Kham & Its History

Kham is having up into 54 counties spread across six prefectures of China. The Kham region is made up of Ganzi (16 counties), Chamdo (11 counties), Nagchu (11 counties), Nyingtri (7 counties), Yushu (6 counties), and Dechen (3 counties) Prefectures. It covers an area of around 900,000 square kilometers, with a population of around two million Tibetans.

Things to Know When You Plan a Tour in Kham:

Generally there are less travel restrictions in Kham and you don’t need Tibet travel permit to travel into Kham, in most of the places in Kham, you can also do homestays with local family and have much more flexibility to experience the culture, travel into remote Tibetan villages and monasteries where some time you find you are the only visitor in the whole town, experience the culture and lifestyle of Tibetans which is not yet affected by the tourist world and commercialization, but it is very advisable to have a local guide to understand the local culture and avoid different cultural shocks.


Topography of Kham

Kham is the most geographically diverse region of Tibet. It contains the headwaters of many of Asia’s longest and most important rivers. The Mekong, Yangtze, Yellow, and Salween Rivers all begin in Kham. These rivers have cut deep canyons and gorges throughout eastern Kham and there are number of magnificent mountain ranges and high peaks throughout the area. The Kunlun Mountains form the far northern boundary of Kham, while the far eastern extent of the Himalaya’s form the southern boundary. The highest peak in Kham is Minya Konka, rising to 7,556 meters. Some of the other notable peaks in Kham are Mt. Chola, rising to 6,168 meters in Dege County and Mt. Bukadaban in Drido County, rising to 6,860 meters.

Kham has a wide range of geography. Most of Yushu and Nagchu prefectures sit above 4,200 meters (13,780 ft), with many mountain peaks over 5,500 meters (18.044ft). One of the highest and most famous mountains in this area is Gela Dandong, which rises to 6,621 meters (21,723ft). Most of the Tibetans in Yushu and Nagchu are nomads, although large areas are still uninhabited. Nyingtri prefecture is home to Mt, Namche Barwa at 7,782 meters and Mt. Gyala Pelri at 7,294 meters. The river valleys around these two mountains drop as much as 5,000 meters in places, making the town of Nyintri one of the lowest in Tibet. Nyingtri Prefecture has thick forests, lots of rain, and a mild climate. Chamdo and Ganzi Prefectures sit mostly between 3,200 meters and 3,600 meters. The Yangtze and Mekong Rivers flow through these prefectures, and the region is widely known as the “breadbasket of Tibet”. The highest mountain in Kham, Minya Konka or Mount Gongga, is in Ganzi Prefecture. Mt Gonka Trekking is one of the top trekking tours in Kham.


There are no large cities in Kham, and Chamdo, at 3,300 meters above sea level. Located in the eastern region of the TAR, it sits on the banks of the Mekong River with a population of over 50,000. Kham has some of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the region, which have histories dating back many hundreds of years. The monastery at Jampaling rises above the town. Dege (3,200m) is located near the Yangtze River, and is considered to be the cultural heart of Kham. The Parkhang Printing Press in Dege is used to print Buddhist scriptures for monasteries across the Tibet. Jyekundo (3,700m) in northern Kham is famous for its annual Horse Racing Festival in July, and for the largest pile of Mani stones in the world. The hilltop monastery of Jyeku Dondrubling is a well-known town in Tibet and one of the highest and coldest towns in all of Tibet. Other important towns in Kham are Kangding, Ganzi, Lithang, Nangchen and Riwoche.

Kham Culture and Traditions

The main spoken language in Kham is the Kham Tibetan dialect. Kham Tibetan has many sub-dialects and differs so much from Northern Kham to Southern Kham that speakers from those areas cannot understand each other. The Kham dialect of Tibetan is also, for the most part, rarely understood by Tibetans from Lhasa and Amdo. There are 4 main dialect groups of Kham Tibetan: Eastern Kham (spoken in Garze prefecture), Western Kham (spoken in northwestern Garze and northeastern Chamdo prefecture), Northern Kham (spoken in Yushu and part of Nagchu prefecture), and Southern Kham (spoken in Dechen, southwestern Garze and southeastern Chamdo prefecture). The Dege dialect of Kham is considered by many to be the standard Kham dialect, though most Kham Tibetans in Southern Kham cannot understand this dialect at all.

The people from the Kham areas of Tibet are known as the Khambas or Khampas. Khampas are often considerably taller than Tibetans from other regions of Tibet, and it is not uncommon to come across Khampa men standing well over six feet tall. They are well known to live up to their reputations for bravery and horsemanship when they compete in summer horse racing festivals. However, they are also known for cheerfully enduring a beautiful yet sometimes harsh environment, especially in the winter months. Khampas have always been resistant to outsiders controlling their land, and throughout their long history.

Tibetan clothing has a strong connection with the people and climate of the roof of the world, reflecting the history of the local people. Each area of Tibet has own distinct folk costume, due to the different natural and religious environments. The Tibetan national dress is the Chuba, tied around the waist with a sash and worn off the shoulder with great bravado by nomads and Khampas. Khampa men from Chamdo, Dege, and Nangchen often wear their hair long, with red or black tassels woven in, and most of them wear earrings. Women from Riwoche, Dege, and Jyekundo usually have large pieces of turquoise or coral worn on top of their heads. Throughout Kham, the chuba is fur-lined and made of beautiful materials. Chuba from eastern Tibet, in particular, have super long sleeves, which are tied around the waist, and an inner pouch is often used to store money, amulets, lunch, and even small livestock. Men typically wear white shirts with a high collar, while women wear various colored tunics with turned down collars.

The apron is one of the Tibetan woman’s most prized items of clothing, and according to custom, only married women wear the aprons. The flowered aprons worn by Tibetan women are unique with florid colors and characteristic patterns.

The traditional occupations of nomadic pastoralism and agriculture are still the backbone of Kham society. A major part of their daily food intake is Tsampa made from barley flour, and most eat meat due to the high altitude.

All areas of Tibet are amazing and beautiful, but Kham is one of the best regions and offers amazing scenery such as the nomadic grasslands, the glaciated peaks, the alpine lakes, the evergreen forests, and the deep river valleys. Equally amazing is the culture, and some of the best-preserved Tibetan cultural areas are located in Kham. It is not the “cup of tea” region of the Tibetan plateau, but it is well worth the effort getting there.

monastery in kham

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Restaurants in Kham

Rose of Sharon Bistro Restaurant

The Rose of Sharon Bistro Restaurant is located at heart of Yushu city, Tibet. It is one of the best...

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Nepali Restaurant Yushu

Nepali restaurant is located in Yushu city. It is the one Nepali restaurant in the city.  They serve Nepali and Indian...

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Holy Yushu Restaurant

The Holy Yushu Restaurant is located in Yushu city which is the most popular place in Tibetan Kham Region. The...

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Qongmulama Restaurant

Qongmulama restaurant is located in opposite to China Post office in Yushu City. It is one of the famous restaurants in...

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Yushu Tu Ba Wan Restaurant

Yushu Tu Ba Wan Restaurant is located near Tibetan Medicine Hospital in Yushu City. It is the best Chinese Hot-Pot restaurant...

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Must Read Tibet Travel Tips

The million-dollar question everyone wants to know is how do I get into Tibet? Or how to get the Tibet travel permit? It’s never been the easiest place to visit, but if you make your way then it is definitely an experience of once in a lifetime, travel to Tibet Autonomous Region is radically different from the rest of China and a valid Chinese visa is not enough to travel into Tibet. You will also need the Tibet travel permit from the Tibet tourism bureau, and the Tibet travel permit policy changes timely depending on the political climate in Tibet. Moreover, its amazing nature, rich culture and high altitude need a special consideration to make your experiences more pleasant and worry free. So here our Tibet travel experts from Explore Tibet has pinpointed some important guidelines to help you arrange an authentic Tibetan experiences.