Zoige མཛོད་དགེ་, known as Ruo'ergai in Chinese, is a nomadic county located in northern Ngawa Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture རྔ་བ་ཁུལ་ in far northern Sichuan province. Located in the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo, Zoige is a large county lying between 3300m and 3500m above sea level. Though this area gets horrible reviews by most guidebooks, it is actually an amazing area, especially if you have an interest in Tibetan nomad culture. The county has a population of around 60,000 with over 90% of the people being Tibetan. Nearly the entire county is covered in high altitude grasslands which are perfect for herding yaks and sheep. During the summer, thousands of families live in traditional style yak wool tents on the grasslands.
The county capital of Zoige is a fairly modern town for the Tibetan Plateau. It has several good hotels to choose from along with many restaurants. However, going to the county town is not the main attraction of the area...the grasslands are! If you just go to the county town, you have missed EVERYTHING this area has to offer. I have several friends from Zoige and all of them tell me that their grasslands are the best in all of Tibet and I have a hard time arguing with them. During the summer, the grasslands emerge into an amazing shade of green. The contrast against the high rocky mountains is amazing. Nomad culture is something that is almost non-existent along the popular tourist route that connects Lhasa with the Nepal border. For those who are interested in traditional style Tibetan culture, the grasslands of Zoige is a must see region.
The winter time brings severe freezing temperatures to the region with temperatures easily reaching -25C. April through late October are good times to visit with October being the driest time. Most people going to Zoige do so starting from either Chengdu or Xining. From Xining, you can reach Zoige by taking a bus to Hezuo in Gansu province before taking another bus to Zoige. From Zoige, the picturesque town of Taktsang Lhamo (Langmusi) is only 90kms to the north while the popular town of Songpan lies 160kms to the south.
Along with grasslands and nomadic culture, there are also plenty of monasteries to see. There are around 80 monasteries in the county, with most of them being from the Geluk set of Tibetan Buddhism. The most famous monastery in the county is Gonsar Monastery, which is found in the county town.
Don't pay attention to what some of the guidebooks say about Zoige. The area is amazing and has some of the best preserved Tibetan culture remaining. If you do go to Zoige, don't just stay in the county town. Get out and experience nomad Tibetan culture on the grasslands. The small town of Tangkor, roughly 60kms west of the county town, is a "wild west" type of town full of nomad traders. The grasslands in this area are great place to base yourself for a few days or more.