Edge of the TAR – North Sichuan / South Gansu

Into the Tibetan Autonomous Region - Langmusi


Departing from Jiuzhaigou took us North by bus about 5 hours to the little mountain town of Langmusi. The area of Western Sichuan, Northwestern Sichuan, and Southern Gansu, is considered part of the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) and offers the chance to visit authentic Tibetan villages and towns that have existed for 1000's of years. Our bus left Jiuzhaigou at roughly 7am and stopped along the highway at a Tibetan rest stop about 45 minutes into our 5 hour journey. Stepping off the bus I was greeted by several Tibetan monks throwing confetti-like prayer flags into the air while simultaneously praying towards a  gigantic bowl of incense. This was my first impression of how different authentic Amdo Tibetan culture really was.

Our bus continued along the winding mountain forest roads from Jiuzhaigou and eventually the trees gave way to flowing grasslands as far as the eye could see. The scenery was amazing on this ride. We were also very happy to see the sun, as it seemed since arriving in Chengdu over one week earlier, we had only rain. The bus continued on for another 4 hours and 15 minutes without a bathroom break. I learned yet another lesson about traveling in China. Passengers were begging the driver to pull over to use the bathroom, but he refused! Eat and drink little on buses, or else you may find yourself in a similar situation!


Arriving in Langmusi felt like traveling back into time to a place that had been completely isolated from the world. The bus pulled to the side of the highway and dropped us off next to a fork in the road. Watching the bus disappear off into the distance I started to wonder exactly what was going on. Not more than 2 minutes later, a local driving by in his van offered us a lift into the main town.  The town sat at the base of some mountains surrounded by the gold roofs of several monasteries polka-dotting the valleyside. The culture here is THICK, and its weaved into everything. Life has been going on for thousands of years much unchanged. And surprisingly  there were hardly any tourists.


Over the course of the next day we spent time hiking around the mountainside, exploring the two major monasteries of the town. We were thoroughly impressed at the size and elaboration of these monasteries. As you can see in some of my instagram photos, the temples were absolutely stunning. I also learned that Amdo Tibetans identify as a completely different ethnic background than the Tibetans living mostly in Tibet. They have a slightly different physical appearance, different clothes, different language, and even different cultural traditions.

If your planning on visiting this region you can practice how to say "hello" in Amdo Tibetan - "Cho day mo". Locals are always shocked if you can speak even one word of their language.


On to Xiahe - Gansu


The bus to Xiahe leaves from the center of Langmusi at 2pm. Xiahe was an easy four hour ride  and offered yet another insight into authentic Amdo Tibetan culture. Xiahe is home to one of the six major monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism - The Labrang Monastery. We spent one night in the town and spent the next day touring the monastery. If your lucky the English tour will actually take you inside the temple while the monks are chanting. The sound of the monks is like nothing I have ever heard; They almost sound like robots, or low pipe organs.


In January, Western and Northern Sichuan is notoriously wet. During our trip through this area we too fell victim to the rain cherishing only a handful of sunny days. Because of the rain we decided to move through this area quickly, but I can promise that I will definitely return to this area again. For me, it was one of the most interesting areas of China that I have explored thus far. Until next time....


Written by Matt


Matt founded Backpack In China in 2010 to help travelers make the best of their trips to China. Since that time he has been living and working in Florida, USA. Each summer he for vacations in China for several weeks.

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