Located in the Northwest of Sichuan Province at an elevation of 3,200 meters above sea level is the town of Ngawa (རྔ་བ་རྫོང།), also known as Aba (阿坝县) in Chinese. Aba is located on the Tibetan plateau, and the town is the seat of Ngawa (Aba) County. The city holds a population of approximately 20,000 people, with 8,000 of them being monks.
Things to See in and around Aba Town
In the city and surrounding area there are 37 monasteries between both Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional Bon religion. Four of the most easily accessed monasteries (Tibetan: gompa) are Kirti Gompa, Setenling Gompa, Nangzhik Gompa, and Topgyel Gompa. Also worth a visit is the nearby Lianbao Yeze Holy Mountains Scenic Area about 40 minutes drive from the city.
Also known as Gerdeng Monastery, the full name for this monastery is Kirti Kalari Gon Tashi Lhundrub. A disciple of Tsongkhapa – Rongpa Chenakpa – founded the monastery in 1472 on the northwestern edge of Aba town. This monastery belongs to Tibetan Buddhism’s Gelugpa sect and houses approximately 2,500 monks today. When visiting, the beautiful yellow colouring of the monastery is visible in the distance, which will let you know you have arrived.
This monastery belongs to the Jonangpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and is about a kilometer from the eastern end of town (follow the main road straight out). Founded in the 13th and 14th century by Namnang Dorje, it was reconstituted in the end of the 19th century by Dro-ge Yonten Gyatso. This monastery is a little more confusing to get inside than Kirti Gompa, and once inside if the temple is not open, there is a phone number to call to request access.
Nangzhik Gompa and Topgyel Gompa
Belonging to the ancient Tibetan religion of Bon, these two monasteries are located just outside of Aba. Estimates say there are between 800 to 1000 monks associated with these two locations. Nangzhik is about a 4 km walk up a hill on the north of town, while Topgyel holds a large stupa on a mountain to the east of Aba. Nangzhik Gompa is said to be the biggest Bon monastery in all of Tibet.
Lianbao Yeze Holy Mountains Scenic Area
There is no bus running to this mountain, so a private vehicle rental is the way to go. The drive is approximately 60kms, making this a reasonable trip, but one that is well worth it for the view and the opportunity to walk the nature. If you happen to go to the mountain on a clear day, your photos will be spectacular.
Horse Race Festival
The Aba Horse Race Festival takes place in the middle of July in accordance with the Lunar Calendar. Enjoy the festive atmosphere, and watch the locals participate in a little good natured competition.
Going There and Getting Around
Aba town is the transport hub of the county, with the most common way to travel to Aba being by bus. Some of the daily long haul bus routes running to and from Aba town include Chengdu (344km), Hongyuan/Mewa (157km), and Maerkang/Barkham (254km). Other buses include Mianyang City, Songpan County, Jinchuan County, Wenchuan County, Heishui County, and Xiangtang County.
Wherever you come from, on the drive into town, don’t miss the scenery as you drive past nomads and their yak herds, tent hotels, and the green grasslands.
Once in town it is fairly easy to walk around as it is not too big, however, to walk the full length of town is a significantly long walk. The bus station is located on the main road, so if you arrive this way, getting to the heart of Aba is very easy. Taxis and three-wheelers are available, and due to the size of the town, getting anywhere in one shouldn’t cost you very much.
Things to Know
Due to the elevation on the plateau, even in the midst of summer, it is likely you will need clothes for cooler temperatures and potentially some rain. Yet, when the sun is out, the elevation makes it fairly strong, so sunscreen is a recommended packing list item. It is also good to remember that this town is located at 3,200 meters, so if you are coming directly from a low-lying area (such as Chengdu), your body will need some time to adjust to the elevation.