Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture is located in southern Qinghai province on the northern Tibetan Plateau. Yushu covers an area of 73,814 sq mi (191,178 sq km) and is a little larger than Washington State. Yushu has a population of 280,000 people and is over 95% Tibetan. Yushu is one of the most remote areas in Tibet being over 500 miles (800km) from Xining and over 750 miles (1200km) from both Lhasa and Chengdu. Yushu is not connected by air or by train. The only way to get there is by sleeper bus from Xining or by local buses from Ganzi Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in far northwest Sichuan province.
Yushu is broken up into 6 counties: Jyekundo (Yushu in Chinese), Nangchen (Nangqian), Chende (Chengduo), Dzado (Zaduo), Drido (Zhiduo) and Chumarleb (Qumalai). The northern counties of Chende, Chumarleb and Drido are inhabited mostly by nomads herding yaks and sheep. These three counties all sit above 4200m (13,780ft) with many mountains higher than 5000m (16,400ft). Living conditions are harsh as winters are long and cold. Snow can fall in these counties well into summer. These areas average over 270 freezing days per year. Due to the high altitude and freezing temperatures little can grow in this area. Many of the nomads living here have never seen a tree in their life. Jyekundo and Nangchen counties are in the south of Yushu and sit at an average elevation of 3700m (12,140ft). Farmers, with the aid of insulated greenhouses, are able to grow a few crops such as barley and potatoes.The winters are a little less harsh in Jyekundo and Nangchen than in the north, but are still long and cold. Dzado county in southwest Yushu is one of the most remote counties in Tibet being over 650 miles (1050km) from Xining. Dzado county is famous for caterpillar fungus, which is a popular Tibetan medicine.
Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture is famous across Tibet for containing the headwaters of three of Asia's greatest rivers. The Mekong (Lancang Jiang in Chinese and Dza Chu in Tibetan), Yellow (Huang He in Ch. and Ma Chu in Tib.) and Yangtze (Chang Jiang in Ch. and Dri Chu in Tib.) all start in Yushu. The Tibetans of Yushu are also famous for their dancing and for their annual horse festivals held each summer. The Jyekundo Horse Festival is held each year on July 25th and is one of the largest in Tibet. Yushu is also famous for being a stopover for King Songtsen Gampo and his wife Princess Wencheng during the 7th century. The king and his wife stayed in Yushu while on their way to Lhasa from modern day Xi'an. There is a stupa in Lheba that was built by the attendants of Princess Wencheng. The stupa is over 1300 years old and is one of the oldest in Tibet.
Yushu is one of the best regions of Tibet to see real authentic Tibetan culture. Because Yushu is so remote, the percentage of Chinese people is very low. Yushu is poor and has little tourist infra-structure. The long bus ride and poor conditions keep most travelers away. Yushu is a part of Kham province. Kham covers the eastern region of Tibet. Other regions of Kham include Chamdo, Nyingtri and Ganzi. Kham as a whole is about 20% nomadic, but Yushu prefecture is about 70% nomadic. The nomads of Yushu live in harsh conditions in some of the most remote areas of the world. Many nomads live several days away by car from the nearest county town. Many nomad areas see snow and freezing temperatures year round (I have seen snow fall in Yushu prefecture in July).
All six counties of Yushu can be reached by bus (sleeper and seat) from Xining. There are 4 to 6 buses per day to Jyekundo (Yushu county), while the other counties have buses every other day from Xining. You can also reach the other 5 counties of Yushu Prefecture from Jyekundo by van taxi. At the Yushu Guangchang (Yushu Square) you can get a shared van taxi to Chende, Qumarleb and Drido counties for around Y35 per person. From in front of the main bus staion in Jyekundo you can take shared van taxis to the counties of Nangchen and Dzado for around Y30 per person.
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