The Qinghai part of Kham

Yushu/Yulshul Tibet Autonomous Prefecture ཡུལ་ཤུལ་བོད་རིགས་རང་སྐྱོང་ཁུལ། in far southern Qinghai covers an area of 188,794 square kilometers (72,894 square miles). It is roughly the same size as the US state of Washington and about half the size of Germany. It has a population of around 295,000 with 97% of the population being Kham Tibetan. It has one of the highest percentages of Tibetan people anywhere on the Tibetan Plateau and has some of the best preserved Tibetan culture remaining. It is extremely remote being over 700 kilometers away from Xining and more than 1000 kilometers away from Chengdu and Lhasa. The average elevation of the prefecture is over 4000 meters with the highest point being Mt. Bukadaban, which rises to 6621 meters.

Gar Monastery གར་དགོན། in Nangchen county ནང་ཆེན་རྫོང་།

Snow covered grasslands of Chumarleb county ཆུ་དམར་ལེབ་རྫོང་།

A main tributary of the Yangtze River in Drido county འབྲི་སྟོད་རྫོང་།

Yushu prefecture  contains the headwaters of 3 of Asia’s longest rivers. The Yangtze (Dri Chu འབྲི་ཆུ་), the Yellow (Ma Chu རྨ་ཆུ་) and the Mekong (Dza Chu རྫ་ཆུ་) all have their beginnings in the prefecture. Most of the prefecture consists of high altitude grasslands lying at elevations between 4200 meters and 4800 meters. In the past, this region was nearly entirely nomadic, though now a large percentage of these herders have been relocated to small resettlement communities throughout the prefecture. Yak herding is still the most important way of life for the Tibetans in Yushu prefecture. Farming of high altitude barley, potatoes, and wheat is found in the fertile valleys in and around Jyekundo སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ་, the prefecture capital, and Sharnda  ཤར་མདའ།, the county capital of Nangchen.

The far western portion of Yushu prefecture is an uninhabited nature reserve known as Kekexili 可可西里 in Chinese and A Chen Gang Gyab ཨ་ཆེན་གངས་རྒྱབ་ in Tibetan. It is also sometimes referred to by its Mongolian name of Hoh Xil. The Kekexili Nature Reserve covers an area of 83,000 square kilometers. It is the largest uninhabited region in China and the third largest uninhabited region on earth after the north and south poles. This region lies at an average elevation of 4800 meters and is permafrost. It is home to abundant wildlife including wild yaks, Tibetan antelope, white-lip deer, brown bears, snow leopards, black-necked cranes, wild donkeys and Himalayan marmots.

Well over 90% of the prefecture lies above the tree-line. The only exceptions are the Baizha and Jiangxi National Forests found in southern Yushu county and eastern Nangchen county. These dense evergreen forests consist of many logging communities, many of which are illegal.

The weather in Yushu can be quite extreme during the winter. The first snow in Jyekundo usually falls by mid-September and the last snow of the season usually is in early to mid-June. The northern counties of the prefecture can have snow and freezing temperatures all year round. The northern counties of Chumarleb and Drido often have winter temperatures that reach -25C to -30C. The southern counties of Yushu and Nangchen are a little milder with winter low temperatures reaching between -15C to -20C. Winters are generally dry and clear with abundant sunshine. Summers tend to be cool with the northern counties having highs between 8C and 12C and the southern counties having highs between 14C and 18C. Spring and fall can bring heavy snow to the region, especially in the higher elevations of northern Yushu prefecture. Every 5 to 7 years, heavy winter storms come leaving well over a meter of snow.

Khampa man from Jyekundo སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ་

Kham Tibetan woman from Nangchen ནང་ཆེན་

Nomad woman from Trindu county ཁྲི་འདུ་ in northern Yushu prefecture

Yushu prefecture is divided into 6 counties:

    • Yushu/Yulshul 玉树/ཡུལ་ཤུལ་
    • Nangqian/Nangchen 囊谦/ནང་ཆེན་
    • Zaduo/Dzado 杂多/རྫ་སྟོད་
    • Chengduo/Trindu 称多/ཁྲི་འདུ་
    • Zhiduo/Drido 治多/འབྲི་སྟོད་
    • Qumalai/Chumarleb 曲麻莱/ཆུ་དམར་ལེབ་

Map of Qinghai province showing Yushu Prefecture

Yushu prefecture map from Plateau Perspectives www.plateauperspectives.org

The capital of Yushu prefecture is Jyekundo སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ་, known as Jiegu 结古 in Chinese. Jyekundo is the largest town in the prefecture and is located in Yushu county. On April 14, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit central Yushu county destroying much of Jyekundo and the surrounding area. Though the official death toll is only 2698, local government officials put the actual death toll at around 20,000. Over 85% of the buildings in Jyekundo were destroyed. As of January 2012, the majority of Jyekundo’s 80,000+ residents continue to live in government-given tents. Local government officials are optimistic that the rebuilding of the region will be completed by the summer of 2013.

Monks in Domkar Monastery in Yushu ཡུལ་ཤུལ་

Nuns from Nangchen ནང་ཆེན་ on pilgrimage to Lhasa ལྷ་ས་

Young monks from Thrangu Monastery ཁྲ་འགུ་དགོན། in Yushu county ཡུལ་ཤུལ་

On August 1, 2009, the Yushu Batang Airport officially opened to the public. It was the first airport to open in Yushu prefecture. The airport lies at an elevation of 3950 meters and is one of the highest commercial airports in the world. It has regular weekly flights to Xining and Xi’an. There are plans to expand services to Lhasa and Chengdu. The airport is located 18 kilometers south of Jyekundo.

China National Highway 214 links Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai, with Yushu prefecture. Since the Yushu Earthquake of 2010, work has been going on to upgrade this highway to a 4 lane expressway. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2013. Jyekundo is 821 kilometers south of Xining  ཟི་ལིང་, while Sharnda ཤར་མདའ།, the capital of Nangchen county, is 985 kilometers south of Xining. Buses from Xining depart each day to all 6 county capitals of Yushu prefecture from the main long distance bus station. From Jyekundo, shared mini-van taxi’s depart throughout the day to the other 5 counties of Yushu prefecture as well as to other destinations within Yushu county.

There are also daily buses from Jyekundo to Chengdu, Sershul/Shiqu and Garze/Ganzi in Sichuan province as well as to Riwoche and Chamdo in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The train line to Lhasa goes through western Yushu prefecture, but doesn’t make any stops in the prefecture.

Yushu Batang Airport

Overlooking Jyekundo སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ་ before the earthquake

The holy mountain of Gado Jowa in Trindu county ཁྲི་འདུ་རྫོང་ in northern Yushu

Racing during the Yushu Horse Festival

The annual Yushu Horse Festival typically takes place each year on July 25th and last for 5 days. The main horse festival has not taken place since the Yushu Earthquake, but could resume in 2012. In addition to the main horse festival, there are also smaller horse festivals that take place throughout the prefecture.

During Losar ལོ་གསར་, or Tibetan New Year, large amounts of Buddhist pilgrims go to one of the more than 350 monasteries found across the prefecture. The most popular destinations during Losar include the Gyanak Mani Temple རྒྱ་ནག་མ་ཎི་, Dhondrub Ling Monastery, the Princess Wencheng Temple and Gar Monastery. The Gyanak Mani Temple, located 6 kilometers east of Jyekundo, is the largest collection of carved prayer stones in the world. There are estimated to be over 2 billion carved prayer stones stacked over 3 meters high covering a 1 square kilometer area.

Pilgrims walking around the Gyanak Mani Temple རྒྱ་ནག་མ་ཎི་ outside of Jyekundo

The Jiangxi Forest in eastern Nangchen county ནང་ཆེན་རྫོང་

A remote monastery in Yushu prefecture during the summer

Buddhist pilgrims from Yushu ཡུལ་ཤུལ་ on their way to Lhasa ལྷ་ས་

Because of the remoteness of Yushu prefecture, relatively few travelers go there. However, it is one of the best kept secrets of the Tibetan Plateau. With Tibetans making up 97% of the population, Yushu offers travelers authentic, traditional Tibetan culture that is hard to find in other regions of Tibet.With dozens of peaks rising above 5000 meters, abundant wildlife, plenty of glacier fed rivers, remote nomad camps and lots of trails to explore, Yushu prefecture has everything an outdoors enthusiast could ever want.

The 6 county towns of Yushu prefecture are okay to spend a couple of days in, but the best places to see are in the remote and rugged countryside. There is not a lot written about this region in guidebooks so it is best to do some research before making the incredibly long journey to Yushu prefecture. If you have any questions about this area, feel free to contact me at thelandofsnows@gmail.com.

Losang བློ་བཟང་

Winter snow covering Trindu county ཁྲི་འདུ་རྫོང་ in northern Yushu prefecture

Monk spinning a large prayer wheel in Dzado county རྫ་སྟོད་རྫོང་ in southwest Yushu prefecture

The very remote Trulshik Monastery འཁྲུལ་ཞིག་དགོན་པ་ in southern Nangchen county

Surmang ཟུར་མང་ in southern Yushu county

Khampa man from Yushu county ཡུལ་ཤུལ་རྫོང་།

Nomads in a traditional yak wool tent in southern Yushu county

Many roads in Yushu prefecture are still rough and dirt

Tibetan woman from Yushu county ཡུལ་ཤུལ་རྫོང་།

Dana Monastery རྟ་རྣ་དགོན་ in Nangchen county, one of the most remote monasteries in Yushu

Wild donkeys, known as Gyang རྐྱང་, grazing in western Yushu prefecture

Gazelle grazing in Yushu

Up close with a Himalayan Griffon in Chumarleb county ཆུ་དམར་ལེབ་རྫོང་།

The Lhasa train line passing through the Kekexili Nature Reserve ཨ་ཆེན་གངས་རྒྱབ་ in uninhabited western Yushu prefecture

Posted by Phil Pellet on March 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Keep up the good work, I read few articles on this internet site and I believe that your web site is very interesting and contains circles of good info.

Posted by Scott on March 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Beautiful pics, like heaven on earth. Will one day visit the Yushu district. I live in Shanghai but love the western parts of China especially Tibet. Thanks for sharing pictures and info on Tibet. I’ve had your web site book marked the last couple of years.

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on March 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Thanks for the compliments!

Losang

Posted by Nangchen « The Land of Snows on April 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm

[…] The Qinghai part of Kham […]

Posted by Two years since the Yushu Earthquake « The Land of Snows on April 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

[…] The Qinghai part of Kham […]

Posted by Why not Amdo and Kham?? « The Land of Snows on June 9, 2012 at 7:53 am

[…] The Qinghai part of Kham […]

Posted by Patsy Peterson on July 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Thanks very much for all the wonderful pictures and stories about Yushu.I am very excited about reading this as I am going there in one and half weeks time.Hope I get to see the horse festival.Keep up the good work as this is a very interesting part of the world that I hope to share shortly with the people of Yushu.

Posted by Tibet Photography Adventure: June 8th to June 22nd, 2013 « The Land of Snows on February 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

[…] The Qinghai part of Kham […]

Posted by 2013: Kham Overland Tour | Plateau Photo Tours on March 28, 2013 at 4:34 am

[…] Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the traditional Tibetan region of Kham in modern day Qinghai province. At 97% Tibetan, it has the highest percentage of Tibetan people anywhere on the Tibetan Plateau. Full of Buddhist monasteries, pilgrimage sites, grasslands, yak herding communities, snow-capped peaks, alpine forests and pristine rivers, it also is full of traditional Tibetan culture that cannot be found in other areas of Tibet. […]

Posted by kunsang on March 29, 2013 at 9:02 am

hello,
i just wanted to know what are the mountain passes you need to cross when travelling from lhasa to yushu?? and does Yushu ever grow grasses if so in which season? thank you

Posted by Willem on May 14, 2013 at 4:24 am

Thanks for this very informative documentation.

Are there any chances that a Horse Festival will be organized in Yushu before the city is fully rebuilt?

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on May 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Willem….Yushu is a large 6 county prefecture that is larger than many Chinese provinces. Each year, numerous horse festivals take place throughout the prefecture. While the large Jyekundo Horse Festival has not happened since before the earthquake, other horse festivals have been going on. It is unlikely that Jyekundo will host a horse festival this year, but there might be one there next year. I recommend going to the Drido (Zhiduo in Chinese) horse festival, which will happen in late July.

Posted by Naadam: Mongolia’s summer horse festival | Asia News – Politics, Media, Education | Asian Correspondent on July 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm

[…] Asian cultures.  The Tibetan Prefectures of China, known to Tibetans as Amdo and Kham, in the Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan Provinces still have nomadic populations, though the Chinese government has been relocating herders to […]

Posted by 2013: Lhasa to Everest Base Camp overland | Plateau Photo Tours on December 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

[…] Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the traditional Tibetan region of Kham in modern day Qinghai province. At 97% Tibetan, it has the highest percentage of Tibetan people anywhere on the Tibetan Plateau. Full of Buddhist monasteries, pilgrimage sites, grasslands, yak herding communities, snow-capped peaks, alpine forests and pristine rivers, it also is full of traditional Tibetan culture that cannot be found in other areas of Tibet. […]

Posted by Grass mud horse on March 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Hi Losang! You do great work and whenever I meet someone interested in Tibet this is the website I recommend to them

I’m wondering if you know whether there’ll be a big horse festival anywhere in Kham this summer, I read a while back vague plans to hold a big one after a long hiatus.

I read that Yushu reconstruction is mostly done and am wondering if there’s plans to have a festival there. Horse festival or no, I’d quite like to visit this summer :)

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on March 21, 2014 at 5:11 pm

There is 75% chance that the annual Yushu Horse Festival will take place this year on July 25. I am still not 100% certain that this will happen, but early dialogue among officials in Yushu suggest that it might be happening this year.

Losang

Posted by The Highest Airports in the World | ShawnVoyage on April 10, 2014 at 9:02 pm

[…] by: janchipchase, national geographic, yourtravel, cfguide, mark, landofsnows, panoramio, marc, airport-technology, geolocation, AgainErick, travel-china, caffeineAM, […]

Posted by Losang on May 14, 2014 at 9:03 am

May I know what is the best way to travel to Yushu? Is Xining the best place to travel from? How frequent are transportation from Xining to Yushu? How long is the trip and how much would it cost?

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on May 16, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Yushu is a large 6 county prefecture that is larger than many Chinese provinces. From the provincial capital of Xining, there are daily buses to all 6 counties in Yushu Prefecture. From Xining to Jyekundo (Yushu), there are between 8 and 12 buses per day. The bus takes between 14 and 18 hours and costs around 250 RMB.

Losang

Posted by Jonathan on June 27, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Hello, Is there anyway of finding out if the Yushu horse racing festival is confirmed for this year?

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on June 28, 2014 at 3:46 pm

It will be happening on July 25 this year.

Losang

Leave a response