Ngari Travel Guide
Located in the western Tibet Autonomous Region, Ngari Prefecture borders India, Nepal and Indian Kashmir and is contiguous with Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China, to the north and Xigaze, Tibet to the south. Ngari has a total area of 310,000 sq. kilometers, accounting for one forth of Tibet.
Ngari is known as the "roof of the roof of the world" and the most "Tibetan" part of Tibet. Ngari averages 4,500 meters.
Ngari Prefecture has the largest area, but the lowest population in China, with a density of only 0.23 people/sq. km. Of the 69,000 people, 66,000 are Tibetan, and 85% of the population are peasants and herders.
Ngari Prefecture administers 7 counties, namely Burang, Shiquanhe (Ger), Ge'gyai, Gerze, Coqen, Zhada and Rutog, 106 townships and 359 villages. Burang, Zhada, and Rutog, in the southwestern and middle parts of the prefecture, engage mainly in agriculture, supplemented by animal husbandry, while Coqen, Gerze and Ge'gyai, in the east, engage purely in animal husbandry. Shiquanhe Town, which is 4,200 in elevation and 1,655 kilometers from Lhasa, is the capital town and the center of politics, economics and culture in Ngari.
Ngari has an interesting historic past. It is the site in which the famous indigenous Bon religion was created. The Bon religion was the predecessor(or at the least contributed to) of what is now Tibetan Buddhism. Even today, traces of the Bon religion are still evident in their most purest of forms.
Among the counties, Shiquanhe is one of the main towns located in the region, as well as all of western Tibet. Despite being small, it has recently experienced a growth surge economically. One can witness small shops and restaurants, as well as a number of goverment offices popping up throughout the town. Many people from the nearbye Chinese provinces also come into Shiquanhe to do business.
As with most Tibetan regions, there are many natural and historic sites of interest located here. Among them are the Guge Ruins and the Toding Temple. Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar(south of Mt. Kailash) are worth seeing as well. Mapam Yumco lake and the Dongar frescoes of Zada should also be checked out.
Buddhism in Ngari
Ngari is extremely important for both Hindus and Buddhists. Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar in Ngari are the "Sacred Mountain and Holy Lake" of the Buddhism and are therefore the spiritual center of Buddhists.
Tracing the history of the region, you will also find that the famous Guge kingdom was based in Guge (Zhada town) of Ngari. It was here under the patronage of Dezogun, the founder of the Guge dynasty, that, a Grand Summons Ceremony was held in the Tholing Monastery. Senior monks from Tibetan and Dokhang region attended this ceremony, discussed rules of the Tibetan Buddhism and passed on religious doctrines. This ceremony has immense significance in the history of not only Guge kingdom but also in the history of Tibetan Buddhsim on the whole.
Buddhist Attractions In Ngari
Mt. Kailash : The spiritual centre of Buddhists as well as Hindus and Bon followers, Mt Kailash is known as Gang Rimpoche in Tibet. Gang Rimpoche means "treasures of the snow mountains" or the "sacredness of snow". It is believed to be the place where Shakyamuni Buddha conducted the rites to save the souls of the dead. It is also believed to be the place referred to as Sumeri Mountains in Buddhism. Circling round the Mt Kailash at any time is considered extremely auspicious and beneficial for pilgrims, however, the best time to circumambulate is believed to be April 15. It was on this day that Buddha Sakyamuni was born, became the Buddha, and also passed away and reached the state of nirvana. Hence, a circumambulation on this day is believed to accrue more blessings than any other day.
Mt Kailash can be reached from the south only by soliciting rides from passing vehicles. It is quiet possible that you have to solicit rides more than once in your trip but it is fine if you really wish to visit the sacred mountain. From north, trucks running to and from Shiquanhe Town are a good means to reach the mountain. The total distance is around 330km and it takes one and a half day to reach the mountain. Also, a fee is charged for circling the mountain, so find out the current fee before you make a visit. Warm clothes, quiet obviously, are must to carry.
Lake Mansarover : Lake Manasarovar literally translates into'everlasting jade lake' in Tibetan language. The lake is situated southeast of Mt Kailash and occupies a total area of 412 sqkms. At an elevation of 4,588 meters, the lake holds the distinction of being the highest freshwater lake in the world. For both Hindus and Buddhists, a bath in this lake is extremely beneficial for it is considered to wash away the five poison that plagues them. These five poison are greed, anger, silliness, idleness and envy.
It is easy to reach Lake Mansarover from Mt Kailash since it is so closeby. Alternatively, you can also hire a jeep or hitchhike in a car passing by from the Darchen or Bagar checkpoint.
Ruins of Guge Kingdom : The ruins of Guge Kingdom are situated on a mountain in Zhabran Village, at a distance of around 18 km west of the county town of Zhada. The kingdom was founded by a descendant of King Glang Darma in the 10th century after his flight from Lhasa (because of the fall of the Tubo kingdom). The kingdom vanished all of a sudden around 400 years back but left back ruins that have become a an invaluable heritage of Tibet.
Excavations done in 1985 have spring up many sculptural works and mural paintings. Houses, cave dwellings, monasteries and stupas were also unearthed. The sculptures include gold or silver Buddhist statues while the murals depict the social life of the people at that point of time. There is a chapel at the peak of the mountain which preserves the mural showing male and female Buddhas bringing the Tantric cultivation (civilization) together.
Visiting tourists should keep in mind that it is pretty dark inside the halls of the ruins, hence a flashlight is more or less essential to carry.
Tholing Monastery : The Tholing Monastery stands to the northwest of the Zhada county, around 300 m away from the rest house opened by the Department of the Armed Forces. Tholing, in Tibet means, "to fly high and never fall". The monastery was established in the 10th century and functioned as an important centre for promoting Buddhism in Tibet. The significance of the monastery deteroriated after the fall of the guge kingdom, however, it is still counted amongst important Buddhist place in Tibet. In its heydays, the monastery consisted of Jiasha Hall, the White Hall, the Eighteen Arhats' Hall, Buddhist Guardian Hall of Atisha (the Indian senior monk), the Hall of Rinchen Zangpo, many monk houses and the forest of pagodas. Worth seeing in the monastery today is the rear hall which has recently been renovated and preserves some brilliant frescoes.
Since the monastery is not very far off from the Zhada county town, you can go there on foot. Again a flashlight is essential to explore the monastery properly.
Kejia Monastery : Around 19 km from the Burang County and close to the village of Kejia is the small Kejia Monastery. The date of its foundation in not very clear but and interesting story is narrated as the reason for founding of the monastery. It is believed that once the Gar (near the present Shiquanhe Town) residents erected a Buddhist statue and were on their way to deliever it at its destination. However, as luck would have it, their carriage got stuck by a rock after crossing the Peacock River and despite all efforts the rock could not be moved. Ultimately, the redidents decided to build and install the statues there itself. This monastery came to be known as the Kejia Monastery.
The small monastery faced a lot of damage during the Cultural Revolution of 1970s but has also been renovated. The best time to pay a vist to the monastery is on January 12th of the Tibetan calendar which is celebrated as the anniversary of Kejia Monastery. Some entertaining performances also take place during this festival. There is no regular bus to take you to the monastery hence you need to hire a vehicle to visit this monastery.
Donggar Frescos : Around 40 kms northwest of the Guge ruins are the Donggar Frescos, the largest ruins of the ancient Buddhist frescos. The frescoes are preserved in around 200 caves that spread over 2 km on a cliff. It is not clear as to when these fresoces were painted, however scientists do agree that they are around 1000 years old. The frescoes mainly depict figures of Buddha, Bodhisattva as well as Buddhist stories.
Rutog Cave Murals : The Rutag Cave Murals are located in a cave, Dingchun Lakang, in the gully of Wu River valley to the northeast of Banggong Co Lake in Rutog County. The murals have a uniqueness of their own in the sense that they are not a copy of any other work. The cave, around 4 m in size, has its top and surrounding stone walls inside painted with religious murals, specially Mandalas belonging to Bon and Buddhism. Also to be seen here are numerous small circular Buddha pictures, large bodhisattvas at the entrance and a lotus petal surrounded by many small Buddhas on the roof of the cave.
Lhanag Tso ---the Ghost Lake
Lhanag-tso Lake appears dark blue and is very salty. There are no plants, no cattle or sheep around the lake. Everything seems lifeless. That's why the lake is called the "Ghost Lake". It is located 10 km west to Mapam Yumco Lake, with an altitude of 4,573 meters and an area of 70 sq. km.
How to Reach
Four roads lead to Ngari - Xinjiang-Tibet Highway that starts from Yecheng, Xinjiang and winds south 1,179 kilometers to the Town of Shiquanhe. The second and the third road begin from Lhasa and proceeds west along the China-India highway. The road joins the Xinjiang-Tibet highway till it enters he Ngamring County where the road splits into northern and southern route. The northern route reaches Shiquanhe Town via Gerze, Ge'gyai while the southern road passes by Zhongba and reaches Burang.
The fourth road starts from Amdo in Nagqu of Tibet passes through the Chiangtang grassland and stretches west. The road joins the above-mentioned northern road at Dongco and leads to Shiquanhe.
Hiring a 4WD jeep is a good way to reach Ngari from Lhasa and Shigatse. Coaches are also available from Lhasa but only for the town of Shiquanhe and not Burang County. Hitchhiking is also a good way to reach Ngari, however, it doesn't come for free. A small sum is to be paid to the truck drivers. Also, with no idea of the route, hitchiking can cause a lot of anxiety.