Kangding, known as Dartsendo དར་རྩེ་མདོ་ or Dardo དར་མདོ་ in Tibetan, is the capital town of Garnze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture དཀར་མཛེས་ཁུལ་ located in the Sichuan part of Kham. Kangding sits at 2600m and has a population of around 100,000. Part of the traditional Tibetan region of Kham ཁམས་, Kangding has always been the gateway to the Tibetan world. The town itself is roughly 40% Tibetan, 40% Chinese with the remaining 20% being other minorities such as Qiang, Yi and Hui. Everything east of Kangding is inhabited primarily by Han Chinese while everything west of Kangding is predominantly Tibetan.
From 1939 until 1950, Kangding was the capital of the short-lived province of Xikang. Xikang comprised all of modern day Garnze prefecture as well as all of modern day Chamdo prefecture ཆབ་མདོ་ས་ཁུལ་ in the Kham region of the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1950, the province was divided along the Yangtze River འབྲི་ཆུ་. Everything east of the river was incorporated into Sichuan province, while everything west of the river was incorporated into the Tibet Autonomous Region. Prior to the early 1900’s, Kangding/Dartsendo was the capital of the Chakla Kingdom, one of the 5 kingdoms of eastern Tibet.
Along with being the capital of Garnze prefecture, Kangding/Dartsendo also serves as capital of Kangding county. Kangding county covers an area of 11,125 square kilometers (4295 square miles). The county has 3 towns Kangding, Guzan and Xindu Qiao (Rangakha in Tibetan), along with 18 townships. Of all the townships, Tagong (Lhagang in Tibetan) is the the most popular place for travelers to visit. Tagong lies 112 kilometers northwest of Kangding town.
Kangding is well known throughout China. It has always been a major trading center between mainland China and the Tibetan world. Tea from Ya’an in mainland China was brought to Tibet in exchange for wool. This “tea road” went through Kangding. Foreigners living in Kangding during the 1930’s and 1940’s reported seeing many Chinese carrying well over 125 kilograms (275 lbs) of tea on their backs along the trade route. A series of statues near the Kangding bus station depict what back-breaking work it must have been carrying heavy loads of tea on one’s back for hundreds of kilometers over rugged mountains.
Kangding is also well known across China because of the Paoma Mountain, known as Dentok Ri in Tibetan. The Paoma Mountain can be seen from all parts of Kangding. The visible peak rises higher than 4500m, while the highest point of the mountain rises above 5500m. In the late 1990’s, a love song was written about Kangding and the Paoma Mountain. The song was a huge hit and can still be heard on the radio and in karaoke bars across China to this day. The Center Square in downtown Kangding has a monument to the famous love song with the lyrics written in Tibetan, Chinese and English.
Kangding is the gateway to the Kham Tibetan world. If you are planning on traveling in Sichuan’s wild west, you will have to pass through Kangding. Most travelers to Kangding stay only 1 or 2 days. However, there is enough to see and do in the area to keep one busy for several days. There are 4 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in town. Ngachu Monastery, known as An Jue Si in Chinese, dates back to 1654. It sits downtown right across from the Kangding Hotel. Lhamo Tse Monastery (Nanwu Si) is on the far west end of Kangding about 2kms from downtown. Dordrak Monastery (Jingang Si) is more than 400 years old. It is located next to Sally’s Knapsack Inn on the south end of town. Dentok Monastery (Paoma Si) lies on top of Mt. Paoma, which overlooks all of Kangding. You can hike up this mountain to reach the monastery or take the cable car to the top.
Not far outside of town is the high altitude lake of Migoo Tso (Mu Ge Cuo). This lake sits at 3700m and offers plenty of hiking opportunities. From the tops of the mountains around the lake, there are great views of the Gongga Mountains. The nomadic grasslands of Lhagang (Tagong) are less than 2 hours away. This small town has a famous Buddhist monastery to explore as well as hiking and horse trekking opportunities. The snow-capped Gongga Range (also called the Da Xue Range and Hengduan Range) can be seen from the west end of Kangding. There are over 20 mountains rising above 6000m within 60kms of Kangding.
The highest mountain in the area is Minya Konka མི་ཉག་གངས་དཀར་, which rises to 7556m. It is the second highest mountain outside of the Himalaya’s and is considered holy by Tibetans. There is a pilgrimage kora around the mountain which many Tibetans circle each year. The Hailuogou Glaciers are located in nearby Luding county and can be easily reached from Kangding. Hailuogou is located on the southeastern face of Minya Konka and are the lowest glaciers in Asia.
In recent years, trekking around Minya Konka has become quite popular. The most popular route goes along the west side of the mountain and takes about 5 days to complete. The starting point of the trek is just a short drive from Kangding. Talk to the staff at Zhilam Hostel for more details on this amazing trek.
Kangding is a modern town with plenty of great restaurants and guesthouses to choose from. The most popular and best guesthouse in town is Zhilam Hostel. Zhilam Hostel is foreign owned with all Tibetan staff. Check out their website for booking and price information. From Chengdu, there are buses every hour to Kangding beginning at 7am and ending around 4pm. The 9am bus is non-smoking and has a bathroom on board. It normally takes between 6 1/2 and 8 hours to reach Kangding from Chengdu. From Kangding, there are buses to all of the other counties in Garnze Prefecture including Litang, Batang and Dege. In addition to buses to Kangding, there is also a weekly flight from Chengdu to Kangding. The flight schedule and prices vary. Contact a local ticket office for current prices. The Kangding airport is currently the second highest commercial airport in the world at 4280m above sea level.
Kangding/Dartsendo is the gateway to the Kham Tibetan world. Spend an extra day or two exploring this town and the area around town. For more information on this area, read the following links: