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.

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Xinduqiao

Xinduqiao ( ར་རྔ་ཁ།) is a small busy Tibetan town in the Wild West of Sichuan. It is a two-hour drive (81 kilometers) from Kangding city and roughly a one-hour drive from Kangding airport. Xinduqiao is an impressive 3,300 meters above sea level and lies along the Sichuan-Tibet 318 National Highway. …

Gongkar Dzong Castle Lodge

Gongkar Dzong Castle Lodge is located on a small hillside in beautiful Xinduqiao, a beautiful town in Eastern Tibet. Gongkar originally means “white mountain” but has come to mean “holy mountain” in the local area. Dzong literally means Lodge. The English name includes the word “castle,” as the stone lodge resembles a castle. Gongkar Dzong Castle Lodge was founded by four young, passionate Tibetan entrepreneurs: Orgyen, Norbu, Gongbu and Niyma. They are all from the same area and love their hometown. The Dream is Born It all started in 2012 New Years when they returned to their hometown to celebrate with family. They discovered many kinds of new hotels and hostels popping up in their hometown. Yet, none of them seemed to provide an opportunity to show visitors the local culture and the stunning land. These four friends felt pity that visitors would travel such a long distance to get there, and then leave without experiencing the local authentic culture nor the real beauty of the land. One of them expressed, “No one knows our hometown better than us.” Another then said, “No one will do it if we young Tibetans don’t.” So, the idea of building a Tibetan style lodge in their hometown was born. All four jumped into action right away as most entrepreneurs do. A Labor of Love; A Vision of Beauty It took them four years to build the lodge. In those four years, they faced many challenges and difficulties. But with hard work, they overcame them all and successfully finished building the lodge in July 2015. They started receiving and guests to their lodge and helped them explore the surrounding area and experience their unique Tibetan culture. The Lodge is situated in a prime location to view Gongga Mountain from your bedroom window or from the lawn …

Kailash Restaurant & Bar

In the heart of Shangri-la Old Town, down a stone paved street and through a small alleyway, there lies a modest and vibrant Tibetan restaurant—the Kailash Restaurant & Bar. Though surrounded by low buildings, it is easily found because of the large, white stupa outside its front door. The restaurant’s …

Pelyul County

Baiyu County Pelyul Gompa

Pelyul County (or Pelyul- དཔལ་ཡུལ་རྫོང་།) is located in Kham Tibet and is one of eighteen counties of Ganzi Autonomous prefecture in Western Sichuan Province. In Tibetan, Pelyul means “a holy and happy place.” Pelyul is on the border with the Tibet Autonomous Region and is roughly 3,000 meters above sea level. …

Minya Konka (Mount Gongga)

Minya Konka

On the eastern edges of the Tibetan plateau, in the Kham region south of Kangding and Xinduqiao, lies Mount Gongga (Minya Konka), the 7,556-meter sentinel of the Mount Gongga mountain range. The mountain is the third largest peak outside of the Himalayas. At one point in the 1930s, its height …

Dartsendo (Kangding)

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 …

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Peace Guesthouse

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 …

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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 …

Nyiden (Yading)

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. …

Yachen Monastery

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 …

Chaktreng (Xiangcheng)

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 …

Lhagang (Tagong)

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 …

Sershul (Shiqu)

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. …

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Shangri-La

SONGZANLIN MONASTERY

Shangri-La (སེམས་ཀྱི་ཉི་ཟླ།) is a name that conjures images of an idyllic paradise: cloud-carpeted sunrises with grassy outcroppings in a utopian society that lives in perfect harmony with nature. Zhongdian, Yunnan (now known as Shangri-La) is definitely some of those things. It has snow-capped mountains, clouds, sunrises (and sunsets), a mighty …

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Sertar (Seda)

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 …

Sertar Larung Gar (school & monastery)

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 …

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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 …

Manigangou

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 …

Lithang (Litang)

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 …

Garze (Ganzi)

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 …