Kangding, known as Dartsendo དར་རྩེ་མདོ། / Dardo དར་མདོ་ in Tibetan, is the capital town of Garnze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture དཀར་མཛེས་ཁུལ་ located in western Sichuan province. Kangding sits at 2600m and has a population of around 100,000. Part of the traditional Tibetan region of Kham ཁམས་, Kangding has always been the gateway to the Tibetan world. The town itself is roughly 40% Tibetan, 40% Chinese with the remaining 20% being other minorities such as Qiang, Yi and Hui. Everything east of Kangding is inhabited primarily by Han Chinese while everything west of Kangding is predominantly Tibetan.
From 1939 until 1950, Kangding was the capital of the short-lived province of Xikang. Xikang comprised all of modern day Garnze prefecture as well as all of modern day Chamdo ཆབ་མདོ་ prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1950, the province was divided along the Yangtze River འབྲི་ཆུ་. Everything east of the river was incorporated into Sichuan province, while everything west of the river was incorporated into the Tibet Autonomous Region. Prior to the early 1900's, Kangding/Dartsendo was the capital of the Chakla Kingdom, one of the 5 kingdoms of eastern Tibet.
Kangding is well known throughout China. It has always been a major trading center between mainland China and the Tibetan world. Tea from Ya'an in mainland China was brought to Tibet in exchange for wool. This "tea road" went through Kangding. Foreigners living in Kangding during the 1930's and 1940's reported seeing many Chinese carrying well over 100 kilograms of tea on their backs along the trade route. A series of statues near the Kangding bus station depict what back-breaking work it must have been carrying heavy loads of tea on one's back for hundreds of kilometers.
Kangding is also well known across China because of the Paoma Mountain, known as Dentok Ri in Tibetan. The Paoma Mountain can be seen from all parts of Kangding. The visible peak rises higher than 4500m, while the highest point of the mountain rises above 5500m. In the late 1990's, a love song was written about Kangding and the Paoma Mountain. The song was a huge hit and can still be heard on the radio and in karaoke bars across China to this day.
Kangding is the gateway to the Kham Tibetan world. If you are planning on traveling in Sichuan's wild west, you will have to pass through Kangding. Most people only stay for a couple of nights, however, Kangding is definitely worth basing yourself at for 4 or 5 days. There is plenty to see and do. There are 4 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in town including Jingang Temple (top picture) and Ngachu Monastery (second picture). You can take a cable car up Paoma Mountain and spend the day hiking at the top. There are countless markets and shops selling Tibetan goods along with plenty of great Tibetan restaurants to relax in while drinking hot tea.
Not far outside of town is the high altitude lake of Muge Tso. This lake sits at 3700m and offers plenty of hiking opportunities. From the tops of the mountains around the lake, there are great views of the Gongga Range. The nomadic grasslands of Lhagang (Tagong) are less than 2 hours away. This small town has many Buddhist monasteries to explore as well as hiking and horse trekking. The snow-capped Gongga Range (also called the Da Xue Range) can be seen from the west end of Kangding. There are over 20 mountains rising above 6000m within 60kms of Kangding. Just a short drive outside of town and you can see the amazing mountains which are pictured above and below. The highest mountain in the area is Minyak Konka, which rises to 7556m. It is the second highest mountain outside of the Himalaya's and is considered holy by Tibetans. There is a pilgrimage kora around the mountain which many trekkers attempt each year. If trekking is not your thing, you can drive 2 hours south to Hailuogou. Hailuogou is actually in Luding county, but can be easily reached from Kangding. Hailuogou is located on the southeastern face of Minyak Konka and are the lowest glaciers in Asia.
Kangding is a modern town with plenty of great restaurants and guesthouses to choose from. The most popular guesthouse in town is Zhilam Hostel. Zhilam Hostel is foreign owned and foreign managed. Check out their website for booking and price information. From Chengdu, there are buses every hour to Kangding beginning at 7am and ending around 4pm. The 9am bus is non-smoking and has a bathroom on board. It normally takes between 6 1/2 and 8 hours to reach Kangding from Chengdu. From Kangding, there are buses to all of the other counties in Garnze Prefecture. In addition to buses to Kangding, there is a weekly flight from Chengdu to Kangding. The flight schedule and prices vary. Contact a local ticket office for current prices. The Kangding airport is the second highest in the world at 4280m above sea level.