Those of you who have followed my writings both here and on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum have read a lot about Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture (ཡུལ་ཤུལ་བོད་རིགས་རང་སྐྱོང་ཁུལ་) in southern Qinghai. I have traveled from one end of Tibet to the other many times and Yushu is without a doubt my favorite place. It has everything: snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, nomads, grasslands, monasteries and most importantly...it has Tibetan people. Yushu, part of the traditional Tibetan province of Kham (ཁམས), is a large 6 county prefecture covering over 191,000 square kms (nearly 74,000 square miles) or roughly the size of the US state of South Dakota. Yushu has a population of 290,000 with over 97% of the people being Tibetan. Of the 16 prefectures that make up the Tibetan Plateau, Yushu has one of the highest percentages of Tibetan people making it one of the best places to experience Tibetan culture.
The capital of Yushu is Jyekundo (སྐྱེ་རྒུ་མདོ་) Jyekundo is a large trading town 825kms south of Xining (ཟི་ལིང་) , the capital of Qinghai. Yushu county, where Jyekundo is located, has a mixed population of farmers and nomads. The valley's that surround the town are inhabited by farmers while the outlying areas of the county are mostly yak herders. Nangchen (ནང་ཆེན་) county is 185 kms south of Jyekundo and nearly 1000 kms south of Xining. Nangchen county has a large amount of monasteries, many of which belong to the Kagyu and Nyingma sects of Tibetan Buddhism . The Mekong River flows through Nangchen (Nangqian in Chinese) irrigating many of the farms in the area.
Dzado (རྫ་སྟོད་) county is located 240kms west of Jyekundo and 1050 kilometers southwest of Xining. Dzado is named after the Dza Chu, or Mekong River, which has its source in Dzado county. The head water region of the Mekong is stunning with the river being a bright turquoise color for most of the year (pictured above). Nomad Tibetans and ranchers make up nearly all of the 39,000 people who live in Dzado.
Northern Yushu prefecture is covered in high elevation grasslands giving way to snow-capped mountains (pictured above). The counties of Trindu (Chengduo-ཁྲི་འདུ་), Chumarleb (Qumalai-ཆུ་དམར་ལེབ་) and Drido (Zhiduo-འབྲི་སྟོད་) have an average elevation of over 4300m/14,110 feet. Around 88,000 people are spread out over 130,000 square kms/50,193 square miles. These three counties account for nearly 70% of the total area of Yushu prefecture. Most of the people in this region live either in mud-brick homes or in black yak wool tents. Nearly everyone is involved in herding yaks or sheep. With the high elevation, the conditions are extreme during most of the year. Winter temperatures can easily reach -30C/-22F and snow can fall even in the summer. The source of the Yellow River, known as the Ma Chu in Tibetan, is located high up in the Bayan Khar mountains in Chumarleb county. The source of the Yangtze River, or Dri Chu in Tibetan, is also located in this region of Yushu. Northern Yushu prefecture sees very few tourists, but it is an excellent place to see nomadic Tibetan life (pictured below) which is rapidly disappearing.
In order to really see everything that Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture has to offer, the best way to go there is by private vehicle. This will allow you to take a few days to get to Yushu from Xining stopping and seeing the lakes, mountains and nomads along the way. Late spring through early fall are the best times to visit, but Yushu can be visited any time of year. There are hundreds of Tibetan monasteries (pictured below) scattered throughout the area allowing you to see what monastic life is like. Spending 8 to 12 days in the area is enough time to see what Yushu has to offer, though if you have a longer time frame, there is still plenty to see and do to keep you busy.
If you have any questions about Yushu or any other region of Tibet, please send an email to email@example.com