Zanda County Overview

About Zanda County

Zanda county in the Ngari Prefecture is located to the extreme southwest of Tibet Autonomous Region. Animal husbandry and agriculture is well developed in this county. Zanda, means “the place where there are grass in the lower reaches of river” in Tibetan language. This peculiar and mystic physiognomy densely covers the whole Zanda County. In the county, there are Tholing Monastery and Guge Kingdom you could visit by the way. 

The Climate in Zanda County

Zanda County belongs to the sub frigid arid climate zone of the plateau. It is cold in winter and cool in summer with the thin air and strong wind. The annual sunshine time is about 3,000 hours with the precipitation of about 200 mm and the frost period of 130 days. Due to the rather bad climate here, there are some natural disasters mainly including the drought, the snow disaster, the hail, the mountain flood, low temperature freezing and so on.

The Attractions in Zanda County

Zanda Earth Forest

Zanda Earth Forest is located along the river of Langqen Zangbo, Zanda County in Ali. It has been viewed as the most typical and largest tertiary strata earth forest in the world with the total area of 2,464 square kilometers. It was classified as National Geological Park in 2007.  
In the whole Zanda County, the various earth forests cover several hundred square kilometers and gorgeous background of the plateau. The earth forest makes one feel like in a quite different world. In a way, the earth forest here rings a far echo with the Grand Canyon of Colorado in the United States. At dawn and dusk, the shining clouds on the horizon paint the many layers of the earth forest into a brilliant golden picture. As the night draws the curtain, the ancient pagodas on the banks of the Shiquan River appear mysteriously solemn.  
The earth forest is called in Geology “the Level Terrane Physiognomy”, which is formed by the movement of Himalayas and the water corrosion as well as the deposit formation in ancient times. The earth forest is famous for different shapes, with some look like castles, some look like watchtowers, and some shapes as pagodas. Some are like warriors defending the mountain top; some are like thousands of horses galloping. From different view, you can get different wonderful scenery. Walking in the earth forest is like a walk in the ruins of an ancient kingdom, desolate but magnificent. That would be your lifetime experience.  
It is the sediment stratum of lakes and rivers, mainly composed by sandstone and clay. Because the Level Terrane is easy to develop its upright quality and the sandstone like flour is qualified with uprightness. The valley is deep, even a canaliculus can reach 100 to 200 meters. The orogenic movement of the Himalaya has made the bottom of the lake ascend. And the undulating earth forest of dozens of kilometers was formed by the flushing of water subsidence and long years of weathering.

Tholing Monastery

Tholing Monastery is the oldest monastery in the Nagri Prefecture. It is situated in Tholing, Zanda County, at an altitude of 3,800 meters above sea level. It was built in 997 AD by Yeshe-O, the second King of the Guge Kingdom. In Tibetan language, Tholing means “hovering in the sky forever”. The complex includes 3 temples, the Yeshe-O Temple, the Lhakhang Karpo and the Dukhang. There are many ancient precious and well preserved frescoes.  
Yeshe-O was a devout Buddhist, who ever sent 21 youths to learn Tantric Buddhism in Kashmir. Only Rinchen Zangpo and another survived and returned. Rinchen Zangpo, a greatest Buddhist adepter and translator, started to translate Buhhist sutras and develop Buddhism at Tholing, which was set up by Yeshe-O for that perpose.   
However, he was later defeated and captured in an ambitious aggression he started in order to plunder enough gold to invite Atisa to Guge Kingdom to promote Buddhism. He sacrificed his life to send his ransom to Atisa. After his arrival, Tholing Monastery gained higher reputation and once became a religious center in Tibet under the royal patron of the Guge Kingdom. The influence of Guge Kingdom and the monastic center of Tholing Monastery came to be known in India from Kashmir to Assam.

Guge Kingdom

One of the first important cultural relic sites under protection, the grand palace ruins stand on a 300-meter tall yellow earth hill on the banks of the Xiangquang River in the Zaborang District at about 18 km away from the Zada County. The Xiangquang River runs northwest from the Lake Manasarovar. The river valley is broad with the fertile earth . Rising abruptly from the river bank, the ruins add much mystery to this area.  
The local regime known as Guge Kingdom started in the 10th century by the descendants of the Tobo Kingdom. In the 9th century, when Lang Dharma was assassinated, the Tubo Kingdom fell apart as civil wars surged. Jide Nyimagon, the great-grandson of Lang Dharma, led his followers to Ngari and set up the Guge Kingdom. The 3 sons of Jide Nyimagon and their descendants later set up 3 regimes: Guge, Ladakh and Burang. The region had a glorious past. At its peak, the regime covered not only the entire Ngari, but also extended to Kashmir and today’s Pakistan. There are many opinions on how the Guge Kingdom disappeared. A widely acclaimed view says that in 1635, soldiers from the Ladakh Regime finally conquered the Guge Palace and ravaged the place into ruins. Every human being here was hunted down. The last King of Guge and his family members were captured and taken away. Nothing was ever heard of them. The great Guge Kingdom thus bade adieu to the stage of history.   
Until today, the grandeur of the Guge Palace still strikes awe in the beholder’s heart. The castle-like palace was built along the mountain and commands a strategic point. Inside, there are underground tunnels leading to various directions; outside, the strong and thick walls are invincible. The ruins take up an area of 720,000 square meters, consisting of 445 rooms, 879 caves, 58 pillboxes, 4 secret tunnels  and 28 Buddhist pagodas. The hundreds of rooms were piled up one after another till the top of the mountain. This is truly an unique imperial palace. Most of the cave palaces have grand domes and are differentiated for summer and winter functions.  
Outside the ruins are city walls, at the 4 corners of which are pillboxes. Preserved in good conditions today are the Mandala Hall, Gongkang, Scripture Hall, Red Monastery, White Monastery, Samsara Monastery, Zhoimalhakang and Mani Stone Carving Wall. Inside and outside the ruins are a great volume of relics such as grains, production tools, clothing and decorations, helmets, shields and arrows. They are preserved very well in the cold, dry air of the plateau. From the many caves at the ruins people have found many headless bodies which have turned into mummies. It’s also here that a baby girl’s body buried in the wall was found. It’s the first time Chinese archaeologists encountered such a burial custom. The Tibet Autonomous Region Museum now protects the baby about 4 years old.

The Sutlej River

The Sutlej River is the mother river of Zanda, which originates from the foot of Mount Kailash, and flows out of the country from the west of Zanda County. The river composed of 18 rivers is 450 kilometers long. It get the name because of that the source of the river seems just like the trunk of the elephant.

Sutlej River is the most important cradle of the ancient civilization in the western part of Tibet. The famous Xiangxiong Kingdom and Guge Kingdom have created a splendid culture centered of this valley. Since this basin is adjacent to South Asia and Central Asia, it has also become a crossroads between Chinese and foreign civilizations, and has always been highly valued by academic circles at home and abroad.

The Festivals and Activities in Zanda County

Mulangqinmu (kind of great prayer festival)

In January in Tibet year, there will be a great prayer festival or ceremony holding in Tholing Monastery (also called Mulangqinmu). At that time, besides the lamas in the monastery or nearby villages, lamas from the other 25 branch monasteries will also come to attend the great ceremony. During the 20 days’ ceremony, the villagers or other attendees except the lama will give the monastery lots of food in charity, such as zanba (an Tibetan food, roasted qingke barley flour), ghee or butter, rice, meat etc. From 18th to 19th January in Tibet year, the lamas in Tholing Monastery will perform a kind of grand religious dance-Qongmu. The performance will last two days, but the costume and stage properties they use are quite different. The stuff they use on 19th is much more luxurious and precious than on 18th. And also the number of audience increases a lot on the 19th. After the show there will be a grand exorcizing ceremony held on the square of the monastery, which is called Dorga. During this ceremony, firstly all the lamas in the monastery and all the audience go to the square together to attend the ceremony, and then they come back to the monastery. The local people wear millions of costumes (some of the costumes are passed down from mother to daughter one generation after another for tens of generations). They will dance Guoxie, Xianwu (two kinds of religious dances) until the next morning when the ceremony is over to pray for a good year.

Ceremony of Setting up the Sutra Flag

It is said that in the ancient time, there was a merchant named Nobu Sanbo carried a bag of gold on the back to worship the sacred mountain. But the journey was so far away and rugged, even after experiencing numerous hard passed he could not find the sacred mountain. However, he was determined to find the holly mountain until he used up all his gold. In order to memorize this long suffering and the poor merchant, the king of Ngari named the place where the merchant firstly arrived Ser Shon (Ser means gold and Shon means use up). He also orderd to hold the Ceremony of Setting up the Sutra Flag there every year, which is called Day of Ajuron. This festival become a legal festival and will last forever.

Local Products and Handcrafts in Zanda County

The roasted barley and barley wine is very famous,visitors can not miss that.It will be a worthwhile trip. Zanda County butter is very famous,too. After many generations improve, Zanda County farmers and herders can make mellow and delicious butter. It’s difficult to buy this unique and delicious butter in the other places.

There are a large number of high-quality wool and cashmere used as raw material of fine carpets and arts and crafts in pastoral areas.With the sophisticated technology, superior quality and reasonable price, they are the wonderful souvenirs you can not miss. 

The Travel Tips in Zanda County

1. The appropriate time is July to September which is out of the rainy season. Rains could ruin the road from Lhasa and Yecheng (which is in Xinjiang) to Ngari. It is sometimes the rainy season as early as in May in the Yecheng-part of the Xinjiang-Tibet highway. The conditions of the roads from Shiquanhe Town to the counties in Ngari Prefecture are not good. Since the Xinjiang-Tibet highway will be blocked by snow during winter and spring (from late October or early November to early April), it is impossible to go there during the time.

2. The average elevation of Ngari Prefecture is about 4500 meters, which may cause High Altitude Sickness to some travelers. But according to our years’ experience, travelers can adapt the altitudes well if preparation is made well. Firstly, take a physical examination before traveling to Tibet and pack necessary medicines; secondly, spend some days in Lhasa for acclimatization, then travel to Ngari at a moderate pace; thirdly, keep yourself warm all the time and prevent from catching a cold; fourthly, keep a relaxing mind. Your tour operator will also prepare oxygen supply for emergency use. 

3. The Ngari diet belongs to the system of Chiang cuisine. Chiang cuisine tastes salty, light, fresh, sour and delicious. The Chiang food can help people adapt themselves to the cold climate of the plateau. It is expensive for tourists to have dinner in Ngari. Due to the poor conditions along the way to Ngari, tourists should also take along with them some food, such as honey, condensed milk, spices, ship biscuits, canned food, chocolate, fruits (apples), vegetables (such as carrots, cucumbers), drinking water, instant noodles, hams and so forth.

4. Highway transport is the main transport in Ngari.

The Transportation of Zanda County

  1. Travel to Zanda County, visitors would better start from SHiquan River taking a taxi for about CNY 2000 about 12 hours for convenience, but it’s too expensive.
  2. The Shiquan River has a shuttle bus to Zanda, which is normally start at noon every day, but less likely to cancel, the ticket price is 220 ~ 260 yuan, which can be negotiated.

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