Ganzi Overview

Just when you think you’ve discovered everything there is in Sichuan, you learn about Ganzi, a majestic Tibetan region that’s a great alternative to typical summer getaways—a paradise for those who live here and the ones who experienced Tibet firsthand without entering Tibet.

Area

A number of people may get confused once they hear the name Ganzi. This is because it can refer to the county and the prefecture. For this article, we will refer to the latter. It is located within Sichuan Province and is accessible through the province’s capital, Chengdu, and is found on the west side. However, it is an autonomous region, which means the prefecture has its own guidelines. This explains why sometimes the region can be closed off to travelers, especially when there is political tension brought about by its closeness to Tibet.

It measures more than 150,000 square kilometers, the biggest of which is occupied by Kangding, which is also its capital. It does not have any district but counties that now count to around 18. These include Dege, Sertar, Xiangcheng, Daocheng, Xintong, Luding, Danba, and Luhuo.

Ganzi sits on the Himalayan Plateau, with an elevation of around 5,000 meters, at its highest (since it slopes toward China plains). It is characterized mostly by snow-capped mountains that tower over rolling hills, green fields, several lakes, natural hot springs, and even glaciers that are interestingly found in low altitude.

History

Ganzi used to be part of the great Kham region. Thus, for some time, it was being headed by the Tibetan resistance army. However, another province called Qinghai was already occupied by the Chinese, and under the oppressive powers of Ma Bufang, who was a warlord from Muslim Ma, the Tibetans in the area suffered greatly, and those controlling Ganzi had no other choice but to move back. This then gave another warlord by the name of Liu Wenhui control over the land. To make the withdrawal more official, he made a deal with the Tibetan army via an agreement.

The prefecture was also part of Eastern Xikang. Aside from the Tibetan Army, the Kuomintang also found their way into the area until they were defeated by the army of China’s republic. After that war, Ganzi then was included in Sichuan as an autonomous prefecture.

People

Less than a million people are currently living in Ganzi, and they are extremely diverse. Over 70 percent of the population are Tibetans, followed by the Han Chinese, which make up around 18 percent. Other minorities such as Bai, Mongolians, Yi, Qiang, and Hui are also living here. Although most of the people are Tibetans, the government is largely controlled by the Han Chinese, who prefer to let the people speak their language. Nevertheless, the people still opted to use their own. Around Ganzi therefore are signs that are translated in various dialects. Most of those who live in the cities, however, especially the younger ones, are most likely Mandarin speaking. As you travel more to the rural areas, you will hear the Tibetan language. The people would further appreciate your presence if you try to speak some of their native phrases.

The people here are generally warm and generous. They can offer you a ride on their horses or mules if you’re having a hard time catching a bus. Some do allow foreigners to stay in their homes for a very small fee, and the tourists can already be immersed in their way of life. They mostly live through cattle and yak raising, as well as farming wheat and barley. Tourism is also another industry that is slowly increasing the revenues of the region.

Food and Entertainment

The province is highly known for its distinctive cuisines, but the autonomous region also holds its own. Ganzi dishes are influenced not only by Chinese flavor but also by Tibetan’s. Moreover, because it doesn’t have immediate access to the produce found in Sichuan, it’s forced to rely on what it can easily find in its surroundings. The dishes may also end up quite heavy, which is necessary so they can maintain some energy despite the high altitude and the cold temperature.

Some of the well-known dishes in the area are zanba, the primary ingredient of which is barley flour. Barley is abundant within the region. One should also not miss the yak butter tea. As its name suggests, the butter is made from the milk of a yak. It is seasoned with sesame, peanut, and egg, as well as salt. It’s also common among them to add entrails into their soups and other dishes such as the blood sausage.

Notes

1. As an autonomous region, it’s allowed to implement travel restrictions especially during protests, which normally happen during the new year of the Tibetans.

2. Because of the sloping terrain, climate can differ from one area to another.

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