Kham Tibet

Kham Tibet straddles three provinces and one autonomous region in modern day PRC: SichuanQinghaiYunnan, and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The region of Kham is very diverse geographically, containing large mountain ranges and vast grasslands. Four major rivers and six mountain ranges combine to make the scenery of this part of Tibet breathtaking. The headwaters of the Mekong, the Yangtse, the Yalong and the Salween, flow out of Kham Tibet from the East and South-Eastern parts of the Tibetan plateau.

Khamba Tibetans

The people of Kham Tibet, known as the Khambas (or Khampas) live up to their reputation for bravery and horsemanship when they compete in summer “horse racing” festivals. However, they are also known for cheerfully enduring a beautiful yet sometimes harsh environment, especially in the winter months. The huge mountain ranges that form the valleys through which the rivers flow are responsible for the divergent cluster of dialects that have developed due to the relative seclusion of these communities throughout most of history.

The traditional occupations of nomadic pastoralism and agriculture are still the backbone of Kham society while increasing numbers find positions in the growing towns as government workers or employees in local small businesses. It’s not unusual in one family to find hard-working farmers who still depend on the land, monks or nuns committed to lifelong service in a monastery, and young people with college degrees.

Entering Kham Tibet from Sichuan

Beginning in the Sichuan basin and ascending to the breath-taking heights of the Tibetan plateau, your lungs are conscious of breaking out of the sub-tropical soupy air of the lowlands to the invigorating cool and thin air that is home to one of the highest cultures in the world. Everything changes. Faces for starters: round and flat Chinese faces are replaced by the long and sharp-featured ones typical of Tibetans. High cheek bones tinted red by wind and sun, along with gold teeth, are emblematic of this people group comprised of a majority of farmers and nomads. Replacing modernity, temples and traditional homes dot the landscape and are often home to welcoming and friendly hosts. The landscape has surprising variance: tight narrow valleys with lush vegetation and steep ascents marked by countless switchbacks carry you to the vastness of the Tibetan plateau.

Transportation

The Chinese cities of Chengdu, Xining, and Kunming are the main gateway cities to Kham Tibet. From these three cities there is convenient access to a lot of the region via land or air. Public buses are more comfortable than most people think these days, and if you are traveling in a group it very economical to hire a private vehicle. Your guesthouse or hotel should be able to assist with arranging your ground transport depending on your needs. Airports are also conveniently located in Kangding, Shangri-La, Daocheng, Yushu, and Chamdo.

For a helpful introduction to the geography of Tibet’s three regions relative to each other and the rest of China, be sure to visit our page on Tibet Travel Essentials.


Dartsendo (Kangding)

kangding_valley

Dartsendo (དར་རྩེ་མདོ། ) or Dardo (དར་མདོ། ) is a major gateway city on the eastern side of the Tibetan Plateau. Also known as Kangding (康定) in Chinese, it rises 2,600 meters above sea level and is the first Tibetan city you come to when traveling west from Chengdu. Kangding teeters on the Eastern edge of Tibet and, historically, has been a trading post between Tibetan …

Peace Guesthouse

Peace Guesthouse 4

Litang is a small, county town located in the marvelous grasslands of the Kham Tibetan region. Litang is full of incredible history and culture, is the birthplace of the seventh Dalai Lama, and is home to Litang Monastery – the biggest Gelugpa sect in the Kham Tibetan region. If you visit Litang, we happily recommend a comfortable place to stay, …

Yulshul (Yushu)

Yushu

Mostly inhabited by Tibetans, Yushu (ཡུལ་ཤུལ།)  is located in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the southern Qinghai province of China. The town, also referred to as Jyekundo (སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ།), Gyêgu, Gyêgudo or Jiegu is a multi-ethnic town with Tibetan nomadic residents and Han Chinese traders. Yushu lies at an elevation of 4,000 meters and has the fountainheads of Asia’s three …

Nyiden (Yading)

Yading Village Tibet - Small

Yading Village is small rural establishment in Daocheng County of the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province of China. Located on the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Yading village is 3,700 meters above sea level. Yading village and its surrounding sights are part of the Shangri-la Natural Tourist Zone. Yading in Tibetan is referred to as Nyiden (ཉིན་སྟེང་།), which …

Yachen Monastery

Yachen Monastery valley

History of Yachen Monastery Hidden away in a remote valley between Garze (Ganzi) town and Baiyu town, Sichuan, is the isolated Yachen Monastery ( ཡ་ཆེན་དགོན་པ།). Established in 1985 by a Nyingma Rinpoche, the current population of this monastic community is approximately 17,000 monks and nuns, with nuns holding the majority. Despite living conditions becoming more difficult and strains on supplies becoming …

Chaktreng (Xiangcheng)

Xiangcheng Houses Tibet - Small

Located in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Region of Sichuan province in China, the town of Xiangcheng (乡城) is in a scenic valley which stands at an altitude of 3,200 meters. Xiangcheng Town is also referred to as Chaktreng Town (ཕྱག་ཕྲེང་།) in Tibetan, which means ‘rosaries in Buddha’s hands’. From a Small Village to a Bustling Town Previously, Xiangcheng was a …

Lhagang (Tagong)

Tagong Temple Tibet

A small, picturesque town located in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of western Sichuan Province, Lhagang (ལྷ་སྒང་།) is home to scenic grasslands, devoted monks and Tibetan nomads with their thousands of thick-coated yaks. Lhagang, also known as Tagong (塔公) in Chinese, is situated in the ancient Kham region in southwest China at an altitude of 3,700m. This treasured place in …

Sershul (Shiqu)

Shiqu Tibet

Shiqu Town (石渠), also known as Sershul (སེར་ཤུལ།), Serxu, Dzachuka, or Shiquis, is a town in Shiqu County in the Garze Autonomous Prefecture in the northern part of the Chinese Sichuan Province. Shiqu County is spread over 25,000 square kilometers and lies approximately 4,200 meters above sea level on average. Mostly covered by green pastures and grazing yaks, Shiqu is …

Shangri-La

Shangri-La Winter Tibet

Shangri-La (སེམས་ཀྱི་ཉི་ཟླ།) is a picturesque town amidst snow-capped mountains, mighty rivers, dense jungles with snub-nosed monkeys and remarkable gorges. Although thought to be a surreal paradise, it exists at an altitude of 3000 meters above sea level in north western Yunnan province of China. The capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Shangri-la. It is located in Yunnan Province, sandwiched between …

Sertar (Seda)

Seda City Tibet - Small

Seda (色达) is located at an elevation of about 4,000 meters in a remote valley on the Tibetan Plateau, in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the western part of Sichuan province in China. The Tibetans know Seda by the name of Sertar (གསེར་ཐར།), which means Golden Horse. Though Sertar is located in the historical Kham region of the Garze …

Sertar Larung Gar (school & monastery)

Seda Monastery 2.0

Population Explosion at Sertar Larung Gar Known around the world as the largest school for Tibetan Buddhism, Sertar Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute and Monastery (གསེར་རྟ་བླ་རུང་དགོན་པ། ) has caused the population of its surrounding town to grow exponentially in recent years. This monastic community is located in a remote and treeless valley of Garze Tibetan Autonomous Region, in Sichuan Province. The …

Mt. Yala

Yala Mountain Kham Tibet

Geography Located near the border of Daofu County, Danba County, and Kangding County, of Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture, Yala Mountain (བཞག་བྲ།)is one of the most popular mountain treks in the Sichuan region. With snow covered peaks year round, Mt. Yala has an elevation of 5,820 meters and offers several trek options for mountain enthusiasts. The area around the border of Kangding …

Manigangou

Manigangou Chola Mountain Tibet

Located in Ganzi Prefecture in Sichuan Province in southwest China, Manigangou (མ་ཎི་གད་མགོ།)is a small yet active town at an elevation of 3,950 meters. It is a town exhibiting typical nomad culture with Tibetan herdsmen riding on horses, Khampas on flashy motorcycles passing by and people enjoying drinks in wooden Tibetan houses. Manigangou is a single-street cowboy town at the edge …

Lithang (Litang)

Litang city walls Tibet

Lying at the edge of a vast grassland valley, Lithang (ལི་ཐང་།) is the administrative hub of Litang County. Also known in Chinese as Litang town (理塘) , the town is situated in the southwest of Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. Litang is a historic town at an altitude of around 4,000 meters above sea level, even higher than Lhasa, …

Garze (Ganzi)

Ganzi Tibet

Lying in the vast expanse of the beautiful Ganzi Valley (甘孜) at an altitude of 3,800 meters, surrounded by the majestic Chola Mountain, green hills dotted with yaks and rocky ridges, is the active Ganzi town. Ganzi town (also known as Garnze, Ganze, and Kandze (དཀར་མཛེས་རྫོང་།)) is the capital of Ganzi County situated in Garze Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan …

Derge (Dege )

Dege Prayer Flags Tibet

Derge (སྡེ་དགེ ) in the native tongue which means land of mercy in Tibetan, is located in the Garze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in the Kham area of the Tibetan Plateau. The town is regarded as the cultural hub of the Kham region in the northwest of Sichuan province, close to the border with the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The town of Dege sits in …

Dawu ( Daofu)

Prayer wheel and shawl

An agricultural region dotted with big, beautiful Tibetan houses, Dawu (རྟའུ།) lies in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern Sichuan Province, China. Dawu, known as Daofu (道孚) in the Chinese language, is accessible by road from Kangding (219 kilometers) and Chengdu (585 kilometers). Daofu region lies at an average altitude of 2,560 meters above sea level at the southeastern edge …

Dabpa (Daocheng)

Daocheng Tibet

Dapba (འདབ་པ།) is located in Daocheng County in the Garze Autonomous Prefecture in Southwest Sichuan, close to the border of Northwest Yunnan. The town is at an altitude of 3,750 meters and is the best starting point for the Tibetan areas of western and southern Sichuan. Dapba is known as Daocheng Town (稻城) in Chinese. The town itself is a thinly populated, …

Rongtrak (Danba)

Danba Valley Tibet

Rongtrak (རོང་བྲག), also known in Chinese as Danba County (丹巴),  is situated around 350 kilometers west of Chengdu, in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of western Sichuan Province. Zhangu, a pleasant town at the bank of Dadu River, is Danba’s county seat. ‘Kingdom of Watchtowers’ and ‘Beauty Valley’ are the two titles given to Danba County because of its thousands …

Bathang (Batang)

Chöde Gaden Pendeling Monastery

Lying in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province of China, Bathang (འབའ་ཐང་།) also known as Batang Town (巴塘) in Chinese , is a fertile area at an altitude of 2,700 meters. The town is located on the main road between Lhasa and Chengdu, overlooking the Jinsha River (translated as Golden Sands River which is the Upper Yangtse River) to …