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Discover unique Gar County: The Frontier of Tibet’s Beauty and Heritage

Ngari Gar County: Geographical Coordinates

Gar, (སྒར་རྫོང་།)a name rooted in Tibetan meaning “tent” or “barracks,” signifies the historical significance of this area where the Tibetan local government once stationed troops to defeat the Kashmiri Senba Dogra army invasion and solidify the western border of Tibet. Gar County sits in the western part of Tibet, marking its status as one of the region’s 18 border counties. Geji County borders it to the east, Purang County to the south, Zanda County and Kashmir to the west, and Rutog County to the north. It lies between latitudes 30.58°N to 33.17°N and longitudes 79.07°E to 81.10°E.

Unveiling Gar County: A Hidden Jewel in Tibet’s Crown

Established in January 1960, Gar County today includes 1 town (སེང་གེ་ཁ་འབབ་གྲོང་རྡལ།) and 4 townships (Tashi gang, Menshi, Zuozuo, and Kunsha). Covering an area of 17,197 square kilometers, it had a population of 31,052 as of November 1, 2020. The county government is located in Shiquanhe Town, which is 1,760 kilometers from Lhasa via the northern route and 1,190 kilometers via the southern route. In October 2018, authorities recognized Gar County for exiting poverty status, and in November 2021, they commended it as a model city (county) for its support of the military and the people in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Administrative divisions

Gar county is divided into 1 town and 4 townships:

NameChineseHanyu PinyinTibetan
Town
Sênggêkanbab Town狮泉河镇Shīquánhé zhènསེང་གེ་ཁ་འབབ་གྲོང་རྡལ།
Townships
Günsa Township昆莎乡Kūnshā xiāngདགུན་ས་ཤང་།
Zoco Township左左乡Zuǒzuǒ xiāngགཙོ་ཚོ་ཤང་།
Moincêr Township门士乡Ménshì xiāngམོནམཚེར་ཤང་།
Zhaxigang Township扎西岗乡Zhāxīgǎng xiāngབཀྲ་ཤིས་སྒང་ཤང་།

Geography and Climate of Gar County

Gar County is surrounded by mountains, with a central plateau averaging 4,350 meters above sea level and peaks reaching up to 6,554 meters. The region features the Irakeshi Mountains in the west, the Gangdise Mountains running northwest to southeast through the center, and notable peaks such as Zemurishan (6,051 meters), Lamela Mountain (4,828 meters), and Rasai Mountain (4,802 meters) among others. The southwest part of the county includes Ragya Mountain (6,261 meters), and the east houses Robu Mountain (5,603 meters). The county contains 12 lakes, with Mingjiu Lake and Xingka Lake being significant as they are part of the upper Indus River system.

The climate is classified as a cold desert climate, characterized by its dry and cold conditions, strong solar radiation, and lengthy sunshine hours. The average annual temperature is around 2°C, with the lowest recorded temperature at -34.6°C. Annual precipitation is about 73 mm, and frost can occur in any month outside of July and August. The region frequently experiences natural disasters, including snowstorms, droughts, floods, mudslides, landslides, frosts, and sandstorms, posing significant challenges to the inhabitants and the local ecosystem.

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Specialty Products of Gar County, Tibet

Gar County primarily focuses on pastoralism, supplemented by a limited scale of agriculture. The cultivation mainly includes highland barley, winter wheat, and peas. Livestock breeding comprises yaks, hybrid cattle (yak-cow crosses), cows, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, and mules. The county gains renown for its variety of livestock products, woolen fabrics, wooden bowls, and Schizothorax, Gymnocypris, and Schizopygopsis fish. Additionally, precious medicinal materials like bear bile, antelope horns, and Saussurea involucrata (snow lotus) are notable specialties.

By 2014, Gar County had identified mineral resources such as iron, copper, gold, quartz, antimony, lead, zinc, limestone, borax, and salt, covering a wide area with high-quality minerals, making it the third-largest mineral resource county in Tibet after Geji and Zanda.

Ngari Gar County: Where History Meets the Majesty of Nature


Bear Bile

Ursodiol, specifically from the gallbladder of bears, falls into four categories: gold bile, flower bile, plum blossom bile, and ink bile, with gold bile ranking as the highest quality due to its golden yellow color and amber-like crystalline grains. Traditional Tibetan medicine considers bear bile a rare medicinal material, notable for its bitter and cold properties. Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) stands out as the primary active component in bear bile, with over 3,000 years of use in Eastern medicine. Experts believe UDCA offers pain-relieving, sedative, phlegm-reducing, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying benefits, proving effective against fevers, inflammations, convulsions, and high blood pressure.

Gar County: A Tapestry of Tibetan Traditions, Geography, and Biodiversity


Antelope Horns

Antelopes, or Tibetan antelopes, receive national protection as a species. The males feature distinctive segmented horns that traditional medicine uses to calm the liver, clear heat, and stabilize the mind. Antelope horns, containing proteins, peptides, fats, amino acids, calcium phosphate, and insoluble inorganic salts, serve in treating thyroid enlargement, gastritis, chronic diarrhea, labor induction, and more.

Snow Lotus

The snow lotus, known in Tibetan as “Gangla Methok,” grows as a perennial herb in the Asteraceae family. This rare flower serves not only as a valuable medicine but also contains essential oils, alkaloids, flavonoids, phenols, saccharides, and tannins. Tibetan medicine uses it to treat arthritis, stomach ulcers, heart disease, bronchitis, and liver cancer. It also offers potential treatments for Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and dementia.

These unique products and resources highlight the rich biodiversity and cultural heritage of Gar County, making it a valuable region within Tibet’s vast and varied landscape.

Transportation in Gar County, Tibet

Gar County has achieved “road access to every village,” with the National Highway 219 traversing the county and the Provincial Highway 301 section from Shiquanhe to Dianjiao operational. The Shiquanhe Town to Dianjiao Village national defense highway has been completed, and the maintenance of rural roads and special roads is in good condition. Centered around Shiquanhe Town, Kunsha Airport has officially opened, transforming natural barriers into thoroughfares.

National Highway 219 runs through Gar County from east to west, connecting Shigatse City with numerous county and township roads, facilitating convenient transportation. Gar County, built on a large area of red willow flats, has become a transportation hub of the western plateau, being the largest city within thousands of miles to the north towards Yecheng, and to the east towards Shigatse.

Within Gar County’s territory, three major roads include the Yecheng-Shiquanhe Road, Ali-Shigatse Road, and Heihe-Ali Road, covering a total of 498 kilometers. To the east, the Ali-Shigatse Road leads directly to Lhasa; to the north, the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway goes to Xinjiang (2800 kilometers), and the Ali-Shigatse Road to Qinghai (2000 kilometers).

Travel Tips for Ngari Gar County


Car Rental:

Cars can be rented in Lhasa or Shigatse, typically Toyota Land Cruisers (models 60, 62, or 75) or the 4500 model. For those hitching a ride, trucks traveling from Lhasa to Shiquanhe often take the northern route. There are also long-distance (sleeper) buses from Lhasa to Shiquanhe, with prices varying according to the tourist season. It’s recommended to take a circular route if traveling from Lhasa to Ali and back, using different routes for the journey and return. The northern route from Geji to Shiquanhe is only 112 kilometers. Avoid traveling from Xinjiang to Ali due to the significant altitude change, which can be challenging; if interested in experiencing the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway, it’s better to travel downhill from Ali.

Dining:

Ali’s sparse population means that dining options mainly include Sichuan cuisine and Tibetan meals. The town’s main commercial street, Gesang Road, hosts restaurants, hotels, telecommunications services, and dance halls, offering Sichuan, halal, Tibetan cuisine, and popular Xinjiang roasted meat shops.

Accommodation: Shiquanhe now offers a variety of hotels and guesthouses at different price points, along with more affordable lodging options.

Events: The “Xiangxiong Cultural Tourism Festival” in early August is held every 2-3 years in Ali, first organized from August 1-8, 2004. The festival aims to promote sustainable development in Ali’s tourism industry by leveraging the fame and influence of Xiangxiong culture.

Travel Documents: As a border county, visitors to Gar County need to obtain a border permit from the police department. This can be done at the traveler’s place of registration or in Tibet, or through a travel agency.

Recommended Travel Routes: Detailed guides outline an 18-day journey from Lhasa to Kashgar via Ali and a 14-day circular tour from Lhasa to Ali and back, providing diverse experiences of Tibet’s cultural and natural landscapes.

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About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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