Forget everything you thought you knew about traveling in Tibet. Well except for maybe the fact that it is stunningly beautiful, because that my friends, as you’re about to see, is no lie.
Here goes. First of all, the border that you see on the map defining the region of Tibet…completely meaningless. Let me explain.
So, I get dropped off at the town square in Tagong, a small Tibetan town in Sichuan Province, China via a minivan from Kangding. Sitting in the square waiting for my ride to my guesthouse, I get approached by this local Tibetan man. After our typical pleasantries were exchanged and I answered all the basic questions: “where are you from?” “how long are you here?” blah, blah, blah, he says goodbye, and then adds a phrase that completely stopped me in my tracks, “Welcome to Tibet!”.
Uh, say what?! I don’t remember crossing any border, obtaining any permit, or hiring a tour guide (all necessary provisions when traveling to what we think of as Tibet).
I looked at a map, yup, Tagong is definitely in Sichuan Province, not Tibet. So what’s the deal?
In my mind, Tagong was just a Tibetan town in China. Like maybe some Tibetan people moved out of Tibet and settled here…I don’t know, but that was definitely the impression I had before going. If there was a place called Ignoranceville, I would be their queen.
See, here’s something I learned very quickly upon arriving in Tagong, this isn’t just a Tibetan town, THIS IS TIBET!!!
That border you see on the map, totally arbitrary, and made mostly to keep a historically tense region in check, not because it actually defines the border of Tibet. I know, I know, mind blown.
In Tagong, the locals are Tibetan, born and raised for centuries on this very soil that the map fools you into thinking is not Tibet. In fact, the current Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was only created in 1965 by the Chinese government after the Tibetans lost the battle of Chamdo and became incorporated in the People’s Republic of China. In reality, Tibet consists of 3 provinces: Lhasa (which is the area that is now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region), Kham (the region I was in which is now part of Sichuan Province), and Amdo (now a part of Qinghai Province). What this means is that the area we currently associate with the entirety of Tibet is actually just one part of the region, which means: there is so much more of Tibet to explore outside of the TAR!
Since their incorporation into China not much has changed. The locals don’t consider themselves Chinese at all. The land, culture, and traditions of Tibet have been meticulously maintained and treasured by the local people. Of course, with the spread of technology, change has come, but (I think) as an advent, not a destructive feature. Traveling in Tibet is like being on the rooftop of the world. I hope these photos inspire you to see the beauty of this incredible place for yourself one day.
All photos of this gorgeous mountain were taken from Khampa Nomad Ecolodge, where they so graciously hosted me as a volunteer for 3 weeks. If you’re interested in making a trip out to this area I would HIGHLY recommend staying at Khampa Nomad Ecolodge. They are a completely off the grid, self-sustainable guesthouse located 8km outside of town. In addition to the lodge, they are also the #1 horse trekking and hiking guide service in the area and really just a wealth of information about the entire Kham Tibetan area.
What an amazing adventure it was to explore this region of Tibet for 3 weeks. Angela and the entire Khampa Nomad Ecolodge team were incredible hosts! Tagong is truly a magical place and one I know I will be returning to, hopefully someday soon.
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Hey, we're Cara and Justin, the adventure travel loving couple behind Crawford Creations. We're here to help you travel the world independently, save money on your travels, and discover off the beaten path destinations along the way. Click the About tab to find out more!
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