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3 reasons why you should go to Amdo (Tibet)

© Photo by Mario Colonel

Tibet is traditionally divided by the Tibetans into three large regions: Ü-Tsang (or central Tibet) which is more or less the Chinese administrative division of the province of Tibet, but also Kham and Amdo, less known by the general public because they are not included in the administrative division including Lhasa. However, they are just as Tibetan as Lhasa and are well worth a visit! Today we are going to talk about Amdo (and we will present Kham later).

Amdo is located in the north-east of Tibet. This region corresponds to the administrative provinces of Qinghai, Gansu (Gainan) and part of West Sichuan (Ngawa-Aba).

The climate is cold and dry. The winter is harsh.

Its inhabitants are called "Amdowa". It is said that they speak the Amdo dialect, but in reality, there are many different dialects in Amdo. There are many famous Tibetans from Amdo, like Gendün Chöpel.

In this article, we present you the 3 reasons why we think you should go to Amdo.

1. The culture

In Amdo, and especially in the Amdo countryside, Tibetan culture has been relatively well preserved. Especially in the monasteries, nomadic families and farming villages.

The monasteries are the main actors of the preservation of the Tibetan culture.

In winter, Tibetans go to small local monasteries to study Buddhism. The monks of these small monasteries have usually spent a lot of time in large monasteries of their tradition, such as Kumbum and Labrang (Amdo) or Sera and Ganden (Central Tibet) for the monks of the Geluk school. The locals can also study Tibetan astrology or even Tibetan medicine in the monasteries, thanks to the medical colleges. They will learn the names of the plants, where to find them, etc. And it is free!

The monasteries are also actors of the passing of Tibetan values. For example, the monks who are aware of environmental issues can warn the Tibetans who come to the monastery and encourage them to adopt behaviors that respect nature.

Finally, many festivals linked to the lunar calendar are held in the monasteries. Among the most known: the festivities of the Tibetan New Year during the winter. Tibetans dress in their best traditional clothes and go to the local monasteries for the celebrations. There are mask dances, huge thangka show, butter sculpture display...

© Photo by Mario Colonel

Nomadic and farming families are also important actors of the Tibetan culture. They transmit values and ancestral customs, which are lost today with the rural exodus.

Jimpa, our partner for the Amdo region, explains that even if he has learned a lot about Tibetan culture through reading, he always discovers new things when he talks with the elders of his village. The children of the village grow up with legends on the sacred mountains and on the local protectors. One is at the border between Tibetan Buddhism and Shamanism.

The nomads, because of their pastoral way of life, have given birth to what is called the "nomadic culture". They have unique knowledge linked to their pastoral way of life. Jimpa gives us some examples:

  • The nomads know countless plants and animals, encountered on their journeys across the Tibetan plateau. Some Tibetan doctors will even ask them for help to find this or that plant they need to prepare a medicine.

  • The nomads know how to count their animals (which sometimes number in the thousands) in record time, almost with a simple glance. Where, for example, one would have to count three times one by one the people in a group of twenty or so.

  • Nomads have a vocabulary dedicated to the description of their animals. Terms that will never be used by urban Tibetans. For example, nomads will have a special word for a black yak with a white spot on its head.

© Photo by Jimpa

2. The variety of landscapes

A trip to Amdo will take you to beautiful and varied places, to name but a few:

- the immense grasslands where the nomads live,

- the green valleys where the farmers settled,

- the canyons,

- the rivers (the Yellow River has its source in the Qinghai region),

- monasteries built in places of breathtaking beauty (like the Achung Namdzong monastery located in the Khamra Park - Kambula in Chinese).

Please note that there is a huge variety of altitude too: lower altitude where the farmers live (from 2000m to 3000m) and higher altitude for nomads (from 3000m to 5000m).

Feel free to look at our photo gallery for a glimpse of the beautiful nature in Amdo.

3. Meeting Tibetans

This is where the magic of Jimpa, our partner for Amdo, takes place. Jimpa has a vast network in Amdo, where he comes from.

Jimpa was born in a farmer's village, deep in Amdo. He can take you to his family to discover country life. You can meet his mother and the rest of his family. Jimpa speaks English and French and will help you communicate with his family. You should know that the comfort is rudimentary (no bathroom and the toilet are at the bottom of the garden), but what an exceptional human experience.

Jimpa also has strong friendships with nomads. He can help you discover the daily life of the nomads, by organizing a day with a nomadic family or even a night with them in a nomadic tent. The comfort will also be basic (no bathroom and a "toilet tent"). What a privilege to exchange with these Tibetans who have preserved the Tibetan way of life from generation to generation.

Finally, you will be able to take advantage of your visits to the monasteries of Amdo to discuss with monks and nuns. They will be able to answer your questions about Buddhism and monastic life.

And with a little luck, Jimpa will be able to introduce you to some Tibetan entrepreneurs (painters, weavers...).

© Photo by Jimpa

Some must-sees in Amdo:

  • Le monastère de Kumbum

  • Les petits monastères de Repgong

  • La cité monastique de Labrang

  • Le monastère de Taktsang Lhamo

  • Le grand Buddha de Jampa Bumling

  • Les vastes étendues nomades de Golok

  • Le parc naturel de Khamra

  • La région de Ganjia

And to finish, watch this mini-video where Jimpa introduces himself and his native region in 60 seconds! (French-speaking friends, wait till the end to hear him speak French!)

So convinced?

Write to us if you want more information about Amdo or if you want us to connect you directly with Jimpa!


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