3 Tibetan inhabited areas

Kham, also known as Khampa, is one of the three Tibetan inhabited areas in China, covering an area of 2.5 million square kilometers and with a Tibetan population of more than 5.4 million. Kham is a region derived from traditional Tibetan culture, and it is often juxtaposed with the Ü‑Tsang region and the Amdo region. Kham means "frontier area" in Tibetan, and "pa" means "people" in Tibetan. Therefore, Khampa has two meanings: one is an independent geographical unit of Tibetan areas, and the other is the Tibetan people in Kham. The Kham people have lived for generations in the Hengduan mountain region at the border of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, and Tibet. The harsh natural environment of high mountains, deep valleys, and rivers has not only shaped the strong and straightforward character of the Kham people but also cultivated their traditions and customs of doing business outside with the outside world.

Where's Kham Tibet

Where is Kham tibet on the map

Tibetans have traditionally regarded Lhasa as the center and most of the area around Lhasa as Ü Tsang. They called the North Tibet and Tibetan areas in Qinghai as Amdo. For the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture (part), Muli Tibetan Autonomous County in Sichuan, Qamdo prefecture in Tibet,  the three eastern counties of Nagqu in Tibet, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, and Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai are called "Kham" or "Khampa".

Tibet Kham Region

Tibet Kham Region Chamdo on the map.

Tibet Kham Region is located in the southeast of Tibet Autonomous Region, including Qamdo city and three counties of Nagqu (such as Biru county, Baqen county, Sog county) in the east of the Tibet. Tibet Kham Region has an area of 137,000 square kilometers, the Tibetan population is 760,000, accounting for 95%.

Qamdo is the birthplace of Kham culture. Due to factors of living area and social interaction, since ancient times, Kham people in Tibet have accepted the Yellow River culture from Qinghai and Gansu, Bashu culture and Yangtze river culture from Sichuan and Chongqing, and the essence of multi-ethnic cultures from the Bai, Yi, Naxi, Lisu, etc., in early interaction and integrated it into its own culture.  Also in other aspects such as language, clothing, religion, folk custom, residential architecture, folk culture, etc., there's has special characters that are distinct differences from other Tibetan regional cultures. 

Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

map of Ganzi

Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the southwest of the Kham area, the west of Sichuan Province, and the southeast of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It has an area of ​​153,000 square kilometers and a population of 1.199 million. It is the second-largest Tibetan area in China and the core area of ​Kham. The residents are mainly Tibetans, accounting for 78.4%, and the other 24 ethnic groups are scattered in the whole prefecture. Kangding, the capital of its prefecture, is famous at home and abroad for the song "Kangding Love Song" and is known as the hometown of love songs. Tibetans mainly use the Kham dialect (one of the three major dialects of Tibetan). When you come here, you can experience the unique folk entertainment activities such as Guozhuang Dance, Xianzi Dance, Pedaling,  and folk songs as well as the lifestyles such as riding a horse, drinking butter tea, etc. There are also Hailuogou Scenic Spot, Kangding Muya Holy Land Scenic Spot, Luding Bridge Tourist Scenic Spot in Luding County, Jiaju Zangzhai Tourist Scenic Spot in Danba County, and Daocheng Yading Scenic Spot.

Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture

Map of Ngawa

Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, also known as Aba, is located in the west of Kham Area, in the northwest of Sichuan Province, at the junction of Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai Provinces. The prefecture covers an area of ​​83,002 square kilometers and has a population of 930,100, with the Tibetan population about 55%. Aba Prefecture has a vast grassland and is the main pastoral area of ​​Sichuan province. It is rich in natural ecology and tourism resources. There're famous national scenic spots such as Huanglong, Jiuzhaigou, and Siguniangshan. The Wolong national nature reserve also belongs here, which is an important conservation base of giant pandas. The people here speak the Tibetan language.

Muli Tibetan Autonomous County

Map of Muli Tibetan Autonomous County

Muli Tibetan Autonomous County is affiliated to Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province. It is located in the south of the Kham area, on the southwest edge of Sichuan Province, and in the northwest of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, with an area of ​​13,000 square kilometers. Muli County is one of only two Tibetan autonomous counties in China, with a total population of 130,000. The average altitude of the county is 3100 meters. People there believe in the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The county is characterized by the canyons formed by three rivers flowing from north to south: Shuiluo River, Litang River, and Yalong River that carves out a huge canyon before flowing into the Yangtze River.

Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Dêqên)

Map of Diqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture

Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the south of the Kham area, in the northwest of Yunnan Province, at the junction of Yunnan, Tibet, and Sichuan. The total area is 23,870 square kilometers. The Tibetan population is more than 130,000, accounting for 33% of the total population. Diqing, Tibetan means "auspicious place". In history, Diqing was a key thoroughfare of the "tea-horse ancient road" in the southwest, an important material distribution center and trade transfer station in the eastern Tibetan areas, and the key point to enter and leave Tibet from Yunnan. Diqing Tibetans call themselves "Bo", speak Khampa dialect and use Tibetan characters. Diqing Tibetan are resolute and hospitable, good at singing and dancing as well as riding and shooting. Diqing Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism. Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the southeastern margin of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the hinterland of the Hengduan Mountains, and is the transitional zone from the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Due to the unique landform here, there're Meili Snow Mountain, Baima Snow Mountain, Haba snow mountain, Balagezong snow mountains, as well as modern glaciers at an altitude of 2700 meters. There are plateau lakes and beautiful meadows such as Zhongdian. The capital‘s name is quoted from the famous novel "The Lost Horizon",  written by an English writer James Hilton, depicting an eternal peace and tranquil place far away in the mountains of the East-"Shangri-La".

Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture 

map of Yushu

Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, refer to as Yushu Prefecture for short, is located in the north of the Kham area, the source of the Three Rivers (Yangtze River, Yellow River, Lancang River) in the hinterland of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The total area is 267,000 square kilometers, and the Tibetan population is 365,000, accounting for 97% of the total population. The vast Tibetan area in Qinghai is known as the "Amdo" area, while Yushu has long been closely associated with the western Sichuan region and the Qamdo region in Tibet, known as the "Kham" area. Kham is famous for its graceful, unrestrained, and vigorous songs and dances, particularly the well-known dance of Yushu. It is said when Princess Wencheng arrived at Qinghai, there was a chorus from Yushu. On the ancient Tangbo Passageway to Tibet, there are 192 Tibetan Buddhism monasteries, with a strong religious atmosphere. Yushu's folk customs are uniquely charming. The grand horse racing festival and the Khampa Art Festival would open every year in July and August.

Kham Culture

Kham culture is unique and distinctive, which is an important part of Tibetan culture. "religion territory is U-Tsang, horse territory is Amdo, people territory is Kham". In Tibetan folk proverbs, there is a better expression: "The best religion comes from U-Tsang, the best people come from Kham, and the best horses come from Amdo." This sentence simply gives the characteristics and essence of Kham culture. Physically speaking, Kham people are generally tall and strong. About the formation of the Kangba, it's originally based on the local ethnic groups such as Di, Qiang, etc. since Han Dynasty; gradually got fused and assimilated by cultures of the Han and Tubo since the Tang Dynasty; finally formed the Kham culture.

Within the Kham, there are many different cultures and groups, such as "Muya", "Bubba", "Yutong", "Choyu", "Zaba", "Pumi", "Namri", "Luru" and so on. The diversity of Kham culture is well reflected in some local proverbs, such as "people living in each ditch have their own dialect", "people living in each ditch has its own custom and dialect", "there's a different accent every 5 li and different customs every 10 li". These proverbs are a vivid summary of the cultural diversity of Kham. Most of the traditional languages in Tibet are Tibetan, which can be divided into three dialects: U-Tsang dialect (namely Lhasa dialect), Kham dialect (Dege dialect, Qamduo dialect), and Amdo dialect. The pronunciation of different Tibetan dialects is different, so the dialogue is somewhat difficult. However, because the Tibetan language is spelled in the ancient Tibetan phonic symbol and does not get influenced by dialectical pronunciation, the Tibetan language is still written in the same way.

Kham Diet

In pastoral areas, beef, mutton, dairy products, Zanba, and flour are the main foods, as well as "Dolma" (commonly known as ginseng fruit).

The staple food of northern agricultural areas of Kham is highland barley, wheat, peas, etc., as well as dairy products, potatoes, beef, mutton, and pork.

The staple food of the southern agricultural area of Kham is highland barley and wheat as well as corn, buckwheat, potato, beef, mutton, and pork, etc.

In the eastern agricultural area of Kham, there're corn, buckwheat, soybean, kidney bean, potato, etc. The meat here is mainly pork and mutton. Besides, people here can hunt wild animals like rabbits, deer,  roebucks, mountain sheep, wild boar, and pheasant. Few Kham people raise chickens or ducks for eggs. Kham people in the Dadu river area are accustomed to eating fish, vegetables, and fruit. The vegetables here are abundant such as turnips, radishes, lotus flowers, etc.

The pastoral area mainly uses ghee, and suet as the supplement, no vegetable oils available here. The people in the farming area used to have pork fat and pork suet oil, as well as ghee, and a small number of vegetable oils such as walnuts, rapeseed, and peanuts as supplements and adjustments. After the 1940s, edible vegetable oil (rapeseed oil) gradually became popular, and now it has become one of the main edible oils.

Kham Costume

Many Kham men have waist knives, protective boxes, and other items, and they braid their hair with black or red silk threads, which is called hero spike for showing brave. Kham women's clothing is more famous for its grace and elegance, and it is equipped with headdresses, chest ornaments, back ornaments, waist ornaments, and other ornaments, which looks simple and solemn.

kham women

Kham Marriage

Most young men and women are in free love, without any interference from parents or friends. The way of courtship is straightforward or obscure, which varies from person to person and from place to place. For example, in Daocheng county, before a couple is engaged, they usually have to ask the living Buddha for divination and see if they are compatible with the zodiac sign before they get married. After the engagement, they could exchange financial gifts and khatas. During the wedding ceremony, the traditional wedding scenes are very lively.

Kham Funeral

There are five burial methods for Tibetans after their death. The form of burial is mainly determined by the economic and social status of the deceased. The most solemn is the tower burial, followed by cremation. If the child is dead, or someone who has died due to diseases, the body is thrown into the river to feed the fish. This is called a water burial. Those who have done bad things in their lifetime are buried in the earth. Tibetans believe that buried people will never reincarnate. So this is the lowest funeral.

Sky burial sustains a fantasy of ascending to "heaven". Sky burial ceremonies are usually held in the early morning. In order to respect the local ethnic customs, the local government has stipulated that people are not allowed to watch the sky burial without permission, let alone take photos.

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