Ngari – The Most Remote Area in Tibet

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Ngari (阿里) was once the heart of the ancient kingdom of Guge in Western Tibet. The ruins of the former capital of the Guge kingdom are located at Tsaparang in the Sutlej valley, not far from Mount Kailash and 1,200 miles (1,900 km) westwards from Lhasa.

Guge was founded in the 10th century. Its capitals were located at Tholing and Tsaparang. Nyi ma mgon, a great-grandson of Langdarma, the last monarch of the Tibetan Empire, left insecure conditions in Ü-Tsang in 910. He established a kingdom in Ngari (West Tibet) in or after 912 and annexed Puhrang and Guge. He established his capital in Guge.

The 15th and 16th centuries were marked by a considerable Buddhist building activity by the kings, who frequently showed their devotion to the Gelug leaders later known as the Dalai Lamas.

Ngari is known as the “roof of the roof of the world” and “the most Tibetan part of Tibet”. It may well contain the most inaccessible part of the globe outside of polar regions. Mount Kailash, the most significant mountain not to have seen any known climbing attempts, because of its holy status in the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Bon faiths, is located in Southern Ngari.

Mount Kailash is believed by Hindus to be the home of Shiva, the Destroyer of Evil and Sorrow; and for Buddhists it is the home of the Buddha Demchok, who represents supreme bliss. Setting foot on the slopes of the mountain is seen as a sin in these religions and pilgrims make the 52 kilometer circumambulation of the mountain by walking, which may last one to three days, or a series of over 30,000 prostrations, which lasts at least four weeks. Kailash is the source of tributaries of three of Asia’s most significant rivers: the Ganges, the Indus and the Brahmaputra.

Ngari Geography

Comprising the Western part of Tibet Autonomous Region, Ngari Prefecture borders India, Nepal, Jammu and Kashmir and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Ngari averages 4,500 meters in altitude. Ngari has an area of 310,000 square kilometers, accounting for a quarter of Tibet. It has the lowest population density of any prefecture in China, with a density of only 0.23 people square kilometer. Of the 69,000 people, 66,000 are Tibetan, and 85% of the population are peasants and herders.

Ngari Prefecture administers seven counties, namely Gar, Burang, 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. Gar 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.

The first Westerners to reach Guge were a Jesuit missionary, António de Andrade, and his companion, brother Manuel Marques, in 1624. De Andrade reported seeing irrigation canals and rich crops in what is now a dry and desolate land.

Western archeologists heard about Guge again in the 1930s through the work of Italian Giuseppe Tucci. Tucci’s work was mainly about the frescoes of Guge.

Ngari is the place where the Himalayas, the Gangdise, the Kunlun Mountains and Karakorum Mountains meet. This area is dotted with beautiful lakes and rivers, great mountains and glaciers, vast grasslands, spectacular snow mountains and clay forests.

Sparsely populated, Ngari is a paradise for wild animals, such as yaks and Tibetan antelopes. It is also a popular tourist destination with many famous natural and historical sites, like the ruins of Guge Kingdom, Toling Temple, the holy Mt. Kailash and the sacred Lake Manasarovar. The last two are symbolized as the spiritual center of Buddhists.

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