Kangding

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. 

Stupa on top of Dentok Mountain (Paoma Shan)

Dordrak Monastery on the west end of Kangding

Snow-capped peaks rising above the north side of Migoo Tso (Muge Cuo)

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.

Monks walking out of Dordrak Monastery (Jingang in Chinese)

Kangding covered in winter snow

Zhilam Hostel, by far the best place to stay in Kangding!

Ngachu Monastery, known as An Jue Si in Chinese, is located in downtown Kangding

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.

Downtown Kangding during the summer

Glaciated peaks rising above New Kangding

Southeast face of Minya Konka མི་ཉག་གངས་དཀར་, known as Gongga Shan in Chinese

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.

Minya Konka (Gongga Shan) viewed from the Hailuogou Glaciers

Glacier fed river and snow-capped peaks just outside of Kangding

Nomads living in tents not far from Kangding

Nomad woman from Lhagang in Kangding county

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.

Nomad man along the Minya Konka trek stoking a fire

High altitude lake along the Gongga Trek

Glacier fed river along the Gongga Trek near Kangding

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:

The Kham region of Tibet

The Sichuan part of Kham

Zhilam Hostel

Khampa Cafe and Arts Center

Nomad Khampa woman from Kangding county

Snow-capped peaks viewed from Zhilam Hostel in Kangding

Peak rising among 6000 meters above Kangding

Sun rising on the Zheduo pass between Kangding/Dartsendo and Tagong/Lhagang

Minya Konka (Gongga Shan) rising to 7556 meters

Road above Kangding

 

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Comments

Posted by Lois Kraft on April 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm

I’ve read your information on the best time to travel to Tibet. I am specifically interested in your opinion as to the best time to visit Kangding. I want to avoid major holidays and also understand that March/April is generally not possible.

I’m looking for the highest probability of clear weather and snow topped peaks. It looks like there is a high probability of rain in June/July/August. I don’t know when there is snow at higher elevations.

I am thinking of May 15-31 or October 15-31 as possible times. Other better choices?

Already set on staying at Zhilam Hostel. I’ve emailed Kris also, but am interested in a variety of opinions.

Thanks.

Posted by lawrence on April 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm

wow, so wonderful and beautiful scenery in Kangding town, I fall in love with it and want to stay there..

Posted by Tim on May 7, 2012 at 5:22 am

This is a great article on Kangding, the photos are fantastic – Kangding is a fascinating place to spend some time exploring. I visited Kangding in 2010 and stayed at the Zhilam Hostel, which I highly recommend – it’s wonderful place to stay and relax, with fantastic staff and amazing homemade cakes!

I’m wondering if the photo above captioned “Monks walking out of Dordrak Monastery (Jingang in Chinese)” is actually Lhamo Tse Monastery (Nanwu Si) just a little up the hill from Dordrak? I had a great time talking with the Monks at Lhamo Tse and Dordrak.

I’m going to bookmark your website as I plan to return to the area and explore some more, hopefully soon.

Best wishes, Tim

Posted by David on May 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm

someone posted on thorntree on may 8th 2012 that kangding is closed to foreigners at the moment

they said foreigners could not buy tickets past ya’an at the chengdu west bus station

any news about this, dude?
3 of us were planning a trek there this july

love the website

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on May 11, 2012 at 4:12 am

David, The Tibetan areas of Amdo and Kham (located in modern day western/northern Sichuan, all of Qinghai and southwest Gansu provinces) are always politically sensitive regions to travel to. Closures tend to happen often with absolutely no warning. It appears that this area is open now (from contacting local friends in Kangding) however it is impossible to say if the area will remain open. If there are any political protests, the region will close again for an indefinite time frame. The best thing to do is to have a Plan B when wanting to travel to these Tibetan areas.

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on May 11, 2012 at 4:13 am

Lois, I would recommend late October. The weather then is generally clear skies with great views of the mountains.

Posted by David on May 15, 2012 at 10:40 am

hi Losang,
i see u have lived in kangding for a time.

i want to ask has the trek from Laoyulin – Konka Monastery – Shangmuju village
become heavily monetized by local authorities in recent years like most other attractive hikes in china

e.g enviromental protection fees
extortionate rates for pack animals
ridrculous 门票?

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on May 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm

David…..No, there still is no protection fee required to do this trek. I come from the old school way of trekking that says if you need it, you pack it yourself. IF you really need pack animals, they can be arranged in Laoyulin. It will not be cheap as the trek will take 4 or 5 days. The animal owned will need to go with you to make sure his animal is well taken care of. When you reach Konka Monastery, the pack animals need to make the 4 or 5 day journey back to Laoyulin. So you will be required to pay for the roundtrip journey of the animals and the animal’s owner.

Posted by david on May 16, 2012 at 9:10 am

I’m old-school too hehe, but my wife and friends aren’t!

Thanks a million for the useful info

Posted by Overland from Chengdu to Shangri La « The Land of Snows on May 25, 2012 at 2:42 am

[...] Kangding [...]

Posted by Why not Amdo and Kham?? « The Land of Snows on June 9, 2012 at 7:49 am

[...] 7556 meters. It is the 2nd highest peak outside the Himalaya’s and is located very close to Dartsendo (Kangding) in western [...]

Posted by Chris on June 24, 2012 at 4:01 am

Hello,

what a great source of information, thanks a lot. Can I give you a ring and ask about your opinion on travelling with children? 6+9 years. I want to go Chengdu, Gongganshan, Seda and then to Litang for the horse riding festival (does it still exist?).

I have 14 days max. Not enough time to do all this, right? Even if own car and driver?

Thanks,

yours,

Chris

Posted by Thomas on June 25, 2012 at 1:47 am

Does anyone know to which sect/order the monastery on Paoma Shan is? Or how many monks live there? The pictures are amazing!

Posted by Kimberley on July 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Hi Losang, Thanks for the useful info. I am planning a trip to the Kham regions of Sichuan and Yunan in late OCtober and November this year. K

Posted by Ray Ghin on August 24, 2012 at 10:42 am

Love your website. I am planning a driving trip to Kangding and Xinduqiao this October, was wondering if it is possible to drive all the way to Yading. I can’t seem to find much info on the roads there so i would like to find out if it is possible, what kind of road conditions (tarmac etc) and do we need 4×4? Once again thanks and appreciated the work you are doing here.

Posted by Gyarong Region of Tibet « The Land of Snows on October 19, 2012 at 6:08 am

[...] in western Sichuan’s Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, about 140 kilometers north of Kangding and about 340 kilometers west of Chengdu. Though the county town of Danba is pleasant, the Gyarong [...]

Posted by Damian Jones on January 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Is it not possible to travel to Kanding-Tagong-Danba in March? I have a month holiday in Sichuan in March and I was hoping to take in this area in mid-March.

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on January 29, 2013 at 7:58 am

Damian…It is really hard to say if this area will be closed or not as it is a decision the government of Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (where Kangding, Tagong and Danba are located) will decide. Don’t expect the government to make any official announcements. The only way to really find out is to go there and see if they are open. In my opinion and experience, these 3 areas should be open to foreign travelers, though I would not be surprised if areas further to the west closed for a few weeks.

Losang

Posted by paulus on February 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm

We are not sure which trip has the best chance of success (ie tourists being allowed) and were wondering what your opinion is. We are travelling late Feb 2013. We have 2 choices either to travel to Kangding via Zhongdian -> xiangcheng – Litang. Alternatively we could travel from Lanzhou -> Xiahe -> Langmusi -> Songpan -> Chengdu.
Which would it be better to try. We realise we won’t find out if places are open until we are actually there, but maybe you have an idea as to which we should try.
We would be interested to hear which of the 2 trips you would prefer in general as well.
Many thanks for advice and help. This is a great site, loads of info and excellent advice and ideas.

Posted by Ann Hamilton on March 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Tashi Delek,Losang…I would appreciate it if you could tell me how the weather is generally in November.. The bus trip from Chengdu is my intention … Is it a good time to traverse the distance in november ? Many Thanks.Ann

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on April 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Ann….Yes, November is a good time to travel to the Sichuan region of Kham found in western Sichuan province. While it may snow some, it will be extremely unlikely that major roads would be closed. For the most part, expect clear skies. Since this area has elevations varying from 2000 meters to more than 4000 meters, temperatures are going to vary from area to area. Expect temperatures in the morning to be between -2C and -8C (again, depending on where you go) and highs to range between 8C and 12C.

Posted by 2013 Tibet Travel Updates « The Land of Snows on April 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm

[...] of the Kangding Hotel, there is a small bus station that has 2 daily buses leaving each morning to Kangding. This bus station will almost always sell tickets to foreigners even when the other bus stations [...]

Posted by Sandra Erickson on April 21, 2013 at 9:54 am

I visited Dardo in 2011. What I saw was chinese flags flying everwhere, the monasterires were so destroyed that one could hardly recognized them! Actually it took long to me to really realize what I was seeing. Chinese police everywhere, inlcuding in the monasteries. Almost no sign of the dharma, of Lamas, of nothing that was Tibetan…I was toallt devasted with sadness.

Posted by Tina on June 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Hi I am planning a trip in early August – 5th to 16th. Do you think there will be too much rain then, or it should be ok?

Cheers, Tina

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on July 5, 2013 at 8:31 am

Tina, the months from June through early September are the rainy months. While it won’t be raining everyday and the rain is usually light, don’t expect clear views of the mountains. The best months to view the many high mountains in the area are from Mid to late September through early May.

Losang

Posted by sean on September 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

For those of us who are interested in Tibetan Buddhism would you mind mentioning what sect (Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya, or Gelukpa) each of the monasteries you talk about on your blog is from. Thanks a lot! Great site I love the pictures…

Posted by Stuart on December 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Hi,

Do you think it is a good idea to visit over Chinese New Year? I will probably need to travel by bus from Chengdu and was wondering how easy this will be and it if it will still be possible to travel around the area.

Many thanks,
Stuart

Posted by Gado Jowa: Tibet’s hidden holy mountain « The Land of Snows on February 22, 2014 at 11:09 am

[…] by Amnye Machen ཨ་མྱིས་རྨ་ཆེན་ in Golok (southeast Qinghai),  Minyak Gongkar མི་ཉག་གངས་དཀར་ in Garze (western Sichuan) and Kawa Kharpo ཁ་བ་དཀར་པོ་ in Dechen (northwest […]

Posted by 2014 Tibet Travel Updates « The Land of Snows on April 1, 2014 at 10:09 am

[…] of the Kangding Hotel, there is a small bus station that has 2 daily buses leaving each morning to Kangding. This bus station will almost always sell tickets to foreigners even when the other bus stations […]

Posted by Overland from Kangding to Yushu « The Land of Snows on April 17, 2014 at 4:52 pm

[…] Kangding is a great place to spend 2 or 3 days. I lived here for a year and had an amazing time! This small city is the capital of Garze Tibet Autonomous Region and is fairly modern and clean. I recommend staying at Zhilam Hostel. The hostel is located in a small village just above Kangding. It offers clean dorm rooms, great food and the hostel can give you all kinds of excellent travel advice. […]

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