enough to stay independent of the Lhasa government, though a refusal to pay taxes in the 1920s (to support Tibet's first ever standing army) led to gov't campaign against Po-me and the deposing of its king in 1926.

Points of Interest: Totung gompa up on a hill.

Festivals: Shiba village Bear Fighting Festival (Tib 5.15)

CHANGDU  昌都  (Chamdo) in Kham (NE TAR)   area code 0895   /   zip code 854000

Alt: 3240 m   Population:        People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here.

Description: At the foot of Mt. Dhamala on a spit of land in a narrow valley unsuitable for much in the way of agriculture, at the confluence of 2 rivers - Dza-chu and Ngom-chu - in big time gorge country. Eastern TAR's biggest city, long considered the eastern gateway into central Tibet. Heavily modernised over the years.

History: In pre-modern times the capital of the lama-ruled State of Chamdo was based here. Major staging post on the Tea Horse Trade Road. During Yuan Dynasty a major post station was built here, and then during Ming, it was further renovated, and soon both the Northern and Southern Post Routes (used by envoys to deliver imperial edicts - back in the day, to travel from the east coast to Lhasa would require somewhere over two months) passed through Chamdo. From 1917 on its capital was the centre of Lhasa's administration of Kham (i.e. responsible for collecting taxes). Captured by the Chinese in 1918 during Sino-Tibetan war (during which time Chamdo gompa destroyed), Tibetans retook the city in 1918 (albeit for a short time only).

Points of Interest: Chambaling gompa, an important early gompa founded 15c by a disciple of Tsongkhapa, once the largest and richest (hundreds of Buddha statues, murals, frescoes) Geluk monastery in Kham, and along with Jyekundo gompa in today's Yushu, most important Gelukpa monastery in Kham, totally destroyed in early 20c Sino-Tibetan wars. Kanuo ruins - 12 km southeast of town, rich site dating back over 4000 years.

Festivals: Chambaling Butter Lamp Festival (Tib 1.15)

CHENGDU  成都  in central Sichuan
  area code 028  /  zip code 610000
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 500 m   Population: 4 million   People: Han   Weather: Click here.

Description: The cultural capital of China's western frontier, provincial capital of Sichuan, and home to the administration offices of most of Kham. Lying along the Jin River in Sichuan’s basin, hence a rather muggy climate. Greatly modernised, all roads widened to detriment of its more interesting chaotic side streets. Daily and weekend open-air markets, department stores, wholesale markets - almost any item can be found here. The teahouse culture sets Chengdu apart from every other Chinese city. Going back centuries, teahouses have long been the site of political and social gatherings. Shut down China-wide by the government after the revolution for their political nature, teahouses in Chengdu were the first to reopen. Found spilling out onto sidewalks, on monastery grounds, in parks and along the river, hours easily idled away over a cup of tea.

History: Founded over 2400 years ago in the Warring States Period, an ancient capital during the Three Kingdoms period, dating back to the earliest Chinese legends, Chengdu has been the 'capital' of the Southwest, dominating the region both culturally and economically. Since the break-up the the Han dynasty, it's been a pivotal source of dissent and independent though, and indeed, many of the revolutionary elite of the last century have hailed from Chengdu and its environs (Deng Xiao-Ping being a notable example).

Points of Interest: Wenshu Monastery, replete with park grounds, tea house and a vegetarian restaurant, where urbanites seek refuge to watch or participate in boisterous singing shows, classical musical groups, Tai Qi and dancing groups. River Viewing Pavilion Park with over 100 varieties of bamboo. The UN award-winning Panda Research Base (the world's most successful) is home to both the Greater Panda as well as the smaller, raccoon-like red pandas (which aren't actually pandas at all...), and has a museum which provides in graphic detail the process for artificially inseminating pandas. Chinese medicine market. Du Fu Cottage housing also the Du Fu Study Society and Du Fu Museum, containing the works of this 8c poet considered by most to be China's greatest. Sichuan Opera neighbourhood performance - it's got a long and distinguished history, mirroring the history and the legends of the region. The riverside - teahouses, a bar, a roving masseuse. Living Water Garden on banks of Fu River. Qingyang Gong – a very nice Daoist temple. Antique markets, selling lots of Mao memorabilia.

Wireless hotspots: Coffee Beanery, Peter's Tex-Mex, Grandma's Kitchen.   Recommended Website: ChengduLIFE

CHUXIONG  楚雄  in west central Yunnan   area code 0878  /  zip code 675000

Alt: 1860 m   Population: 2.6 million   People: Han (65%) & Yi (25%)   Weather: Click here.

History: .

Description: Capital of Chuxiong AP, situated between Kunming and Dali; a county-level city containing 9 counties.

Points of Interest:

Festivals: Horse Cherry Blossom Festival, Dragon Spirit Festival (lunar 1.2-4), Putting Up Flowers (King Tree Festival) (lunar 2.8).

CIZHONG  茨中  in NW Yunnan on the Mekong   area code 0887
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 1980 m   People: Naxi, Tibetan, Lisu    

Description: A picturesque wine-producing village with temperate weather and a gurgling brook, surrounded by fields of barley and corn, and the roaring Mekong. Now several guesthouses in town. Priest at church sells wine by the litre!

History: It’s said that missionaries of Cizhong helped the Yunnan governor to make gunpowder to suppress Muslim rebellion (1856-1872). At the end of the 19c the Church switched efforts from converting Tibetans within Tibet to those living in Yunnan and Sichuan. In Cizhong, the original priest arranged for the construction of a small stone church, and even planted a vineyard of French grapes. He and others that followed were very successful in converting a large number of the locals to Catholicism, and the church is still in use today – about half of the local villagers consider themselves Catholic, and will attend church whenever a roving cleric visits town. The original vineyards still yield grapes, from which a very earthy wine is produced every year - grapes picked in August, the wine aged for a month minimum.

Points of Interest: Catholic Church - built of stone in 1895 after the church in neighbouring Cigu (immediately south of Cizhong) was burned down by local Tibetan monks; unlike your average Catholic Church, there is a yin and yang symbol painted on the ceiling. A new church in Cigu, also Catholic. Grave markers of missionaries who were killed w/in one week of each other. 

Festivals: Kuoshi Festival (lunar 1.1-15), Sword Pole Festival (lunar 2.8)

DALI  大理  in western Yunnan   area code 0872  /  zip code 671003
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 2000 m   Population: 60,000 (township)   Weather: Click here

People: Bai (majority), Yi, Hui and Han

Description: Nestled between the vast blue Erhai lake to the east and the lushly forested 3000m+ Cangshan mountain range to the west, the little town of Dali – seat of the Bai minority - has undergone a huge transformation over the years. The original 'backpacker hangout', with its myriad cafes, has given way to a more polished slick look, the previously rough cobbled streets dug up and replaced with a smoother, shinier version more in tune with large tour groups than the independent traveller. That said, there are still some rather charming streets to be wandered and a plethora of nice cafes, and it's certainly much more of a real place than the mess that Lijiang has become.

History: From about 729, with the uniting of 6 chiefdoms, the Nanzhao Kingdom was formed, capital at Dali. Lasting over 200 years, at its peak its borders stretched well into Southeast Asia. Its people are the ancestors of Yunnan’s Dai and Yao minorities today. It was toppled in 937 by a Bai warlord who executed the royal family and in turn established the smaller, less ambitious Kingdom of Dali, which lasted up until 1254 when the Kingdom, as with everywhere else in China, succumbed to the invading Mongols. Still, all was relatively quiet and unchanged until 1858, when the Muslim rebel leader Du Wen-Xiu rose against the Qing (Manchu) government and declared an independent state. When the Manchus finally managed to squash this rebellion once and for all (in 1873), Dali was absolutely devastated, large numbers of the population being summarily executed, and the city was never again to hold its once prominent position.

Points of Interest: Erhai Lake, 3 miles wide by 25 miles long is home to small communities of Bai fishermen, who still engage in the dwindling practice of using leashed cormorants to catch fish. The Cangshan to the west, stretching 50 km from north to south, peaks ranging from 3-4000m, where a morning's hike up the hill (or a quick ride up the cable cars) is rewarded by a hot meal and tea, crisp air and grand views. The lush 3240m Jizu Mountain on the other side of Erhai. Its importance in Buddhism is on a par with Emei Shan, owing to the belief that the bodies of one of Shakyamuni’s students is believed to be sealed here until the advent of Buddha Maitreya. Views of Erhai to the west and Yulong Jade Dragon mountain to the north can be had. Local markets.

Festivals: Birthay of the Hunting God (lunar 1.14-16), Jizushan Festival (lunar 1.1), Third Month Street Fair (lunar 3.15-20), Butterfly Festival (lunar 4.15), Visiting the Three Spirits (lunar 4.23-25), Planting Ceremony (lunar 5.5), Torch Festival (lunar 6.24), Making Merry with the Waves (lunar 8.15)

DANBA  丹巴  (Rongmi Drango) in the Gyarong region (western Sichuan)
  area code 0836   /  zip code 626300
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 3340 m   Population: 5,000/58,000 (county)   People: Tibetan (4 different nationalities), Hui   Weather: Click here

Description: A smallish town (Zhanggu Town) with steep crooked roads at the confluence of 2 rivers, deep in the Gyarong valley and well out of the way of most travellers' paths. Geographically, the Gyarong region is defined by a river valley gorge which cuts a wide swath running north to south, starting just below Aba and extending down to Luding. Tibetans in the Gyarong valley are distinct from those in Kham and Amdo, their language more similar to Qiang and Pumi. In Danba itself there are no less than 4 different Tibetan nationalities living here, speaking 4 fairly mutually incomprehensible Tibetan dialects, as well as following different customs and traditions. Increasingly falling under the influence of cosmopolitan Chengdu with several cafes and bars opening up.

History: Seat of the 18c Gyarong Kingdom which covered the area east and north-east of Hor (present-day Ganzi). Up until 1949, the tribes of Gyarong were organised into 18 partly-Tibetanised petty kingdoms, independent of Lhasa.

Points of Interest: An 18c Gelukpa monastery is just north-east of town. It's home to a living Buddha and a large number of students. Just a bit further on is a small, very lively and active temple built to honour the nearby 5000m Mt. Yamamurta (Tib. Gyelmo Murdo). With 56 peaks, it’s a sacred mountain known to all Tibetans as abode of an immensely powerful mountain deity. As Yamamurta was a figure honoured by all branches of Tibetan Buddhism, the temple here is non-denominational. Very fit souls looking to improve their karma are welcome to do the 2-day hike up and down the mountain. The rest of us sinners can admire from below. At Supo township, downstream on the Dadu River, one can see the highest concentration of the ancient watchtowers found in this area, some over 1000 years old. 26 km from town is Valley of Beautiful Women. Old Tibetan houses in Suopo township, built of stone and wood and coming in many shapes and sizes.

Festivals: Flower Festival (lunar 6.18), Yamameurta Temple Festival (lunar 7.10), Gyarong Festival (Beauty Pageant), Lantern Lighting Festival (lunar 8.15),Gyarong New Year (lunar 11.12)

DAOCHENG  稻城  (Dapba) in Kham (SW Sichuan)
  area code 0836  /  zip code 627750
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 3730 m   Population: 7,000 (31,000 county)   People: Tibetan (96%)   Weather: Click here

Description: To the north of town (called Jinzhu Town) is a 4-5000m high plateau (formed by Gonggashan and Haizishan mountains) where, in ancient times, glaciers once existed. Now the terrain is dotted with high mountain lakes and lunar-like rock formations. Daocheng itself is the back of beyond - a wee 2-street Tibetan town surrounded by wild country, where the hills and mountains all have a religious connection in the eyes of the local Tibetan residents. Long isolated from the outside world, they are now becoming used to the streams of tourists passing through Daocheng on their way to Yading National Park and its 3 sacred mountains.

History: Similar situation to Xiangcheng - this area was technically under the control of the State of Chagla (centred around today's Kangding to the north) but was always quite independent. In the early 1900s the Qing government tried to bring this area more under its control, sparking wide-spread revolt. Local Tibetans took this opportunity to relieve several Chinese garrisons of their arms, and the entire area south of Kangding reverted to local-strong-man rule, with the Gonggaling area considered especially bandit-ridden.

Points of Interest: Yangteng gompa (Xiongdeng Monastery), built in the Ming Dynasty as a Kagyüpa monastery, later converted to Gelukpa in the 17c. The most important monastery in the county, it houses tens of thousands of Buddhist scriptures, as well as many Buddha figures, including a sandalwood statue of Shakyamuni. Gonggaling Monastery (Geluk), in a village on the way to Yading, contains an exquisite bronze statue of Maitreya (the Future Buddha) presented by DL5. The riverside Benpo gompa (Bön), built 1144 and recently reconstructed, is home to 100 monks. Rubachaka Hot Spring village, which was built up around natural hot springs, and now boasts private bathhouses at which visitors can soak. Mt. Haizi (lit. Mountain of Lakes), paralleling the Daocheng R. on the way into town, also known as “old ice cap of Daocheng” is a beautiful high plateau dotted with 1145 mountain lakes and freak geological formations caused by glacial erosion.

Wireless hotspots: in Riwa (60 km south of Daocheng) at the nicest restaurant in town (west end)

DAOFU  道孚  (Dawu) in Kham (western Sichuan)   area code 0836  /  zip code 626400

Alt: 3040 m   Population: 8,500 (51,000 county)   People: Tibetan (89%), Han    Weather: Click here

Description: Daofu (county seat called Xianshui Town) is laid out along the Jianshui River, a tributary of the Yalong. Tibetan name means colt owing to the horse-like geography of the town. A prosperous farming community, as evidenced by the number of fine houses seen countywide, fields of barley, wheat and potatoes are common. Locals are known throughout Kham for their expertise at woodworking, and Daofu is a great place to come and see some fine examples of high-quality Tibetan architecture. Three sacred mountains lie to the south of town. Once a prime spot for the lumbering industry, life has slowed down here since the tree felling was made illegal, leaving many unemployed.

History: The dialect of Tibetan spoken here is distinct from that of the neighbouring counties, possibly owing to the fact (or legend) that the people of Daofu are descendants of people of the Xixia Kingdom (in Gansu) whom, upon their defeat at the hands of Genghis Khan in 1227, migrated to the county of Daofu.

Points of Interest: Nyitso Gompo (Geluk) in the centre of town, with an auspicious view of the 3 sacred mountains. Great Chorten, 30m high. Taining Nature Scenic Area and Yuke Nature Protected Area. Yongzheng Chijian Huanyuan Monastery

Festivals: Anba Festival (Tib 5.13-15), Longdeng Horse Racing Festival (Tib 5.13)

DEGE  德格  (DÍrge) in Kham (extreme western Sichuan)
  area code 0836  /  zip code 627250
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 3220 m   Population: 8,000 (72,000 county)   People: Tibetan (97%)   Weather: Click here

Description: Roundly considered the cultural heart of Tibet, Dege is an isolated town located a mere 13 km from the Yangtze and the TAR border. The town itself has a very relaxed feel with the outskirts still being traditional housing with a somewhat organically developed newer town in the centre. The dialect spoken here considered very cultured.

History: Since before the 15c Dege (Gengqing Town) was seat of the Kingdom of DÍrge. Fiercely independent, it was ruled for 47 generations by hereditary kings (who claimed descent from Gar family - its most famous member being chief minister to Songtsen Gampo). From 13c on it was closely connected with Sakya order (from 13c-14c, rule of Tibet was in hands of Sakya lamas). In 17c, when the Mongol forces swept Kham converting the inhabitants to the Gelukpa school in support of DL5, the Kingdom of DÍrge was one of the few not to succumb.The height of its power was circa 1700, by when its expansionist policies had made it the most powerful of the five kingdoms of East Tibet, its cultural and political influence spreading across both sides of the Yangtze and Yalong rivers throughout much of Kham (including today's Shiqu, Dege and Baiyu). Nonetheless, it was unable to repel the armies of a neighbouring chieftain in 1863, and its liberation (restored with the assistance of the Tibetan army 2 years later) came at a price - to come partially under Lhasa control. After 1918, those parts of DÍrge west of the Yangtze were directly incorporated into Lhasa's administrative system. Of the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Sakya, Kagyü and Nyingma have all been prominent in Dege - so perhaps no surprise DÍrge was a main centre of the 19c Rimed movement.

Points of Interest: The 15c Gonchen gompa quickly became an important centre for Sakya students. The establishment of the 18c Palpung gompa made this region the centre for the Karma Kagyüpa school - it was recently designated one of the world’s most important endangered monuments by the World Monuments Fund, allowing it to receive critical help with its restoration and preservation. One of the only monasteries not destroyed during the CR. Paved road to it now. Most famous is the Parkhang printing press, which houses an invaluable collection of Tibetan religious and scholarly works (by some estimates, 80% of all Tibetan works). Built early 18c at the peak of the Kingdom of DÍrge's power, it has been printing continuously, using the same traditional methods, since 1729 (aside from a brief shutdown during the Cultural Revolution). Over 210,000 woodblocks here. It's the sole source of Tibetan printed material for the monasteries, schools, libraries in greater Kham. It's also revered as 'Kham's Potala Palace'. Dzongsar gompa and Institute (Saykapa) - important non-sectarian place of study for lamas.

Festivals: Yangle Festival (lunar 7.1), Rain Retreating Festival (lunar 7.30)

DEQIN 德钦  (Jol) in NW Yunnan
  area code 0887  /  zip code 674500
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 3480 m   Population: 10,000 (61,000 county)   People: Tibetan, Han   Weather: Click here

Description: Set at the head of a steep valley surrounded by forests and snow mountains, its position between the Mekong and Yangtze rivers and as the last major settlement on the road to Lhasa before it passes into TAR have made it a trading post and market town (Shengping Town) of considerable influence in this sparsely inhabited area. A predominantly Tibetan town, the jury is divided whether Deqin is a funky, isolated Tibetan town nestled on the moutain side in spitting distance of Yunnan's highest mountain and the Yunnan-TAR border (an unmanned gate 4 hours NW), or a claustrophobic slightly grimy little place of a town. With plans for the county gov't to move south to Benzilan and the upcoming developments near Feilai Si, it remains to be seen whether Deqin will retain its central identity or fall into decline.

History: In the late 14c, steps were taken by the Ming government to put Deqin, then under the rule of the Naxi Mu clan of Lijiang, under the administration of Yunnan Province. However, geographical considerations made this more theoretical than practical. Historically, this area has supported the Geluk, Nyingma and Kagyü schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its first taste of the outside world came in the late 1800s with the arrival of French and British botanists. There’s also a Catholic church in town built by French missionaries in 1909.

Points of Interest: Kawagebo peak (Yunnan's highest at 6740m) in the Kawo Karpo (Meilixueshan) range, considered the embodiment of the protection god, thousands of pilgrims come every year to do the kora (circumambulation). Despite several attempts from international mountaineer expeditions, the mountain remains one of the world’s highest unscaled mountains. The Tibetan view, that the mountain is a holy place that should be revered and not conquered, is so strong that attempts to conquer the sacred peak are met with open scorn - rocks are thrown at the memorial which was erected in memory of the 17 climbers who died in ’91 trying to scale the mountain. Beginning beneath the peak at 5500m and running unbroken to 2700m, only some 800m above the waters of the Mekong, the glacier can be viewed from a distance are seen up close, after a short hike. Deqinling Monastery (Geluk) founded 1737, destroyed 1905 as punishment for murder of Catholic priests in the area, since rebuilt. Feilai Monastery, 10 km from Deqin, built 1614. Feilai area is also a great place to stay - simple hotels and bars here, with views of Kawagebo and many other peaks on clear days. Hongpo monastery (Geluk) - 30 km south of Deqin, increasingly active, a few Rinpoches, 50+ monks, hairy road to get here, lovely views of Kawagebo once you do, set in idyllic valley. Xidang, a small Tibetan village at the very foot of Kawagebo mountain, it's also the trailhead for the trek to Yubeng.

Festivals: Xian Dance Competition (lunar 5.7-9)

DERONG  得荣  (Zang-me) in Kham (SW Sichuan)
  area code 0836  /  zip code 627950

Alt: 2800 m   Population: 5,000 (21,000 county)   People: Tibetan (95%)    Weather: Click here.

Description: A small bustling town (Songmai Town) usually drenched in sun, packed tightly in a gorge along two sides of the Ding-chu River. It’s one of the two staging posts for traffic between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, offering an alternate route when the Zhongdian-Xiangcheng road is shut down (as frequently happens in the rainy season). The town is heavily Tibetan, with quite a number of hotels, and lots of little eateries to meet the needs of travellers in transit.

Points of Interest: The Tibetan name for Derong translates as gorge, or canyon. Indeed there are some great spots for trekking around here, including one that will get you to a mountainside monastery, which remains largely unvisited. Sun Valley, where one can behold the sight of 3 mountains flanking 2 rivers. Longrong gompa is largest in Derong county, one of the '13' built during Gelukpa school's southeast expansion.

DINGQING  丁青  (Tengchen) in Kham (NE TAR)   area code 0895  /  zip code 855700

Alt: 4800 m   Population:       People: Kham Tibetan   Weather: Click here.

Description: Typical Chinese kind of city.

Points of Interest: Zezhol gompa near here (in Shagong village at the foot of Zezhol Hill) - dates to when Bön religion was being persecuted and so many Bön practitioners fled to remoter parts of eastern Tibet. Rebuilt 14c. It's the biggest Bön gompa in Kham. 200+ monks.

DULONG Gorge  独龙江峡谷  in western Yunnan
  area code 0886

Alt: varies from 1000-5000 m    Population: 4,500   People: Dulong   Weather: Click here.

Description: The poorest and most cut-off area of Yunnan by far, geographically speaking it would probably make more sense if this area was part of Burma, where the majority of the Dulong people reside. The Dulong are considered the 'last reached' people of China - the road to here was built only in 1999. And what a beautiful albeit slow-going road it is, wending its way through scenic virgin semi-rain forests draped with Spanish moss. The administrative centre is Gongmo.

History: Historically this area was controlled by the tusi of Chayu (in the very far SE corner of the TAR, due north of Dulong area), and Chayu Tibetans would frequently stage raids into the area for slaves. [Traditionally Dulong women tattooed their faces, and one theory (among many) for why they did this was to appear ugly to slave-seeking Tibetans. At any rate tattooing was officially proscribed in 1965.] In 1945 the head missionary in Gongshan sent of his protege to Dulong gorge for proselytising purposes, but were not welcomed by the Chayu tusi. Later, missionaries from Burma had better luck, and original shaman anamistic religion is pretty much gone. In 1978, a Catholic Burmese Dulong established the system of writing for Dulong characters.

Festivals: Kaquewa festival (lunar 1.10-12)

GANZI  甘孜  (Kandzê) in Kham (NW Sichuan) on the Yalong River   area code 0836  /  zip code 626700

Alt: 3580 m   Population: 12,000 (county 58,000)   People: Kham Tibetan (95%)   Weather: Click here

Description: Capital of the vast Ganzi AP. Still not too many 'laowais' make it here, though of course the number is growing. On a high grass plateau, set alongside a river, this traditional, once-upon-a-time smallish town has boomed recently - street lights, indoor tea houses, and shops full of solar powered boom boxes. Luckily this boom hasn't come at the cost of character, toe town's still got plenty of that, much due to the Khampan nomads who come here for all their shopping needs. The valley heading into town from the NW is quite stunning for its scenery and plethora of gompas.

History: In the 1640s the Mongol forces of Gushri Khan swarmed into the valley, converting the residents by force of sword to the Gelukpa order. Settling there, the invading Mongols intermarried with the local populace, from which time on the inhabitants have been known as the Trehor Khampans. Trehor refers to the 'Hor States', five prosperous overlapping states located in what is one of Kham's most fertile valleys and near the major Kangding-Yushu trade route, whose hereditary chieftains held authority over individual families (as opposed to areas). The Hor States' autonomy ended with the arrival of a neighbouring rival chieftain from the State of Nyarong (present-day Xinlong) who conquered this area along with most of Kham in 1863. Shortly thereafter, Lhasa troops came to the rescue and the town was made a Lhasa protectorate. During the 1909-18 war, the town was occupied by Chinese, and it was following these early 20c Sino-Tibetan wars that Lhasa lost any say in this area. With the arrival of the PLA in the 1950s, the area, like all of Kham, was firmly brought under Chinese rule.

Points of Interest: The monasteries in and around town have belonged to the Gelukpa school ever since Mongol troops forcibly converted them. Kandzê gompa (Geluk), dominating the north end of town, built by the Mongols in 1642 above their castles of Mazur and Khangsar after they successfully subdued the area (helping DL5 to extend the influence of his Gelukpa school into Kham). The most prominent Gelukpa gompa in the area, it's a bit more museum-like than it was a few years ago. Many monks-in-training, learning the trade - dancing, blowing the Tibetan long horn, PR, etc. A surprising number of monks there have made the overland trek to India to see the DL (well, we met one anyway); along with Chamdo and Litang monasteries it still ranks as one of the largest Gelukpa establishments in Kham. Behind Kandzê gompa is a new nunnery, built by a high lama who returned to this area after spending some years of exile in Switzerland. Den gompa, housing original woodblocks, is the oldest temple in the county, dating back to the 13c. Dargye gompa, north of town, was once the most important of the '13 Hor monasteries' - it's been recently done up, and the interior painting is a work of art! The 16c Beri gompa (Geluk) is just outside of town. Castle ruins of Mazur and Khangsar lie below Kandzê gompa.

Festivals: Xuriling Welcome Autumn Festival (Aug 10-16)

GENYE  格聂山  (Genyen) in Kham (western Sichuan)   area code 0836

Alt: 6204 m   People: Tibetan  

Description: Genye Scenic area covers 500 sq. km. Its focus is the sacred Genye Mountain (6204m), Sichuan's third highest, which rises up from the sparsely populated Kangnan plateau about halfway between Batang and Litang, in Rehe township. The Tibetan name means "Pursuer of Virtue", having to do with the considerable number of monks who come to the caves here for tretreat and meditation. There is an 8-day kora (for heartier souls only) around this peak; this area is Tibetan nomadic area, so you won't come across villages, rather it's all about the scenery and divine settings.

Points of Interest: Lenggu Monastery (Kagyüpa), founded at the behest of the first Karmapa, set at base of mountain. On the hillside behind the monastery are prints from the 1st Karmapa, while inside is a considerable number of treasures, in the form of various articles once used by him. Cuopu monastery (Nyingma) west of Genye, towards Batang, set alongside lake and surrounded by forests, grasslands and snow mountains.

GEZA  格咱  (Gerza) in NW Yunnan   area code 0887  /  zip code 674408

Alt: 3100 m   Population:    People: Tibetan   

Description: There's Geza township on the road to Sichuan, 2 hours north of Zhongdian, and Geza village (comprised of 3 villages, actually) which is off the main road. A nice day's walk from Shudu to Geza village through rhododendron forests.

Points of Interest: Geza monastery. Chitu Immortals Cave. Hot springs. Birang Gorge (80 km north of Geza) - beautiful, pristine steep-walled gorge formed by Wengshui river cutting its way through foothills of Small Wengshan Mountain.

Festivals: Chitu Immortals Cave Day (lunar 1.17, 7.15 & 12.15)

GONGBUJIANGDA  工布江达  (Ngapo Zampa) in Ü-Tsang (east central TAR)   area code 0894  /  zip code 860200

Alt: 3200 m   Population: 6,000 (22,000 county)   People: Tibetan

Description: A smallish town, its Tibetan name (Ngapo Zampa) means 'Concave Area at the Mouth of the Big Gorge', apparently.

Points of Interest: Gado nunnery (Nyingma) - overlooking town, small, intimate and well taken care of, a thousand years old, Guru Rinpoche and Vajra Yogini inside; renovations begun in '80; belongs to Lamaling monastery 30 km away.

GONGSHAN  贡山  in western Yunnan on the Salween
  area code 0886  /  zip code 673500

Alt: 1600 m   Population: 13,000 (30,000 county)   People: Dulong, Nu.   Weather: Click here

Description: Gongshan is the seat (called Cikai Township) of Gongshan Dulong & Nu Autonomous County. Driving north up this valley you'll see literally a church in every village, sometimes two (vying Protestant and Catholic).

History: There was an American protestant vicar in Gongshan (1939 arrived) who tried to spread religion in Dulong area. He built church in Dandan village in Gongshan County. After liberation (1949), 200 Protestants in Dulong area. In 1955, 70 families (26% of Dulong population) were Protestants. This brought to an end with CR. But starting again in 1984 there was a religious comeback. Now it’s 600 Prot. followers (or 300 families…).

Points of Interest: Churches.

Festivals: Kuoshi Festival (lunar 1.1-15), Zhimuqiecuo (lunar 2.15), Fairy Festival (lunar 3.15-17)


Alt: 2000 m to 6740 m   Population: 3 million+    People: Han, Naxi, Yi, Tibetan, Lisu, Bai, Pumi, to name a few

History: Clear cutting in western China -> massive erosion downstream -> massive flooding -> commercial logging ban -> severe budget problems for local economies here. Other commercial headaches to be dealt with are plans for damming the main stems of all rivers, even though electricity prices are crashing in China. A massive dam being built on the Mekong, south of project area, resulting in air/water pollution and soil erosion. Deposits of lead and zinc which both foreign and domestic companies are eager to mine. Obviously, all a big problem for the people and their environment, until (as the story goes) a Thai businessman proposed donating a big chunk of change for the creation of an eco-zone type national park, on condition that the Nature Conservancy, an American NGO, were called in to supervise and set up the park/reserve. What has followed in the last 8(?) yrs has been a comedy of errors, and at least, from the outside, what appears to be a slightly sordid tale of jobs for the boys via a big money NGO, arriving without China expertise or appreciation for local cultures, but bringing 'civilising values' - ring a bell? The park itself? The whole project seems to be dead in the water. Now there's the Three Parallel Rivers.

Description: Encompassing 11 ethnic groups, rare birds (migratory and endemic), 10,000+ species of plants (incl. 162 species of rhodies), golden eagles, Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys (rather scary-looking little creatures), red pandas. The Nu (Salween), the Mekong (Lancang) and the Yangtze (the stretch in NW Yunnan known as the Jinsha) rivers flow within 60 miles of each other here.

GYANTSE  江孜  (Ch. Jiangzi) in Ü-Tsang (central TAR)   area code 0892  /  zip code 857400

Alt: 4000 m   Population: 14,000 (68,000 county)   People: Tibetans (98%), Han, Hui   Weather: Click here

Description: County capital with some major roads going through town, but feel is of a quite small city. Average elevation of the county is 4100m, so many of the county denizens engaged in pastoralism. Those living in river valley area produce quite a large supply of grains for Tibet; major crops include barley, wheat, corn, cabbage, turnip and garlic. Cushions and carpets produced in Gyantse also well known.

History: In former times, Gyantse was the third largest city in Tibet, owing to its strategic position on the major trade and military routes between Tibet and neighbors to the south, and as such was one of the ‘windows’ to the outside world; business interests from the likes of England, India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, etc. were all represented. Prior to 1904, Gyantse fortress served as the area's adminstrative center and housed the governor of Gyantse. Strategically, any invading force from the south would have to pass through here, as did Younghusband’s expedition in 1904. Heroic but ultimately failed defense, lasting some weeks, against these invaders earned Gyantse the nickname City of Heros. Gyantse was then selected as the most important of three British trading posts set up following events of 1904, and remained so for some 40 years. In 1951, the Liberation army entered.

Points of Interest: Gyantse Dzong - 13c fortress towering over Gyantse (probably the last remaining fortress of its ilk); climb here for good overall view of Gyantse. Palcho monastery (a.k.a. Pelkhor Chode) – very rare in that it was a multi-denominational monastery (Sakya, Kagyu and Geluk - initially as rivals, but eventurally co-existing peacefully), founded 1418. Gyantse Kumbum - within grounds of Palcho monastery, it's 9 stories, interior rich with Buddhist imagery and considered one of Tibet's greatest architectural works. Anti-British Imperialists Hall – at main gate of Gyantse Dzong. contains some rich slogans. Pala Manor – (2 km north of town) former residence of aristocratic Tibetan family who fled to India in 1959; burned down by Younghusband expedition in 1904, rebuilt 1937, the contrast between servants and masters quarters serve as nice propaganda tool for the Chinese. Gyantse carpet factory.

Festivals: Gyantse Horse Racing & Archery Festival (Dama Festival) (Tib 4.10-28)

HABA  哈巴村  in NW Yunnan
  area code 0887

Alt: 2500 m   Population: <100 households   People: Naxi, Hui    Weather: Click here

Description: Located in the foothills of the 5396m Haba Mountain, just after the road has come out of the gorge and starts to veer north towards Zhongdian. A quiet village in beautiful surrounds. There is a relatively new mosque in town.

HEQING  鹤庆  in western Yunnan   area code 0872  /  zip code 671500

Alt: 2190 m   People: Naxi, Bai, Han   Weather: Click here

Description: Though directly on the Dali-Lijiang route, this place is usually bypassed by all and sundry. The buildings along the cobblestoned main road were all rebuilt following the '96 earthquake in traditional Naxi style. Two- and three-story wooden structures with hand-painted designs and the classic intricately carved folding wooden doors. Just outside of town are a cluster of shops selling handmade silver jewellery, crafted in the area; its become awfully touristy, though.

Points of Interest: houses built in traditional style, Confucius temple, Ming dynasty pagoda

Festivals: Equinox Celebration (Mar. 20), Sanggui Mule & Horse Fair (lunar 8.15), Birds' Day (lunar 11.19)

HONGYUAN  红原  (Kakhog) in Amdo (NW Sichuan)   area code 0837  /  zip code 624400

Alt: m     Population: 10,000 (40,000 county)   People: Amdo Tibetans   Weather: Click here

Description: Hongyuan county (est. 1960). Got its name owing to that the Red Army passed through here on the Long March. County seat is in Qiongxi Town.

Points of Interest: .

Festivals: Xianglong festival (summer), Horse Racing Festival (lunar 7.15)

HUANGLONG  黄龙  (Sertso) in Amdo (northern Sichuan)   area code 0837

Alt: 3080 m   People: Tibetan and Qiang

Description: Established in 1983 as a nature reserve, its name is derived from the Tibetan meaning 'Lake of Gold’. It’s 9 km of terraced 'coloured' (owing to water's high level of calcium carbonate) lakes (over 3000 of them!), located in the valley of the 5588m Mt. Shardungri are a rather impressive sight. The landscape of dense forest, lush vegetation, lake-side willows and forests of rhododendrons makes for superb hiking. Simple temples and monasteries dot the area, belonging to the Bön and Buddhist traditions.

Points of Interest: Fall scenery especially good. Huanglong monastery & cave (both stalactites and stalagmites!).

Festivals: Huanglong temple Bon Summer Festival (lunar 6.15-17), Tribute to Buddha (lunar 6.15-25)

HUASHIXIA  花市峡  (Tsogyenrawa) in Amdo (SE Qinghai)
  area code 0975

Alt: 4040 m   People: Tibetan, Hui, Golok   Weather: Click here

Description: Located on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, as one would expect this is high plateau and pastureland country, the domain of nomadic herders who belong to the Golok ethnic group - an ancient people who maintain their customs, dress and language to the present day. Just south of Huashixia is the Bayan Har mountain range, with peaks of over 5,000 metres. To the west is Ngoring Lake, the source of the Yellow River. For all its seeming remoteness, Huashixia is quite a hubbub of activity and commerce. For the nomadic herders who graze yak in this area (or the traveller on the long haul from Xiewu to Xining), the town is a little oasis providing entertainment and great food, generally at the hands of the Hui minority. As the Hui are Muslim, their fare gives one a nice pork-free change. "Pull noodles” are a bit of a speciality - from one's table it's possible to witness the dough get made from scratch, then stretched, thrown and pulled about, and served steaming in a bowl to your table, all within 5 minutes.

JIANGDA  江达  (Jomda) in Kham (eastern TAR)   area code 0895  /  zip code 854100

Alt:   Population:   People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: Straddling the banks of the Dzi-chu river, Jiangda's a large town located just west of the Sichuan-TAR border.


Points of Interest: Troru gompa (Karma Kagyüpa) here, as well as a prominent Tibetan hospital.

JIANGZI  江孜   See Gyantse.

JINGHONG  景洪  (capital of Xishuangbanna) in southern Yunnan   area code 0891  /  zip code 666100

Alt: 580 m   Population: 94,000 (363,110 county)   People: Dai (45%), Han (37%), Hani.   Weather: Click here

Description: Capital of Xishuangbanna Dai AP, the name means ‘City of Dawn’ in the Dai language. It’s got quite a modern façade now, with broad dusty boulevards. Usually very warm and windless, long summers. Lancang River (Mekong) flows through town.

History: Originally established by the Dai manorial lord, Piaozhen in 1180, and was quite prosperous at one time. Capital of this region for generations. Existed back in Eastern Han Dynasty. Later was ruled by Nanzhao Kingdom (Tang time) and its offshoot, the Kingdom of Dali (Song time). When the Kingdom of Dali fell to Kublai Khan’s forces, the Dai population moved south from the areas of Kunming and Dali to settle in Xishuangbanna, among other places. Xishuangbanna was established during the Ming Dynasty with the formation of Banna Menglong, Banna Jinghong, Banna Mengxing (Puwen) and Banna Mengla, altogether four Bannas within the domain of the present Jinghong City. In 1953 the Xishuangbanna AP was established and in December 1957 the four Bannas were amalgamated into one giant Banana of the county status, and was given the name the Banna Jinghong People's Admin. Committee.

Points of Interest: City-centre Peacock Lake. Medicinal Botanic Gardens and attached Traditional Medicine Clinic. Wat Manting is Jinghong's is the largest Buddhist monastery in Xishuangbanna. Xishuangbanna Natural Reserve surrounds the city and covers a sweeping 770 sq. miles. Its tropical rain forest is home to rare plants and animals.

Sites throughout XSBN: The Tropical Plant Research Institute to get an idea of the variety and number of plants in the area. The surrounding countryside and the villages and minorities there (Dai, Aini, Lahu, Bulang) are what make Jinghong worth going to. Options are 3- to 5-day treks through tropical rain forests and minority villages. Manfeilong Buddhist Pagoda is the best known. Built in 1204, ancient Buddhist scriptures on pattra record the design, construction and ceremonial activities of the pagoda. The Manlei Muzi Pagodas (‘Mother and Son Pagodas’) are the largest in the Mengzhe region. Jingzhen Octagonal Pavilion, in the Xiaotuan Mountain area of Menghai County, is an unusual Buddhist structure with 31 faces at 32 angles. On Dai temples… distinct in shape and their almost exclusive use of wood, necessitating their being raised off the ground. Also unlike Buddhists anywhere else in China, whose Mahayana (Dacheng) teachings filtered through from India, the Dais follow Theravada Buddhism (as do people in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Burma).

Festivals: Jinuo New Year (Temaoke) (lunar 1.2-4), Water Splashing Festival (Apr 13-15), Kuzhazha (Hani) (lunar 6.24-26), Aini Swing Festival (lunar 8.1-4)

JIUZHAIGOU  九寨沟  (Dzitsa Degu) in Amdo (northern Sichuan)
  area code 0837  /  post code 623400

Alt: 2000 to 4300 m   Population: 14,000 (65,000 county)   People: Tibetan, Qiang

Description: Jiuzhaigou (“Nine Village Valley” for the 9 Tibetan villages here) is a 700 sq. km. national park and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is located on the upper reaches of the Min River on the edge of the Tibetan plateau in northern Sichuan, and extends for over 30 km.The beauty and diversity of Jiuzhaigou has long been extolled within China. From lush, unspoilt forests reminiscent of Northern Europe carpeted by lush flora, to pristine snow-covered peaks; over 100 plateau lakes, waterfalls and streams and marshes. If you're one for hiking, you'll have ample opportunity for it here. There are facilities in the park for sleeping and eating. Within the park boundaries are a handful of small settlements, many of whose residents are followers of the ancient Bön religion. The Bön monastery Dartse gompa has 90+ monks residing there.

Festivals: Zaru Temple Fair (May 1)

KANGDING  康定  (Dartsedo) in Kham (western Sichuan)   area code 0836  /  zip code 626000

Alt: 2590 m   Population: 36,000 (115,000 county)   People: Kham Tibetan, Han, Hui, Yi   Weather: Click here

Description: Capital of the Ganzi Tibetan AP, population 1 million (~80% Tibetan). To east is Dunda Mountain protecting the town. Hence the name Kangding, short for kangdi (peaceful land) anding (safely set). Its Tibetan name comes from 'Dazheduo', since the confluence of Da-chu (Yala River) and Zhe-chu (Zheduo River) is here.This town (called Lucheng Town) was once referred to as “the wildest settlement in China”. Today, it still marks the set off point into this region's wilder, Tibetan lands. To its west the road winds its way through snow-capped peaks over 4000 metres high, deep river valleys, and Tibetan villages, providing spectacular scenery and making it one of the highest and most unforgettable roads you'll ever travel. To the east, city-scape gradually takes over as the road widens and flattens out, leading eventually to the provincial capital. Kangding sits at 2620 metres in a river valley, hemmed in along a river by the towering Daxueshan directly behind. Mt. Paoma, on the south-west edge of town, is in easy walking distance. Sacred for both Tibetans and Han, on its slopes one will find a stupa, the Dentok gompa, a Daoist temple and a Confucius temple. Though small in scale, Kangding serves as an important market town for this area. Tibetan “cowboys” with their sunburnt faces, long hair and unique clothing come here to stock up and take a rest from herding yaks in the high country. The markets are abuzz with interesting items on display.

History: Belonged to the powerful and rich State of Chagla (included today's Danba, Kangding and Yajiang, as well as Xiangcheng and Daocheng, to a looser extent, though nobody really 'controlled' those areas). Power was solely in the hands of a hereditary king who was considered one of the most powerful chiefs of eastern Tibet, levying duties on all goods taken west of the city on the profitable Chengdu-Lhasa and Kangding-Yushu trade routes. After 1724 (when the area was annexed by China) the king moved his base to present-day Kangding, and had (to some extent, at least) to work out a power-sharing system with the Chinese, for whom Kangding represented their main base of power in Kham - historically, heading west from Chengdu, Kangding marked the end of Chinese-ruled land and the beginning of Tibet. Monk officials were appointed and the horse-tea trade that had begun during the Tang and Song Dynasties was further encouraged. Indeed, Kangding was one of two major tea staging towns (the other being Dali in Yunnan); all the tea in China would arrive to either here or Dali to then be repackaged and transported to Tibet. This system continued until 1906, when administrative bodies were created and Chinese magistrates sent to replace local rulers (causing wide-spread revolt). When the Qing court was toppled in 1911, this system collapsed and the area went back to the rule of monks, bandits and the like. In 1927, Sichuan warlord Liu Wenhui took over the Kham area. In 1939, Kangding became capital of newly formed (and short-lived - it was 'unformed' in 1955) Xikang Province. It was only in 1950 that Kangding (formerly known to Chinese as Dajianlu - tradition has it that Zhuge Liang, 3 Kingdoms hero, of the State of Shu had stoves 'lu' installed to make ('da') arrows 'jian') finally came under complete control by Chinese government. In 1955, the area was reformed into the Ganzi Tibetan AP.

Points of Interest: At one time 7 monasteries in Kangding, belonging to the Nyingma, Sakya and Geluk schools. Currently 2 main lamaseries: Anjue Monastery (Geluk), built 1654, and the newer Nanwu Monastery (Geluk) - bigger of the two, housing almost 90 monks. Dorje Drak gompa (Nyingma) is outside of town, currently undergoing reconstruction. Erdaoqiao hot springs. Holy Mt. Paoma overlooking town. Muge Lake Nature area (26 km from town), with NW Sichuan's biggest (over 3 sq. km, 70m deep) high altitude lake, a rhododendron valley, Seven Colour Lake, waterfalls.

Festivals: Walking around Mountain (lunar 4.8)

KUNMING  昆明  in central Yunnan   area code 0871  /  zip code 650000
(last updated July '08)

Alt: 1890 m   Population: 6 million   People: 85% Han   Weather: Click here

Description: Ever since people 'sent down' here for bad behaviour during the CR declined offers to return east after the storm had passed, Chinese have been waking up to the fact that Kunming is one of China’s more liveable cities. Modern and breezy, with the apt moniker of “City of Spring”, a subtropical city possessing year-round great weather, surrounded by mountains, edged by lakes. Capital of Yunnan, a province of snow-capped mountains, tropical jungles, and a population of whom one third are members of national minorities. The streets always crowded by city residents out for a pleasant stroll. Host of traditional Chinese sights of snack stalls, tea shops, markets, old temples and pavilions, parks and gardens... Greatly modernised in recent years with barrels of tourism and investment money pouring in, alas to the demise of all but three of its old buildings. Well connected by air.

History: The first to settle around Kunming were the Dian people way back in the 1200s BC. The city that was to become Kunming was established 277 BC. From 8c up until Genghis Khan's arrival in the 13c, when Kunming was brought more firmly into China's fold, Kunming was the secondary capital of the ancient Nanzhao Kingdom (based in Dali). In the late 14c, after crushing the last of the Mongol (Yuan) resistance in 1381, the victorious Ming rulers set up shop here. In 1650, Kunming fell to the Manchus (Qing). From 1856-68, the city was besieged several times by a rebel Muslim leader, whose rebellion was put down for good in 1873. By 1900, Kunming had opened to foreign trade, and in 1910 the Indochina railroad arrived. When, during World War II, the Japanese occupied China's east, the south-west became the de facto capital, and Kunming had a US air base, home to Claire Chennault’s voluntary fighting aviators, the American Flying Tigers.

Points of Interest: Green Lake (city's high point, ever active with taiqi, ballroom dancing, orchestras, croquet ...). Bird & Flower market (less interesting since the razing of most the old buildings but still fun for a stroll through). Western Hills.

Festivals: Western Hills Gathering (lunar 3.3), Siberian Seagulls at Green Lake (reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds...)

Wireless hotspots: French Cafe and Pizza da Rocco (both on Wenlin Jie). EBest on Cuihu Xi Lu (Greenlake West Road). Salvador's right by Wenlin Jie.   

Recommended Website: GoKunming

LANGDU  浪都  in NW Yunnan   area code 0887

Alt: 2800 m   Population: <100 households   People: Tibetan   

Description: A small village set alongside the Dong-chu river. Owing to the completion of a new road from this part of Yunnan into Yading, Langdu will start to see more traffic. The village is set in a pretty area with lots of pines and rhododendrons.

Points of Interest: Cheese Factory not far from Langdu churning out artisan cheeses with names such as Geza Gold and Shangri-la Premier, made from the local yak milk; there's a small shop selling the Geza cheeses in Zhongdian old town.

Festivals: Chitu Immortals Cave Day (lunar 1.17, 7.15 & 12.15)

LAOJUN SHAN  老君山  in NW Yunnan   area code 0888

Alt: varies, highest peak 4247m  

Description: Located southwest of Lijiang. An excellent place for plant hunters, all manner of variety of rhododendrons. Its tallest peak is Mt. Funiu. Though long planned to be developed as a mass tourism destination, that still hasn't happened. One can only hope it's been forgotten.

LHASA  拉萨  in Ü-Tsang (central TAR)   area code 0891  /  zip code 850000

Alt: 3658 m   Population:    People: Tibetan, Han   Weather: Click here

Description: Although Lhasa still holds an allure for many and at least nominally is the centre of the Tibetan religious world, it's inevitably become a shadow of its former self, lacking the cultural and religious vibrancy of eastern Tibet. Having said that, the Barkhor circuit area retains its magic and is a great place for people watching, and there are still a couple of monasteries and less public institutions which are active and important even today. Visually it's a low rise city being rapidly transformed into a moderrn Chinese metropolis.

History: First became capital under Songtsen Gampo, the first of Tibet's so-called Religious Kings who ruled from 7~9c. During this time, greater Tibet was unified, and military expansion saw Tibet's borders extend into China, India and Nepal. The adoption of Buddhism as a state religion in 792 marked the beginning of demilitarisation of Tibet and a shrinking of the empire. With collapse of Yarlung Dynasty in 9c, the Tibetan Empire was replaced by islands of local hegemonic rule no longer ruled from Lhasa. But following a civil war between Kagyupa adherents (based in Shigatse) and Gelukpa adherents (based in Lhasa and backed by armies of Gushri Khan) in which Gelukpa triumphed, Lhasa once again became capital of an empire, albeit greatly reduced in size from its glory days, and this time with the DL running the show. In 1720, power struggles (following discovery of DL7 in Lithang) between Mongols and Manchus (whose Qing Dynasty ruled China) over who would hold sway in Tibet resulted in the Manchus (who won) declaring Tibet a protectorate of China, marking the start of 200 years of Manchu overlord-ship, at least on paper. Practically speaking, it was the DL along with the Kashag ('cabinet', adopted by the Lhasa gov't at this time in the hope of lessening confusion over future DL successions) who ruled Tibet. In 1904, British fears about Russian involvement in Asia resulted in Col. Younghusband and his men heavy handedly 'invading' Lhasa. Though the ensuing diplomatic embarrassment was quickly ironed out between Britain and Tibet, Younghusband's presence on the Rooftop of the World had the effect of worrying the Manchus into a more interventionist policy, ending with the 1910 invasion of Lhasa. But with the fall of the Manchu (Qing) dynasty the following year, the Tibetans were able to expel these soldiers a year later, and enjoy real de facto independence. However, in 1951 a 'liberation force' entered Lhasa, and that was the ballgame. DL14 left eight years later.

Points of Interest: Jokhang Temple - Tibet's most sacred temple, it houses famous image of Shakyamuni (that tradition has it was brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng, though very doubtful if present statue is the original); the large amount of money it takes in every day makes one wonder the need for a trinket stall on the top floor, or why the absense of preservation activity inside. Barkhor street - the inner pilgrimage circuit surrounding Jokhang, lined with hundreds of market stalls, crowded from early morning to nightfall with the faithful. Ramoche Temple - built same time as Jokhang, originally to house the Shakyamuni statue. Norbulingka Palace - DL's summer residence. Potala Palace - this was the DL's principal residence, with 13 stories, a thousand rooms, hundreds of thangkas, frescoes and images, built in an era when religious art was created anonymously as means of gaining merit for future lives, now just a museum, perhaps best just viewed from the outside. Chakpori (Medicine Mountain). Sera gompa and Drepung gompa - along with Ganden, Lhasa's 3 big monasteries (all heavily heavily damaged during the CR). Tsurphu gompa. Nechung gompa - good place.

Festivals: Monlam (Tib 1.3-25), Butter Lamp Festival (Tib 1.15), Maitreya Buddha's Day (Jampa Dendren) (Tib 1.25), Saga Dawa (Tib 4.15), Lingka Woods Festival (Tib 5.15), Gandan Thangka Festival (lunar 6.15), Shoton (Yogurt Festival) (lunar 6.30-7.7), Drepung Thangka Unfolding (lunar 6.30), Tibetan operas & dramas (lunar 7.1), Jokhang Fairy Maiden Festival (lunar 10.15), Palden Lhamo (Tib 10.15), Potala Palace Festival of Banishing Evils (Gutor) (lunar 12.29)

LIJIANG   丽江市  in NW Yunnan   area code 0888  /  zip code 674100

Alt: 2400 m   Population: 4,000+ homes (old town)/1 million   People: Naxi (58%)   Weather: Click here

Description: Lijiang’s old town, Dayan, was once an amazingly undiscovered little gem of a place – traditional courtyard houses, cobbled streets, narrow canals crisscrossing all through town, a grand view of Jade Dragon Mountain 30 km to the north, and a couple of places in the old town where you might get a cup of Yunnan coffee. How it has changed. In 1996 a 7.0 earthquake struck, killing some 300+, and leaving tens of thousands more injured and homeless. The ensuing TV coverage reporting Lijiang’s disaster also revealed its charms, first to China, and eventually to the world. Soon, Lijiang had become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and before long, tourists by the thousands were visiting. The old town management embraced this, forcing out shops that did not cater to tourists (barber shops, stationary stores, etc.), banning the traditional market in the main square at the centre of town, and corralling appropriately garbed Naxi women into nightly circle dancing, among other things. Lijiang is now a mecca for mass tourism; the annual number of visitors is in the millions.

History: From 649 until 902 Lijiang was part of the expansionist Tibetan empire. By 1100 Naxi are the dominant people in this valley. Naxi kings' (of the Mu clan) original seat of power was in Baisha, now a wee village north of Lijiang. When Mongols arrived in 1254, the Naxi secured their fortune by submitting peacefully to this overwhelming force, even lending troops for the assault on the Kingdom of Dali to the south. This pattern continued into the Qing dynasty, the imperial court using Naxi to fight their battles in NW Yunnan, especially against Tibetans and Burmese. Kublai Khan set about building Lijiang's old town and its canals, and soon thereafter the capital moved to Dayan. It was also around this time that the Kagyüpa and Nyingmapa schools spread across this area. More recently, with the earthquake of 1996 when the old wooden buildings survived in contrast to the concrete boxes of modern Chinese architecture (so lore has it - in actuality, many old buildings were also destroyed), all construction of modern buildings in the old town was banned, hence preserving one of the gems of SW China as well as fuelling Lijiang's status as a major tourist destination.

Points of Interest: Dayan Old Town, Yulongxueshan (Jade Dragon Mtn.). Zhiyun ( ‘Pointing to the Clouds’) Temple - Tibetan temple on western end of Lashihai, built 1728 during Qing Dynasty, has views of Yulongxueshan to the north-east. Naxi Orchestra - provided they’re not away on a world tour, hold evening performances. Audiences tribute seems more geared towards the average age of the musicians (80+) than to the music itself - ancient Tang Dynasty tunes.

Festivals: Stick Fair (lunar 1.15), Farmers' Trade Fair (lunar 1.20), Sanduo festival (lunar 2.8), Dongba Festival (lunar 3.5), Mila Festival (lunar 5.15), July Fair (lunar 6.11-20), Torch Festival (lunar 6.24-26), Seventh Month Fair (lunar 7.10-20), Feeding the Hungry Ghosts (lunar 7.22)

LIMING  黎明  in NW Yunnan
  area code 0888

Population:     People: Lisu 

Description: About 3 hours northwest of the 'First Bend of the Yangtze', Liming means 'daybreak', paying tribute to the old adage that the sun rises and falls 3 times a day here, owing to how the shadows of the towering rock outcrops play tricks. A remarkable little town with attractive wooden houses populated by the Lisu minority, it was designated as a place to be developed, and its main road has been repaved with attractive cobblestones. The bad news is the government would like to see as many as 1500 tourists a day visit. It’s set in a deep valley surrounded by red sandstone massif scenery - it has the largest red rock sandstone landscape in SW China (approximately 200 sq. km) - that gives a canyon-like atmosphere to the area.

Points of Interest: Qianguishan (Thousand Turtle Mountain) - makes for a good day's walk, its highest point is 2680 m., and some 2000 Lisu homes dot the slopes. Its surface resembles hundreds of turtles.

Festivals: Kuoshi Festival (lunar 1.1-15), Sword Pole Festival (lunar 2.8), Tuoxiangpi Festival (lunar 7.15)

LINZHI  林芝  (Nyangtri) in Ü-Tsang (east central TAR)   area code 0894  /   zip code 860100

Alt: 3000 m   Population: 5,000   People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: The former county capital (present capital is now located at Bayi, a few km west), it's now a small, very mellow town on the east bank of Nyang-chu (major tributary of the Brahmaputra), set below Mount Bönri. Owing to high levels of rainfall (rains 300 days/year) landscape here is extremely magnificent - primieval forests, plateau lakes, high mountains and deep lush valleys. Mount Bönri (4671m) is the highest of 3 sacred Bön peaks, set on the north bank of the Brahmaputra. It ranks along with Kailash as a most sacred pilgrimage peak in the Bön religion - Tibet's ancient and only home-grown religion, which in its last phase adopted much from Tibetan Buddhism, today the two are almost indistinguishable. Having said that, it's the people in the remoter parts of Linzhi county that have held on most strongly to Bön. New airport opened 2006 (2930 m); its approach considered 'the world's most challenging commercial jetliner landing'.

Points of Interest: Yungdrungling gompa just outside of town, popular with Amdo pilgrims. Kushuk Drong (Banla village) is site of 2000-year-old juniper tree sacred to Bön. Sagya Genqen Monastery - on Mt. Bonri, an 8c Bon temple, revitalised 13c.

Festivals: Gongbo New Year (lunar 10.1), Mt. Bonri kora (Tib. 4.15), Mt. Bonri Eagle Worshipping Festival (Tib 4.30)

LITANG  理塘  (Lithang) in Kham (western Sichuan)   area code 0836  /  zip code 624300

Alt: 4010 m   Population: 9,000 (51,000 county)   People: Kham Tibetan (mostly nomads)    Weather: Click here

Description: The highest town (Gaocheng Town) in Sichuan, the relaxed feel of the town belies its rather tumultuous recent history. Sitting at the edge of a wide expanse of grassland, with green rolling hills and the vivid blue of the sky as a backdrop. Clear days offer dazzling views of majestic snow-capped mountains, the 5064m Maogeshan covered year-round in snow seemingly within arm's reach. Host to one of the big horse festivals, where thousands of Khampans come from all over the plateau, from Qinghai, Sichuan and Tibet, for a week of horsemanship displays, trading and the local version of fiesta. Local economy based on pastoralism, nomads grazing yaks, goats, sheep and horses on Lithang ’s high plateau grasslands as they have for generations.

History: One of a number of small eastern Tibetan states, but independent of Lhasa throughout, Lithang was the centre of an expansive Tibetan princedom. In the 1920s, Joseph Rock tells of a kingdom ruled by a monarch who had “absolute spiritual and temporal sway over 22,000 subjects” of Tibetans, Naxi, and others. During the twilight years of the Qing Dynasty, the princes of Litang were forcibly removed and replaced with Chinese magistrates, kicking off a period of anarchy as Tibetans seized weapons from government troops and fought with both each other and the Chinese, so fearsome being the fighting that no Chinese dared enter, and for a time, all contact with the area outside ceased. Clear through the 1950's, Litangpans (as Khampans from Litang are called) remained fiercely resistant and independent. Indeed, they've a reputation - even among the warrior Khampans - for being exceptional fighters. The head of the last guerrilla group to stand against the Chinese army was from Litang; the guerilla movement was spurred by the 1956 siege of the Lithang gompa.

Points of Interest: This area, up until the late 1500s, was a stronghold for the Kagyüpa school. In 1640 Gushri Khan's Mongol forces squashed all opposition to the Gelukpa school, and the Lithang gompa then grew to rival the Chamdo and Ganzi monasteries as the most important Gelukpa establishment in Kham. Founded 1580 at the appointment DL3, the Lithang gompa is a huge complex overlooking the valley, its recent restoration taking 10 years. Somewhere between 1000-3000 monks here now. Jiage Shenshan Monastery is a new monastery 18 km south of town. Genie Scenic area.

Festivals: Horse Racing Festival (Aug 1)

LIUKU  六库  in western Yunnan on the Salween   area code 0886  /  zip code 673100

Alt: m      Population: 500,000 (pref.)   People: Lisu (47%), Bai, Han, Nu, Pumi, Yi, Derung   Weather: Click here

Description: The seat of the Nujiang Lisu AP is located at Liuku.

History: .

Points of Interest: .

Festivals: Kuoshi Festival (lunar 1.1-3),Fresh Flowers Festival (lunar 3.15-21)

LUDING  泸定  (Chakzamka) in Kham (western Sichuan)
  area code 0836  /  zip code 626101

Alt: 1330 m   Population: 20,000 (82,000 county)   People: Han (91%), Tibetan (5%)   Weather: Click here

Description: Here you are just beginning to enter China's wild west. West of here is the domain of the Kham Tibetans, and the area is distinct both from the rest of China as well as the TAR. The architecture varies from town to town, buy by and large the houses are beautiful and spacious, built of wood and stone, the windows trimmed with intricate Tibetan carving and then painted. And unlike most areas of the TAR, one will not see a huge Chinese influence or large numbers of Chinese immigrants changing the local feel of the area. It is owing to the extreme isolation of the area, cut off as it is by 6000 metre plus peaks, that Kham today has become a repository for a substantial part of Tibet’s culture that has survived upheaval and destruction of the 20c. Luding itself is a small town set along the mighty Dadu River, whose most famous bridge is the Luding Iron Chain Bridge, over 300 years old, from which the county gets its name. The scenery - like every other place along the Sichuan-Tibet Highway in these parts - is gorgeous.

History: Luding also provides a chance to become familiar with a very important, pivotal chapter in the Long March saga. Its 18c suspension bridge at Luding was the last possible place (east of Tibet) for the Reds to cross the Dadu River. Failure to cross here would have meant a detour of more than a thousand miles. Quite heroically (see Red Star Over China, p. 199) they managed it. One can still cross over the bridge, albeit with the benefit of the wooden planks that was not available to the Red army soldiers.
Points of Interest: Its famous and heroic crossing put to verse in Mao’s poem Long March: "Terrifying iron chains swung across the Dadu Bridge."

LUGU LAKE  泸沽湖  (Lugu Hu) straddling the border between Yunnan & Sichuan

Alt: 2680 m   People: Mosuo   Weather: Click here

Description: The 93m lake is beautiful, clean and very blue. The northern shore of the lake is in Sichuan, and the southern shore belongs to Yunnan. Lugu is set in an area rich with minority peoples – the Mosuo, the Yi and the Tibetans are 3 of the people represented in this area. The Mosuo are a Tibetan-Burmo people who branched off from the Naxi people hundreds of years ago. They practice Tibetan Buddhism. Their society still operates along matriarchal and matrilineal lines – the youngest daughter inherits the house, couples do not move in together, but rather, the man may come calling on his partner in the evenings, but will return home to his mother’s house in the morning. The Yunnan side has developed lots recently, with the shore lined with guesthouses built in local style wooden architecture that’s quite attractive. One can either walk or horseback around the lake, or hire a boat to row across, where there are other guesthouses but in quieter, more peaceful settings.

History: Mosuo descended from the nomadic Qiang people, and possibly migrated to the Lugu area "31 generations before 1253". Being so remote, this area was only ever marginally influenced by the powers that be, always maintaining its own political structure (at least before the Mongols arrived mid 13c). Though officially ID'd as Naxi, the Mosuo argue that in just about every aspect, their cultures differ.

Festivals: Mountain Circling Festival (lunar 7.25 or 8.15), Mosuo Small New Year (lunar 11.12)

LUHUO  炉霍  (Drango) in Kham (NW Sichuan)
   area code 0836  /  zip code 626500

Alt: 3230 m   Population: 9,000 (42,000 county)   People: Kham Tibetan (86%)   Weather: Click here

Description: A small Tibetan town at the confluence of 2 rivers, tucked away in the mountains amid sweeping grasslands, snowy mountains and dense forests - an oasis on the plateau characterised by beautifully designed houses unique to the area. Forestry has been the mainstay of the local economy, which took a huge hit when tree felling was banned in 1998, but the local ecology saw huge improvements (11 Class A wildlife species and 27 class B species listed for this county). Its economy has picked up considerably in recent years.

History: This town was one of the Five Hor States (ruled by hereditary chieftains, located in one of Kham's most fertile valleys and near the major Kangding-Yushu trade route). Luhuo was known then as "Hor Zamgu" which roughly translated as "Mongolians on the Rock" (head Luhuo chief has his house built atop a large rock). The State's autonomy ended with the arrival of a neighbouring rival chieftain from State of Nyarong (present-day Xinlong) who conquered this area along with most places in Kham in 1863. Shortly thereafter, Lhasa troops came to the rescue and the town was made a Lhasa protectorate. Lhasa's rule ended at the end of the 19c when Chinese magistrates came (along with a number of Chinese settlers) and took over the job of ruling (at which time town was renamed Luhuo, lying as it did on the route from Lu (Dajianlu - today's Kangding) to Hor (today's Ganzi area). Still, Lhasa retained some rights of rule (provided by the 1918 treaty between Beijing and Lhasa), which they lost totally following the Sino-Tibetan wars of 1930-33. In 1936, the Red Army rested here for half a year during the Long March.

Points of Interest: Drango gompa (Geluk) on the outskirts of town was built in the 17c by Gelukpa adherents, and was once the largest monastery in the area. Inside is room reserved for the DL should he ever be in the neighbourhood (a custom common to many monasteries) – photos and shrines bedeck the interior, as well as Tibetan furniture crafted skillfully from wood, and beautiful tapestries.


MA'ERKANG  马尔康  (Barkham) in Gyarong region (northern Sichuan)   area code 0837  /  zip code 624000

Alt: 2670m   Population: 25,000 (55,000 county)   People: Tibetan (63%), Han (34%), Qiang   Weather: Click here

Description: The capital of Aba AP (est. 1955), which is responsible for over 40% of Sichuan's total yak. A great out-of-the-way city, prosperous by the area’s standards, which explains the presence of the new high-rises and hotels. One you need not walk more than a minute to come across one of its many little teahouses. It’s also an excellent town to hunt for Tibetan crafts and products, and the houses around town are great examples of Tibetan architecture. Residents are mostly Tibetan, with a few Qiang thrown into the mix. The Tibetan spoken here is unintelligible to Tibetans from other areas Lots of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants providing quite a range of different cuisine. The road from Chengdu is mostly very good, with excellent scenery of rivers, mountains, and ancient watchtowers. The language spoken here isdistinct both from what’s spoken by Amdo Tibetans to the north and Kham Tibetans south.

Points of Interest: 40 monasteries countywide (representing Nyingma, Geluk, Sakya and Jonang schools, as well as the Bön religion). About 20 minutes up a hill is the 300-year-old Barkham gompa (Geluk since the 19c), where a few hundred student monks study their scriptures - it was moved here piece by piece from its original site further down the hill in the late 1980s.

MANGKANG  芒康  (Gartok) in Kham (eastern TAR)   area code 0895  /  zip code 854500

Alt: 3890 m   Population: 13,000 (72,000 county)    People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: The county capital, name means 'Lower Kham', set on large grass meadow, overlooking Yu-chu river (a major tributary of the Salween). Quite a bustling town, this is where the Yunnan-Tibet highway runs into the Sichuan-Tibet highway.

History: Gushri Khan's campaigns (to forcibly convert many of the gompa in E Tibet to Gelukpa order at the behest of the DL5 in 17c) very effective in Gartok, resulting in this region being directly incorporated into the Lhasa administrative system (as opposed to de facto self-ruling as with most of the areas in eastern Tibet).

Points of Interest: Weise monastery - set in town, county's largest Geluk monastery, historically had over 20 monasteries attached to it.

MANIGANGE  马尼干戈  (Manigango) in Kham (NW Sichuan)   area code 0836

Alt: 3800 m   People: Kham Tibetan   

Description: A tiny little settlement out in the middle of nowhere set on a high plantain, where the most prominent feature is the sky – the 3 main roads which cross here make it an important transportation hub. This town is a pit stop for truckers headed for Tibet or coming from there. The locals rarely set eyes on foreigners, and any who come through will be the object of avid curiosity.

Points of Interest: Yazer gompa (Nyingma), around which the social life of town revolves (unless there are foreigners about...). Yilhun Lhatso (Chinese name is Xinlu Hai, meaning New Road Lake, owing to its proximity to the Sichuan-Tibet Hwy), alt. 4200m, on the road to Dege, is a beautiful lake surrounded by rugged snowy mountains, very sacred for Tibetans as evidenced by the many stone piles and prayer flags. Shores lined with spruce, cypress and rhododendrons. Its Tibetan name means Sacred Lake (Lhatso) that cause Heart to Pour Out (Yilhun). From its shores can be had views of the glaciered 6186m Mt. Que’er serving as a backdrop. South of town, in a 'hidden valley' is the 17c Dzogchen gompa (Ch. Zhuqing Si) (Nyingma), one of most important monasteries in Kham and a renowned school for teachings of Dzogchen.

Festivals: Dzogchen Birth of Padmasambhava (lunar 6.10)

MINGYIN  鸣音  in NW Yunnan   area code 0888

Alt: 3170 m

Description: Three hours north of Lijiang along a very bumpy road, passing Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, brings one to Mingyin - a tiny, dirt road mountain town. Not a lot of action here, but the town is inhabited by some exceptionally down-to-earth and honest folk. A quick walk up a hill, and a gorgeous view of JDS Mountain greets you. For those who brought their walking shoes, you can hike from here to Daju in 3 hours or more - this is mostly down hill, with excellent views, small villages and strong chances of being offered a cuppa tea along the way. Better yet, drive along to the next town of Baoshan, and from there walk 4 to 6 hours to reach Baoshan Stone City.

MOZHUGONGKA  墨竹工卡  (Meldro Gungkar) in Ü-Tsang (east central TAR)
   area code 0891  /  zip code 850200

Alt: 3850 m   Population: 6,000 (42,000 county)    People: Tibetan

Description: County capital set at the confluence of the Kyi-chu and Meldrophu-chu rivers.


Points of Interest: Gyama (10 km west of town) - birthplace of King Songtsen Gampo. Can see images of the king with his 2 wives (one Nepalese, one Chinese - both considered pivotal for helping to spread Buddhism into Tibet). Lamo gompa, also outside of town, built early 10c, it's one of the earliest shrines built by a famous teacher/translator upon his return to Tibet, when he initiated a later phase of Buddhist propagation. Ganden gompa, located further on the road to Lhasa, the first and foremost monastery of the Gelukpa order, founded 1409 by Tsongkhapa upon a site that has ancient associations with King Songtsen Gampo. The abbot of Ganden is the titular head of Gelukpa order (while the DL is the most senior incarnate lama of Gelukpa), Totally destroyed during Cultural Revolution, renovated.

MULI  木里  in SW Sichuan
  area code 0834  /  zip code 615800

Alt:    Population: 18,000 (130,000 county)    People: Tibetan, Yi, Naxi, Mongolian, Miao   Weather: Click here

Description: Seat of Muli Tibetan Autonomous County.


Points of Interest: .

Festivals: )

NANGQIAN  囊谦  (Nangchen) in Kham (far SW corner of Qinghai)   area code 0976 / zip code 815200

Alt:    Population: 9,000 (72,000 county)    People: Kham Tibetan

Description: A forested county with many Kagyüpa monasteries scattered about, Nangchen itself is a little market town set alongside upper reaches of the Mekong.

History: The Kingdom of Nangchen (included today's Yushu and Nangqian) was ruled by hereditary kings wholly independent of Lhasa (though somewhat under the jurisdiction of Xining), comprised almost entirely of nomadic pastoralists.

Points of Interest: Longxi gompa. Further afield are the Surmang Namgyal-tse (where a recently built shedra - monastic college - is) and Surmang Dutsi-til monasteries. Surmang Namgyal-tse is the largest of the Surmang gompa, more prosperous than Dutsi-til, set in an expansive valley. Surmang Dutsi-til (centre of two lineages - one Nyingmapa and the other Kagyüpa) was founded 17c. Both are Kagyüpa monasteries, and were attacked in 1643 by Mongols wanting to 'convert' them to the Gelukpa order.

NAQU  那曲  (Nakchu) in Ü-Tsang (north central TAR)
  area code 0896; zip code 852000

Alt:    Population: 25,000 (100,000 county)   People: Kham Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: Capital of Naqu prefecture, a vast (twice the size of the UK) sweep of highland with mountains and lakes aplenty. It's the major town in the northern TAR area, at the junction of 4 major roads (to Lhasa, Golmud, Gar and Chamdo). Indeed, 80% of commodities entering Tibet come via Naqu. Today it's a booming, changing town that has seen an boom in the number of karaoke parlours and brothels, serving the truckers who ply this route. The now completed Golmud-Lhasa track, sending 16 trains a DAY to Lhasa, stops here.


Points of Interest: Xiaodeng gompa (Bön).

Festivals: Horse Racing Festival (Aug 10-15)

NINGLANG  宁蒗  in NW Yunnan
  area code 0888 / zip code 674300

Alt:   Population: 30,000 (240,000 county)   People: )   Weather: Click here

Description: One of Yunnan's poorer counties.


Points of Interest: .

Festivals: Mid-January Festival (lunar 1.14), Koesheu (lunar 2.8), Torch Festival (lunar 6.24), Mountain Circling Festival (7.15), County Fair (lunar 10.25-11.1)

RANGTANG  壤塘  (Zamtang) in Kham (NW Sichuan)   area code 0837, post code 624300

Alt: 3400 m   Population: 5,000 (34,000 county)    People: Kham Tibetan (80%), Han, Hui, Qiang

Description: Capital town (called Rangke Township) of the small Rangtang county in Aba AP, located a stone's throw from Qinghai. Tibetan name means Plain of the Money God.

History: County est. 1958.

Points of Interest: Bangtuo monastery (Nyingma) with its famous stone scriptures. Rangtang monastery (Jonang Kagyu), 60 km outside of town, comprised of three 15 c temples.

Festivals: Zangpala festival (8.18)

RANWU LAKE  然乌错  (Rawok) in Kham (eastern TAR)   area code 0895

Alt: 3850 m    Population: 5,000 (township)    People: Kham Tibetan

Description: Eastern Tibet's largest lake, located in Ranwu township (which consists of not much more than a military base, and a handful of basic eateries and shops), located just beyond Ngajuk La, the watershed between the Salween and Brahmaputra rivers. Ranwu was originally the upper stretch of Parlung Tsangpo, but a landslide 200 years ago caused giant boulders to cut off this bit to form the lake, thus its long 29 km length, and average width of less than one km. Frozen from November to May. Scenery here is of lush alpine forests. Lake shores very pristine, surrounded bysnowy peaks. Great camp site. Small town with army base on north shore. Coming into town from the west the road goes through a very scenic half-tunnel.

RIWA  日瓦  in Kham (SW Sichuan)
  area code 0836 

Alt: 2400 m   Population: )   People: Tibetan    Weather: Click here

Description: This is where one buys entrance tickets for Yading. Once a small village, now a township renamed Shangri-la 香格里拉乡, set by the river. More bustling every year, priding itself as it does as the last stop for many a thing before Yading. So lots of shops and restaurants, even a spiffy hotel.

Wireless hotspots: at the fancy restaurant at the west end of town.


RIWOCHE  类乌齐  (Ch. Leiwuqi Zhen) in Kham (eastern TAR)   area code 0895 / zip code 855600

Alt:   Population: 8,000 (42,000 county)    People: Kham Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: Set about 30km north of the main Lhasa-Changdu highway in a remote valley. In '95, a French explorer discovered a new breed of horse here, which might be a survivor from the Stone Age, and the ancestor to all modern horses. Just over a metre high with small eyes and a triangular face, they're hardy little creatures used as pack animals aswell as ridden.

History: In pre-modern times (pre-1950s), Riwoche was a lama state (head of state altered between the 3 principal reincarnate lines of the Taklung gompa) and was one of the 2 main centres of the Taklung Kagyüpa sub-order. Most of the monasteries in the area heavily damaged during the early 20c Sino-Tibetan wars, and again when Red Army fought its way to Lhasa, when this area saw heavy fighting between Chinese troops and Tibetans. But it was during the Cultural Revolution than the most damage was inflicted.

Points of Interest: Famed Tsuklakhung gompa (Taklung Kagyüpa) - one of the oldest and largest gompa in eastern Tibet, once home to 1000 monks and famed for its teaching, philosophers and logicians. Interesting in that both the Nyingmapa and Kagyüpa traditions are practiced here – the Riwoche lineage (started by 12c master Taklung Tungpa, founder of Taklung Kagyü lineage) fully integrates the Nyingma (‘Old’) teachings descended from Guru Rinpoche, with the Kagyüpa lineage.

RUOERGAI (Zoige)  若尔盖  in Amdo (northern Sichuan)   area code 0837 / post code 624500

Alt: 3400 m   Population: 8,000 (70,000 county)    People: Kham Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: Located on the road between Songpan (of the horse treks and coloured lakes) and the tiny Langmusi (Sichuan/Gansu border town with 2 main monasteries in town, couple of long-established cafes also). As with many towns of the area, Zoige's charms are not quite equal with the charm of the countryside within which it sits.

History: County est. 1953.

Points of Interest: Daza gompa in town. Zoige alpine wetland, 60 km north. Yellow River's first bend, west of town, forming the Sichuan/Gansu border. Gerdeng monastery (Ge'erdi Si), near Tangke - beautiful, out-of-the-way, and the largest in Aba AP.

Festivals: Yadun Summer Festival (Jul 15-17)

RUILI  瑞丽  in SW Yunnan   area code 0692 / zip code 678600

Alt: 770 m   Alt: 115,000   Weather: Click here

Description: A once dusty town on the southern edge of Yunnan, a Chinese-style Babylon with markets 2 blocks long. Alas it's been cleaned up and neonised, and has lost its border town charm. It still serves as a trading post for Burmese, Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese. Young Burmese (restaurateurs, traders of fine and not so fine jewels, those engaged in the oldest profession in the books (who come over on 14 day visas, price £1…) all cross the border every day to ply their trades.

History: The famous Road to Burma, famous for the speed with which such a complex and arduous construction was completed, as well as for its importance to China as its only connection with the outside world during the war, went through Ruili. Built 1937-8, it was painstakingly built out of the imposing mountains separating the Burmese town of Lashio and Kunming during China’s War Against Japanese Aggression, at the cost of thousands of labourers’ lives.

Points of Interest: Myanmar border town of Myitkyinbor

Festivals: Munao Festival (lunar 1.15)

SANGDUI  桑堆  (Samdo) in Kham (SW Sichuan)   area code 0836

Alt: ~3700 m   Population: 3,000   People: Tibetan

Description: A small town at the crossroad (roads leading to Xiangcheng, Daocheng and Litang here)

Points of Interest: Benpo gompa - in Tibetan the name translates to 'place of grasslands', built 1178 by 1st Karmapa, 3 large white stupas outside the complex represent Buddha's body, language and meaning. Over a hundred lamas now.

SEDA  色达 (Serthar)  in Kham (NW Sichuan)   area code 0836 / zip code 626600

Alt: 3890 m   People: 6,000 (42,000 county)   


History: Established as a county 1955.

Points of Interest: Serthar monastery - 17c, few km from town. . Larung Institute - non-sectarian, founded '82 by J. Phuntsok as a place for serious Buddhist scholarship and meditation, in no time home to country’s largest concentration of practitioners (plus over a thousand Chinese students). Rattled by Jigme’s popularity (he was treated like a rock star when he ventured into surrounding area, even to major urban centres back east), as well as the large number of Chinese coming here, in 2001 the gov't expelled all Chinese, then focused on breaking up the religious community, especially that of the nuns. Homes were razed, and a cap put on the number of monks/nuns allowed. It’s still running today, largely independently, but with a local gov’t watch-dog sited on grounds. 'Golden Horse' grassland - subject of many a song, near town.

Festivals: Golden Horse Art Festival (Tib 6.4), Gesar Festival (lunar 8.8)

SHANGRI-LA  香格里拉   See Zhongdian.

SHAXI  沙溪  in NW Yunnan
  area code 0872
(updated Jul '08)

Alt: 2200 m   Population: 4,000 (22,000 valley-wide)   People: Bai   Weather: Click here

Description: Deep in rural Bai country on a sultry river plain, this area, with village of Sideng Jie as its focal point, was chosen for a restoration and economic rejuvenation project by a Swiss NGO in 2002. As well as restoring old houses, temples and theatres, its goal is to encourage ecotourism in the area thus raising living standards for locals, but without Shaxi becoming yet another commercialised culture-for-sale Yunnan ethnic minority old town a la Lijiang, Zhongdian and Dali. Surely no one is taking bets on this, but with its relatively out-of-the-way location, it might have a chance. For the time being, a peaceful, intriguing place and a rare chance to see a traditional Bai village in its historical form. Surrounding countryside dotted with Ming & Qing era architecture.

History: Dating from Tang Dynasty (~1300 years ago), Shaxi was a stop on the Tea Horse Road between China and Tibet, and so enjoyed a vibrant economy for over 500 years, up until the mid 20c when the Tea Horse Road ended as a real means for trading goods between Tibet and China. Entree le Swiss in 2002. For more concerning the Tea Horse Road, see Yang Fu-Quan's article.

Points of Interest: An old town square, with theatre stage and temple. Friday market days. Surrounding countryside.

Festivals: Young Girls' Festival (lunar 1.15), Rounding the Lake (lunar 6.16), Lovers Rendezvous (lunar 10.16-18), Singing Festival (lunar 7.27), Making Merry with the Waves (lunar 8.15)

SHIBAOSHAN  石宝山  in western Yunnan   area code 0872

Alt: 2400 m   People: Bai   Weather: Click here

Description: Located just off the lesser-travelled, western Lijiang – Dali road, the same turnoff which takes you to Shaxi. Shibaoshan is littered with strangely-shaped rocks and old gnarled trees. Gorgeously carpeted with rhododendrons in the spring. Famed for hosting the finest grotto collection in SW China, which date from the Nanzhao Kingdom period (728 –937).

Points of Interest: The grottoes - 17 grotto sites (of over 130 statues) spread out over 3 different locations - Stone Bell Temple (considered finest), Shadeng village and Longziguan (includes a collection of the imperial family); historical figures as well as Buddhist images depicting some of the first transmission of Mahayana Buddhism into China. All made during the Nanzhao period and so reflecting the Nanzhao style - to wit, a combination of styles from imperial China, Buddhism and southern Asia.

Festivals: Singing Festival (lunar 7.27)

SHIGU  石鼓  in NW Yunnan   area code 0888 / zip code 674100

Alt: 1890 m   People: Han, Naxi, Bai   Weather: Click here

Description: As every promo blurb will tell you, Shigu is located at the first bend of the Yangtze River, at the point where the river suddenly turns north, thus creating the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The town has a high road and a low road. The high road is the old section - lined entirely by wooden buildings, Naxi and Bai people hanging about, great views of the corn and sunflower fields and the villages that surround the town. The low road is the main thoroughfare connecting Shigu to the outside world, which parallels the Jinsha River (upper Yangtze). New construction, but nothing manic. However, construction to dam the Yangtze in 8 places from Shigu to Panzhihua (a stretch of the river which includes Tiger Leaping Gorge) are to begin in earnest in 2008.

History: While Yunnan largely escaped the ravages of China’s civil war, Shigu can claim of piece of that history, from when the Red Army crossed the Jinsha River (upper reaches of the Yangtze) at Shigu.

Points of Interest: The memorial (of an earnest rower and a saintly soldier) dedicated to the Red Guard’s crossing is quiet impressive, and provides a great view of the town and the 1st Bend.

SHIQU  石渠  (Jumang) in Kham (NW Sichuan)   area code 0836 / zip code 627350

Alt: 4090 m    Population: 5,000 (60,000 county)   People: Tibetan (97%), Han (3%)   Weather: Click here

Description: Sichuan's highest (averages 4000m) and most sparsely populated county, formed by the Yalong River wending its way between Bayankala Mountain to the NW and Mola Mountain to the SE. Pronounced Sershul by the locals, named for a Sershul monastery which was built here in 760. In Tibetan Shiqu is actually called Zaxikawa, which means Source of the Yalong River. This county seat (Nixia Town) has grown a bit from being just a tiny little stop on the north fork of the Sichuan-Tibet highway. Until recently the populace was 100% Tibetan, but today it is now home to one of the largest Chinese settlements in the area. The lure is the nomadic and mountain scenery surrounding town.

Points of Interest: Just outside of town is Bumnying gompa (Geluk) where some 200 monks. Further away from town one finds the largest monastery in the county, the late 18c Sershul gompa. As the regional base for the Gelukpa, it ranks as an important monastery. Today it houses some 800 monks, down from a height of over 3000 prior to the Chinese invasion. Zaxika grassland in the basin of the Yalong River. Bage mani wall, almost 2 km long, built 1640, named after Rinpoche Bage who laid down the first mani stone.

Festivals: Horse Racing Festival, Rain Retreating Festival (lunar 7.30)

SONGPAN  松潘  (Zungchu) in Amdo (northern Sichuan)
  area code 0837 / post code 623300

Alt: 2730 m   Population: 9,000 (72,000 county)   People: Han (43%), Tibetan (37%), Qiang, Hui   Weather: Click here

Description: Directly north of Chengdu, about 2/3 along the way to the Gansu border, along the Min River. This is alpine country, very cool and refreshing compared with the mugginess of Chengdu. This historical town grew into an important stop on the trading route from Sichuan to the north, and the big market is reflective of its old trading routes. Songpan has lots of old sections, even a castle, and some old buildings line the main drag. There is also more and more of the new, due largely to the horse trek business of which this town is the hub, owing to the very pretty country located around Songpan – waterfalls (Zhaga waterfall is a good example), blue-green hills, pine forest. Lots of good restaurants, a small-town kind of nightlife make it a nice stopover before heading on to the 2 national parks further north.

History: This was a small trading community at the south end of the eastern edge of Amdo, trading their wool, medicinal herbs and hides in exchange for Chinese tea. County est. 1914.

Points of Interest: Mounigou scenic area. Gami gompa (Bön) - 14c. Kyangthang gompa (Bön).

TAGONG  塔公  (Lhagang) in Kham (western Sichuan)
  area code 0836

Alt: 3900 m   Population: 8,000   People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: Within sight of Mt. Yalha (3809m) and Paojiashan (5400m). Its formerly more wild west feel has been gentrified, undoubtedly at the cost of some nice old buildings. The attractive main street is lined with restaurants,guesthouses and lots of shops. The Tibetan name means Place Liked by Boddhisattvas.


Points of Interest: Lhagang gompa (Sakya), a big and active monastery, housing a bronze statue of thousand-armed Tara, as well as a number of impressive relics, originally built 641. Lhagong gompa (Tagong Monastery) is one of the most famous and oldest Sakya monasteries, set in a grassland with views of Haizishan; legend has it Chinese Princess Wencheng stopped by this grassland and arranged for construction of monastery en route to Lhasa to marry King Songtsen Gompo in 641. Another story is in 1265, Sakya Phagpa - ruler of Tibet - presented a Buddha statue whilst en route from Beijing back to Lhasa. Behind monastery are dozens of chortens, all shapes and sizes. Shedra monastic college (Nyingma). Model orphanage in town. High altitude Mogetso Lake, 26 km north of town in Yala valley.

Festivals: Horse Racing Festival (Tib 5.15), Tagong festival (lunar 6.30-7.2)

TENGCHONG  腾冲  in western Yunnan
   area code 0875 / zip code 679100

Alt: 1640 m    Population: 45,000 (640,000 county)    People: Han, Dai, Lisu, Hui, Wa   Weather: Click here

Description: The small county of Tengchong, of the China-Burma road, shares a 150 km-long border with its westernneighbour Burma. It’s at the south-western end of the Hengduan Mountains, in the south-western valleys of the Gaoligong Mountains, the county’s highest point is Mt. Danaozi of the Gaoligongshan Range, at 3780m. Lush forests and well-tended and elegant villages. A pleasant subtropical, mountainous climate. "There is neither sweltering summer nor severe winter in Tengchong, but a raining day brings the temperature down” says an old proverb. Road leading into Tengchong is a twisting, winding, peaking and dipping affair, through towering virgin evergreen forests. With the many old buildings and streets still in Tengchong township, one gets the sense that it was an historically important town. True enough – but you won't be bumping into many fellow travellers now, though the place has a lot to offer. Fine dining can be found at any of the simple outside eateries, where food is prepared over open flames, barbecue style.

History: One of Yunnan’s oldest cities, it was an administrative prefecture as far back as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD). Historical records from the Han Dynasty period reveal Tengchong was a major stop on the ancient trade route Southwest Silk Road that connected SW China with Burma, India and beyond. A cosmopolitan city that saw the exchange of goods from places as far apart as Afghanistan to Chengdu. More recently, Tengchong was the site of fierce fighting against the Japanese during the War Against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945), so fierce that the phrase “risking one’s life to go to Tengchong” came about.

Points of Interest: The county abounds in geothermal activity. Nearby Rehai (‘Hot Sea’) valley contains a cluster of some 20 young volcanoes and 24 hot springs whose temps are in excess of 45 C. Wander about the bubbling pools, steaming caves, and hot waterfalls. Possible to rent private rooms. Nearby charming Heshun Village, whose library, founded in 1928, is the largest rural library in China, with a collection of more than 10,000 volumes of thread-bound Chinese books. Other sites... Laifeng Monastery, Dieshuihe waterfall, Yunfeng Mountain, Wengchang Gong (a Daoist temple) and Shuiying Temple

  area code 0887

Alt: 1900 m   Population: 20,000   People: Naxi   Weather: Click here

Description: Formed by the Upper Yangtze (here called the Jinsha River) which veers north-east at the town of Qiaotou, about 35 kilometre north of Lijiang, cutting through the 5396m Haba Mountain to the north and the 5596m Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to the south. One of the world's deepest gorges, its raging waters have killed more than ten rafters mad enough to challenge them. Gorge measures 16 km in length and a height of 3900 metres. Though a motorable road now cuts through from Qiaotou to Haba village and beyond (up to Zhongdian), the 2-day gorge hike remains a nice and uncrowded option. However, precipitous slopes covered with soft soil mean that landslides are a real concern. Caution and a healthy dose of respect are due. Daju is a small Naxi town situated at the northern entrance of Tiger Leaping Gorge. In spite of the masses visiting the gorge daily, they stay mostly at the Qiaotou end, and so life in Daju remains quiet, the surroundings beautiful, and the silence almost deafening. Approval has been given to China’s biggest power company (run by Li Xiao-Peng, son of former premier Li Peng) to dam the gorge, and while the same groups which fought (successfully, at the time, anyway) to stop the damming of the Salween were also fighting this one, it seems to be going ahead, with preliminary construction already begun. The project includes 8 dams total, from Shigu (just upstream of the gorge) to Panzhihua. Over the last 50 years, it’s reckoned China has built over 86,000 dams.

TONGHAI  通海  in central Yunnan   area code 0877 / zip code 652700
(last updated August '08)

Alt: 1820 m   Population: 32,000 (275,000 county)    People: Han, Yi, Hui, Mongol.   Weather: Click here

Description: Considering it’s located just south of Kunming, a surprisingly unvisited city. Very walkable, the centre is marked by an old drum tower from which the more traditional buildings spoke out. Large contigents of both Hui (Muslim) and Mongolian minorities.

Points of Interest: Xiushan Park (秀山) - lush mountain park (high point 2000 m) dotted with handful of nice (mostly Daoist) temples. Muslim village (Najiaying) - big mosque here.

WEIXI  维西  in NW Yunnan   area code 0887 / zip code 674600

Alt: 2350 m   Population: 12,000 (15,000 county)    People: Lisu, Tibetan, Naxi, Bai, and others.   Weather: Click here

Description: A relaxed, friendly, relatively hopping one-main-road kind of town set in a saddle of Yunling Mountain, ringed on all sides by forested slopes, 30 km south of the Mekong. Weixi is the only Lisu Autonomous County in China, though many of them talk and act Tibetan (and accordingly are known as Tibetan Lisu) Superb climate, Weixi is well known throughout China for its famous orchids (which can go for a few thousand dollars each), rhododendrons and Chinese medicine (in 1975, when roads were cut off owing to turmoil of the CR, Zhou En-Lai arranged special transportation to allow Weixi to get over 5 million kilos of Chinese medicine to outside markets). Connected readily to both Zhongdian and Deqin (the Zhongdian-Deqin route along the Mekong is a nice little slice of NW Yunnan), but be sure to be with a good driver whichever way you're coming/going, as road accidents and landslides are a definite concern. Locals say that since in Lisu, 'Come again tomorrow!' is pronounced 'Shagelila', that Weixi is James Hilton's Shangri-la.

History: Owing to swollen rivers in the summer and snow-blocked roads in the winter, traders on the Tea Horse Road between Yunnan and Lhasa would often detour through Weixi, especially from Song Dynasty period on. Foreign Missions of Paris had been active in this corner of the world since 1870, interested as they were in getting a foothold in the Himalayas (having the hopeful goal of eventually converting all Tibetans!). A group arrived at Weixi town in 1933; they were trained in rudimentary medical and dental care, and had some small success; there are churches in many of the nearby villages.

Points of Interest: Weixi Snow Hilly Botanical Garden (维西植物园), Jisu Church (Protestant). Shouguo monastery - in Kangpu, N of Weixi; 18c Kagyu, beautiful architecture, falling apart a bit, local village children attend Tibetan classes here. Founder's Cave (in Qizong).

Festivals: Kuoshi Festival (lunar 1.1-15), Anihaiji + Orchid Festival (lunar 2.8), Damo Cave Fair (lunar 4.1), Duanwu (lunar 5.5)

WENHAI   文海  in NW Yunnan   area code 0888  

Alt: 3050 m   Population: <100 households    People: Naxi   

Description: set several hundred metres up on the slopes of Jade Dragon, clustered on the northern shore of the seasonal Wenhai lake (late summer to fall it's a brilliant blue, while late winter to spring, before the summer rains have come, it's a pretty pastoral meadow). To the village's west and east are forested slopes, and to the north is a broad swath of evergreens and rhododendrons. Towering over Wenhai to the NE is the snow-capped Shanzidou peak. Old monastery ruins here as well. There's been a motorable road here since 2002, delighting some, pissing off others.

Points of Interest: Wenhai Eco-Lodge - a renovated farmhouse turned eco-lodge which was originally a UC Davis project which stalled, but was then taken over by Graham Bullock of TNC who almost single-handedly revitalised the project, even retrofitting the farmhouse with alternative energy technology such as bio-gas stoves and solar panels. With his departure there have been some growing pains (instead of being run cooperatively as was originally hoped and planned for, it’s now got a paid manager), but all in all an interesting project.

XIAHE  夏河  (Sangchu) in Gansu   area code 0941 / zip code 747100

Alt: m    Population: 14,000 (80,000 county)    People: .   Weather: Click here

Description: .

History: .

Points of Interest: Labrang monastery
Festivals: Labrang Butter Lamp Festival (Tib 1.15), Labrang Buddhist assembly (lunar 6.29-7.15)

XIANGCHENG  乡城  (Chaktreng) in Kham (SW Sichuan)   area code 0836 / zip code 627850

Alt: 3180 m   Population: 8,000 (30,000 county)   People: Tibetan (93%), Han (7%)   Weather: Click here

Description: Its Tibetan name means ‘rosaries in Buddha’s hand’. A few years ago this county capital (set in Xiangbala Town) was a wee village. Today, a bustling rural town, with some great restaurants and pleasant outdoor cafes, at which it's easy to make friends with the locals. Recent years have seen quite a bit of development, with spanking new hotels and other buildings standing in stark contrast to the traditional square-shaped stone houses in which most of the residents still live. The town is surrounded by gorgeous scenery on all sides, located alongside the Shuqu River, those banks are lined with large attractive Tibetan houses. It is very isolated - the road to Litang is about 200 km north along a rough road, while the southerly route to Zhongdian can become impassable in the rainy season. On the back road from Yunnan into Sichuan, Xiangcheng hasn't seen much in the way of foreigner traffic. However, for the local truck drivers who ply this Litang-to-Zhongdian route on their way to and from Tibet, it is an important stopover. (Note that this accessibility to Tibet sometimes leads to the PSB closing the area at random!)

History: From the Eastern Han (AD 25-220) to the Three Kingdoms (220-280), Wei (220-265), Jin (265-420), and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), Chaktreng was mentioned as the White Wolf State. It nominally belonged to the State of Chagla, centred around today's Kangding to the north) but was always quite independent. In the early 1900s the Qing government tried to bring this area more under its control, sparking wide-spread revolt. In the Chaktreng area, Tibetans raided several Chinese garrisons, relieving them of their arms, and the entire area south of Kangding was considered a wild, dangerous no-man's land.

Points of Interest: Chaktreng gompa, originally constructed 1669 as a Kagyüpa monastery, is a hugely impressive affair on the edge of town, overlooking the Chinese Martyr's Cemetery. Massive renovation (paid for in large part by government money) is finally finished - but it's run by some rather unfriendly monks with strong ties to the town's dark underbelly. Other monasteries in county - Sangpi gompa (converted from Kagyüpa to Gelukpa order circa 1660), Reda gompa, Zhendoubaixi gompa, Baiyidingzhen gompa and Yachong gompa. Rongrao Mountain, 28 km out of town, is an important holy site, with its lava caves for Kamba lions. Ranwu hot spring.

Festivals: Bamushan Festival (Oct beg)

XIAO WEIXI  小维西 in NW Yunnan on the Mekong   area code 0887

Alt: 1800 m   People: Mostly Naxi, also Lisu and Tibetan

Description: Quiet village alongside the Mekong.

Points of Interest: Catholic church, started by a French Catholic priest in the late 1800s.

XIEWU  歇武  (Zhiwu) in Amdo (SE Qinghai)   area code 0976

Alt: 3850 m   People: Tibetan (majority) and Hui

Description: Xiewu is a very wee settlement seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, but an extremely beautiful and untouched nowhere. Just 22 km beyond the Sichuan border, in the province of Qinghai, it's located at the cross-roads of a giant T-junction - coming from Sichuan, one can either go left (westwards) towards Tibet; or go right (eastwards) towards Xining - Qinghai's capital city. In town is basic but clean accommodation and simple restaurants - including some Hui Muslim-run eateries - serving up local fare. Hills around are ideal for nice walks.

Points of Interest: Drogon gompa (Sakya) is set on a hill overlooking town. Drubgyuling gompa (Zhujie Si), northeast of town, is a big complex overlooking the main road, lots of young student lamas here.

XINING  西宁  (Siling) in Qinghai
  area code 0971 / zip code 810000

Alt:   Population: 150,000 (2 million greater Xining)   People: Han, Hui, Amdo Tibetans   Weather: Click here

Description: A major hub.

History: Established to serve as administrative centre of the Kokonor region at beginning of the Qing dynasty (late 17c). In reality, the Chinese amban posted here had only nominal control, as the Tibetan pastoralists who populate the areas surrounding Xining were largely self-governing.

Points of Interest: Kumbum gompa on the road heading south, famous as the site where Tsongkhapa (founder of the Gelukpa order) was born. Rather museum-like and touristy compared with what we’ve seen so far, it’s interesting for a visit if just to note the contrast. Recently built Tibetan hospital on the grounds here.

Festivals: Double-Six Folk Song Fair (lunar 6.6), Kumbum Yamataka dances (lunar 1.14-15, 4.14-15, 6.7-8, 9.22-23), Kumbum Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival (lunar 10.25), Kumbum Butter Lamp Festival (Tib 1.15)

XINLONG  新龙  (Barshok) in Kham (western Sichuan)   area code 0836 / zip code 626800

Alt: 3080 m   Population: 5,000 (40,000 county)   People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: The small town of Xinlong (situated at Rulong Zhen), set alongside the Yalong River, is the capital of Nyarong (in Tibetan means Valley 'rong' of Yalong 'Nya') County, an area comprised of high mountains cut be deep rivers and valleys due south of Ganzi, where both pastoralism and agriculture were the way of life. It's been largely unvisited due to a road only recently repaired/completed. Today, compared with its neighbours it's a relatively poor area.

History: In pre-modern times this area ruled by the State of Nyarong, which was loosely comprised of various tribes headed by local chieftains - a type of structure usually seen only in the purely pastoral areas of the high grasslands. In the 1830s one of the chieftains embarked on a military campaign against neighbouring Kham kingdoms, bringing the areas of present-day Dege, Nangqian, Yushu, Batang, Litang, Xiangcheng, Zhongdian and Daofu (to name a few!) under his command. In 1865 Lhasa sent an army to subdue this upstart, bringing an end to his conquests and forcing him back to Nyarong. Upon his death shortly after, Nyarong became protectorate of Lhasa.

Points of Interest: Zera gompa, set atop the hill behind town, a teaching monastery with upwards of 50 monks. Further afield is Chandüd gompa, one of the oldest Nyingmapa gompa in Kham.

Festivals: Guozhuang Festival (lunar 8.beg)

See Jinghong.

YADING  亚丁  (Nyinteng) Nature Reserve in Kham (SW Sichuan)   area code 0836

Alt: 4-5000 m   People: 10,000   People: Tibetan

Description: The centrepiece of this park are the 3 sacred peaks - the DL5 named them after the 3 bodhisattvas whose essences they’re believed to contain. To wit, the 6032m north peak Chenrezi (Ch. Xiannairi) represents Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion and the patron-saint of Tibet; the 5958m south peak Jampeyang (Ch. Yangmaiyong) represents Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom; and the 5958m east peak Chenadorje (Ch. Xiaruoduoji) represents Vajrapani, the bodhisattva of wrath. Covered in snow year-round, they tower over the landscape and cover an area of some 800 sq. miles. Open as a national park since just 1999. The Sacred Peaks are one of Tibetans’ holiest places, and pilgrims believe a turn around these mountains will earn you the same amount of credit as saying the Mani scripture 100 million times. Indeed, so huge is the amount of good credit one gets visiting this area, that from the turn of the century till recently, bandits ran amok here, so sure were they of these earthly crimes being redeemed. Within the park is unspoilt vegetation and native forests, very isolated Tibetan villages, a small monastery, and sacred lakes. More than a little litter strewn outside the park entrance, alas.

Points of Interest: 3 Sacred Peaks, Chonggu Temple. Luorong pasture. Wuse Hai (Five-Colour Lake) sacred lake. Kasi Valley, deep in the forests, is one of only 8 ‘death valleys’ through which souls pass on the way to heaven.

Wireless hotspots: 30 km north of town in Riwa

YANJING  盐井  (Tsakhalho) in Kham (eastern TAR)  
zip code 854700

Alt: 3109 m    Population: 5,000   People: Kham Tibetan & Naxi    Weather: Click here

Description: Though Yanjing is the county capital, it's got more of a village feel (actually, two villages, divided into Upper and Lower). Solid canal system running through town. Perched 914m above the Mekong, Yanjing is famed for its salt pans - over 3400 of them, they're some of the world's oldest. Tsakhalho (Yanjing's Tibetan name) means Place which Produces Salt ('tsa'). The salt comes in two varieties - red salt (or peach blossom salt) owing to its reddish colour and harvesting time (March-May), and white salt - harvested from the higher and narrower east bank and considered more valuable. Most of the villagers split their time between salt production and farming. Some 80% of Upper Yanjing village are Catholic believers; the Father is a local Tibetan.

History: Yanjing started producing salt during Tang dynasty (618-907), and soon was the main source of salt for half the Kham Tibetan area, which ranged from north-west Sichuan down into Yunnan. Catholicism came here in 1865, and from then until 1949 there was a total of 17 foreign priests in Yanjing. Starting 1905, Catholics started to clash with Tibetan Buddhists. In 1940 monks from Gangda monastery chased out the priest, Father Tornay, but he returned after an agreement was reached. However, the animosity of the Tibetan Buddhists never lessened and he was again run out of town in 1949. Planning to officially redress the situation, he started out for Lhasa along with a follower named Duoxi. However, they were shot to death en route by Gangda monks.

Points of Interest: Salt pans - need 2-3 hours to get down the 900m to see them. Quzika hot springs - 10 km northwards, they're gathering something of a name for themselves, overlooking the Mekong as they do. Catholic church - TAR's one and only, built early 1900s, Sunday services attract a couple dozen; it's quite large, renovated 2002, 3-story bell tower attached.

YUANYANG  元阳  in southern Yunnan

Alt: 1400 m   Population: 22,000 (370,000 county)   People: Hani (largest ethnic group in Honghe AP), Yi, Dai, Yao, Miao, Zhuang   Weather: Click here

Description: 6 hrs north-west from Vietnam, Lao border to the north-east via Mengla. A small mountain village on the side of Ailao mountain range.

History: Art of rice terracing, with its elaborate irrigation system, at least 400 years old here.

Points of Interest: Rice terraces of Hani (mostly) and Yi. Nov-Apr fields full of water, shimmering May-Oct very green. To south is one of the best places to view. Near Yuanyang, nice terraces extend from river’s edge at Hanipuma village up to Mali village in the mountains. Also, nice area for markets – many different minorities, traditional clothing. Very nice terraces at Kuojie and Qingkou villages (5 km in direction of Luchun); at Mongpeng (11 km further along hwy); Xingchun (2-hr walk); Nelgokjie (2½-hr walk through many villages); Rieshuitan (2½-hr walk), has hot spring.

Festivals: Longduan Festival (March 3rd Festival) (lunar 3.3), Kuzhazha (Hani) (lunar 6.24-26), Welcoming the Ancestral Spirits (lunar 8.15)

YUBENG  雨崩  in NW Yunnan   area code 0887  /  zip code 674500

Alt: >3500 m   Population: <200    People: Tibetan

Description: Set at foot of Kawagebo, the highest peak in the Meilixueshan (Kawa Karpo) range, Yubeng is actually comprised of 2 Tibetan villages, set in a valley surrounded by gorgeous snowy peaks. Very isolated, no vehicle roads to here (yet! It's the subject of some debate.). A beautiful spot, it's slowly recovering from its stint as the focus of a spurious TNC project. A young Chinese couple on holiday died May 2007 in an avalanche next to the waterfall - no signs marking the danger of the spot, so beware.

Points of Interest: Close as it is to sacred Kawagebo, every year thousands of Tibetan pilgrims visit this area to do the kora around this holy mountain.

YUHU  玉湖  in NW Yunnan   area code 0888  /  zip code 674100

Alt: 2700 m   Population: 100 families    People: Naxi

Description: a 25-minute drive north of Lijiang. A quiet village on the lower slopes of Jade Dragon (its Naxi name is ‘Nguluko’ which means ‘Foot of the Snow Mountain’ - the name ‘Yuhu’ in Chinese simply means ‘Jade Lake’). Yuhu got its start when the ruling Mu clan of Lijiang arranged for the digging of a lake at Yuhu, and then on its shores built a summer residence, a library and a royal deer park. The original residents of the village were the deer caretakers. More recently, Yuhu was where Joseph Rock - who was in parts an explorer, a plant collector, and a scholar of Naxi language who roamed SW China in the 1920s-40s - based himself for over 25 years, and his former residence has been turned into a small museum.

YUSHU  玉树  (Jyekundo) in Kham (SE Qinghai)  
area code 0976 / zip code 815000

Alt: 3700 m   Population: 40,000 (100,000 in greater Yushu area)   People: Kham Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: In remote Tibetan corner of far southeast corner of Qinghai, near both Sichuan and TAR. High grasslands and deep valleys characterise the landscape here.

History: This town has long been one of the major trading centres, located at the junction of a number of major trade routes connecting parts of Tibet with each other and with Mongolia and China (from Kangding in the south, Lhasa to the west, Mongolia to the north, and Xining and Lanzhou to the north-east). Religiously, this area has long been dominated by the Sakyapa and Kagyüpa schools, not Gelukpa. After the persecution of Buddhism under King Lang Dharma (Bön follower), many monks fled to remote areas of Eastern Tibet, and Yushu (as well as Riwoche and Tengchen areas in today's eastern TAR) became a prime area for the resurgence of Buddhism.

Points of Interest: Jyekundo gompa (Sakya), on the hill overlooking town, home to some 300 monks. Yushu horse festival (summertime) attracts nomads from thousands of miles. Gyanak Mani - outside of Yushu, as big as a football field, impressive stuff. The small Wencheng Temple (rare Tang dynasty rock carvings here), set in pretty gorge, built 7c when Princess Wencheng waited here for her escorts to arrive to take her to her betrothed - Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. The 16c Benchen gompa, set in Benchen valley, founded by Sangnye Nenpa, destroyed (along with the summer retreat, Yarna Lhakhang), the monks started the process of rebuilding in the '80s. Trangu gompa (sub-monastery to both Tsurphu gompa and Palpung gompa), 500+ monks, with history dating back to 12c, when Karmapa Desem Khyenam (founder of Karma Kagyü lineage) visited monastery - it's been important base for Karma Kagyü ever since. Along with Drolma Draktsa, it's in charge of the Mahavairochana Temple at Palthang (~20 km from Yushu).

Festivals: Horse Racing Festival (Jul 25-28)

ZEDANG  泽当  (Tsedang) in Ü-Tsang (southern TAR)

Alt: 3500 m   Population: 30,000  People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: Located in a valley at the foot of Mount Zodang Gongpori, it marks the entrance to Yarlung valley, considered the cradle of Tibetan civilisation. there's an old town where most of the 'sites' are, to the west is Mount Lhababri ('hill of divine descent') where lore has it the first Tibetan king of the Yarlung Dynasty (expansionist empire under which Tibet was united; it reigned in 8c and 9c) descended to earth here.

History: Before capital was moved to Lhasa by King Songtsen Gampo, the rich Yarlung valley was seat of the rulers and site of central Tibet's first agricultural settlement.

Points of Interest: In town are Tsedang gompa (Geluk), Ngachopa gompa (Kagyüpa), and Sangak Samtenling nunnery (Geluk). Excursions out of town will get you to On valley (on the other side of the Brahmaputra) and Yarlung valley (south of town), where some of the must-sees include the Sheldrak caves (one of the most revered pilgrimage destinations on the plateau), Traduk (one of Tibet's earliest geomantic temples), Podrang (Tibet's oldest inhabited village), and Chongye ('valley of the kings'). Further along the road to Lhasa is Samye gompa, Tibet's first, completed 779 under the patronage of Trisong Detsen, marking the real beginnings of Buddhism in Tibet. Further yet is Mindroling gompa, the largest Nyingmapa monastery in central Tibet, considered the school's most significant.

Festivals: Samye Universal Prayer Day (Incense Day) (Tib 5.15)

ZHANANG  扎囊  (Dratang) in Ü-Tsang (southern TAR)

Alt:   Population: 10,000  People: Tibetan   Weather: Click here

Description: The administrative capital of the Dratang valley


Points of Interest: To name a few of the gems in the vicinity - Jampaling gompa (Geluk), founded 1472, destroyed but being renovated. Gyeling Tsokpa gompa, founded 13c. Riwo Namgyel gompa, founded 15c. Dratang gompa (Sakya), which is today an important site for the conservation of Tibetan artifacts, founded 11c.

ZHONGDIAN  中甸  (Shangri-la 香格里拉) (Gyalthang) in NW Yunnan   area code 0887 / zip code 674400

Alt: 3344 m   Population: 60,000 (135,000 county)   People: Tibetan, Han, Bai, Yi, Naxi   Weather: Click here

Description: Zhongdian (town itself called Jiantang Town) was renamed Shangri-La in 2001. Tibetan name means 'victorious' or 'royal' (gyal) 'plain' (thang). The seat of the Diqing Tibetan AP, comprised of Shangri-la, Weixi and Deqin counties. A long history as a frontier town between Chinese and Tibetan spheres of influence, today it's got sizable populations of Tibetan, Han, Naxi, Bai and Hui, to name a few. The new town is in a continual process of remaking itself, but then so is the 'old' town. A slow-paced (albeit rapidly growing) city set amid some very pretty pastoral environs.

History: From time of Tang Dynasty Zhongdian has been a major trading post on the old Tea Horse trading road, between Yunnan, Sichuan and Lhasa (and from Lhasa on to India and Xinjiang). Tea was brought from southern Yunnan to Tibet in exchange for bringing such goods as Tibetan wool, sheepskins and medicinal herbs, as well as Indian cloth, etc., into China. Heaviest traffic was probably during the Song Dynasty, when literally hundreds of mules a day would pass through. The vigorous trading industry continued well and good up all the way till around 1950, when it sharply petered out and the town went into recession. As a result of insurrections against imperial China (with ruling class in Tibet collaborating with Dzungar Mongols in Xinjiang), in 1724 Qing Emperor Kangxi ordered Zhongdian, along with Weixi and Deqin Tibetan areas (which together comprise present-day Diqing prefecture) to be put under the jurisdiction of Yunnan. Previously they were tusi-administered areas. At the same time, Batang, Litang and Kangding Tibetan areas were put under the jurisdiction of Sichuan.

Points of Interest: Songzanlin monastery (Geluk) a few km north of town, built 17c at the instigation of DL5, by far the largest monastery in the area, and as such was the central monastery in the Gelukpa order's south-eastern expansion over what was formerly Kagyüpa dominated area. Destroyed during Cultural Revolution, now entirely rebuilt, with hundreds of monks. Baiji monastery on the southern edge of town atop a hill overlooking the new old town to one side and the airport to the other side, it's a more intimate affair, but curently undergoing renovation or demolition. 'Old' town just below it is worth a stroll, even though the original rustic feel with a few cafes, guesthouses and bars has changed considerably, with well over half the original houses already knocked down and replaced with younger models. Turtle Mountain in centre of old town, atop which sit a giant golden prayer wheel and a mock Tibetan monastery (built 2006 to replace the early 18c Gong Temple). Napa Hai (seasonal) at the far end of the runway; its adjacent wetlands have long been a wintering site for the critically endangered black-necked cranes. Bita Lake and Shudu Lake. Xiagei and Tianshengqiao hot springs - outdoor, and big enough to swim in. Ringha monastery (Ch. Dabao Si), less than an hour's drive from town, an atmospheric 15c Gelukpa monastery (originally Karma Kagyu). Hapi gompa (Cheng'en Si) situated between Zhongdian and Ringha, another 15c Karma Kagyu monastery (which has remained Kagyu to present day). Skiing 20 minutes outside of town, two runs, chair lift, and all equipment included with the entrance ticket. Even has an apres-ski lounge. Nixi (30 km NW of town), famous for its black pottery and legendary 'gu' (蛊). Putt-putt golf coming soon.

Festivals: Songzanlin Butter Lamp Festival (Tib 1.15), Horse Racing Festival (lunar 5.5), Niru Dengba Festival (lunar 7.15), Songzanlin Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival (lunar 10.25), Songzanlin Gedong (lunar 11.26-29)

Wireless hotspots: The Raven (groovy cafe/bar just up from the old town square). Noah's (south end of main street Changzheng Lu).

Recommended Website: Treehouse Cityguide

ZOIGE  See Ruoergai.

ZUOGONG  左贡   (Dzogang/Wamda) in Kham (eastern TAR)   area code 0895
/ zip code 854400

Alt: 3780 m   Population: 9,000 (42,000 county)   People: Tibetan (99%)

Description: A county capital (set in Wangda Town), it overlooks the Yu-chu (major tributary of the Salween), surrounded by forests. Not a whole lot on offer here, big army base nearby. As to the county itself, the Salween (Nu), Mekong (Lancang) and Yu-chu rivers all flow from north to south through the county. Half the people are farmers growing primarily barley and winter wheat, and half are pastoralists (those living above 3800m). Culturally and linguistically, very close to Tibetans in Ganzi and Aba area.

History: In 1725, Zuogong was under the jurisdiction of Mangkang. During waning period of Qing dynasty, it became part of the no longer existing Kemai County. After 1912, the Lhasa government reclassified it into a ‘zong’ (similar to present day county). In 1967, county capital moved from its original site in Yazhong village to Wangda.

Points of Interest: Zuogong monastery (Geluk) - in Wuya village atop Elephant Trunk Hill, 5 km W of town, founded by Phakpalha of Chamdo as part of the area's conversion to the Gelukpa school; built to resemble Potala; Wuya village formed as a result of pilgrims visiting the monastery and settling down there. Tiantuo monastery (Tiantuo village) – hilltop; vivid murals inside. Tuka monastery (Tiantuo village) – facing Tiantuo monastery, golden pair of deer and wheel of life on the rooftop, somewhat rare for this area.

Obviously and inherently incomplete! This page is added to all the time.