This is a tour around one of the most intriguing cultural variants of the Tibetan world. In Gyalthang are found customs and dialects no longer existing in other Tibetan areas, influenced by the surrounding multi-ethnic potpourri even as they influence those in turn. One of the world’s richest hotspots of biodiversity, the Gyalthang region's cultural and natural sights are a delightful surprise for the first-time and experienced Tibet traveler alike.
Gyalthang (3,344 m) is easily reached by a 45-minute (daily-operating flight) from Kunming (Yunnan). This historic caravan staging port holds numerous sights such as the chalet-style adobe houses of Dokhar Dzong (old town), 17th-century Sumtsenling Monastery built at the orders of the 5th Dalai Lama, and resembling the Potala Palace in Lhasa, or the revered Gyalwa Ringa temple in the countryside.
The hill adorned with prayer flags behind Sumtsenling monastery offers a wonderful overview of the Gyalthang plains, including the marshy Lake Napa Nature Reserve, a bird-watcher’s paradise and sanctuary for rare species such as the Black-neck crane. We have a panoramic view of the old and modern parts of town, the Shikha and Haba Gangri mountain ranges at the edge of the plains, as well as the Womachu (“Milky River”) meandering across the Gyalthang plains.
Called “the bejewelled land” by its inhabitants, the Gyalthang region offers numerous day hikes in its vicinity. Magnificent views of Mt. Khawakarpo (6,740 m) are possible from Jol, a town a 6-hour drive to the north. The summer’s uncontested highlight is the Gyalthang horse racing festival when Tibetans from all over Kham gather to contest in horsemanship, sports and artistry.
Asia's biggest rivers originate in the Tibetan highlands. A trip to Gyalthang offers the unique spectacle of viewing the Yangtse, the Mekong and the Salween which flow within fifty kilometers of each other - one of the geographical wonders of the world. Separated by high mountain ranges the three rivers area supports one of the world's richest tracts of biodiversity. The surrounding hills and gorges are inhabited by Tibetans, Naxi, Lisu, Yi, and other ethnic groups. Here we also find a functioning Christian missionary church built in a mix of Chinese, European and Tibetan architectural style.
Offering easy and various access, the Gyalthang region is also a rewarding destination for those with limited time.