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Difference Between Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan Area

November,07 2023 BY Master Kungga Dundruk 0 COMMENTS

In most cases, traveling to Tibet usually refers to traveling to the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. The Tibet Autonomous Region is one of the autonomous regions of the People's Republic of China and is commonly abbreviated as Xizang (Tibet). It is located in the southwestern part of China and is renowned for its magnificent natural landscapes and rich Tibetan culture.

However, the Tibetan areas encompass a broader concept, including Tibetan-inhabited areas scattered in southwestern China and surrounding regions.

In addition to the Tibet Autonomous Region, this region also includes some Tibetan-inhabited areas in provinces such as Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai, and Xinjiang. These places also have rich Tibetan cultural traditions but may have some differences from the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Difference 1: The Tibetan Area is larger than the Tibet Autonomous Region

The Tibet Autonomous Region, or Xizang (Tibet), is located on the southwestern border of China, bordering Nepal, India, and Bhutan. It is an administrative division of China and is a provincial-level administrative unit.

On the other hand, the Tibetan Area (or Tibetan Region) is a broader geographical concept, encompassing not only the Tibet Autonomous Region but also some Tibetan-inhabited areas in other southwestern Chinese provinces, including Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu, among others.

Tibetan Inhatibetd Region MapThe Map of Tibetan Inhabited Regions

Difference 2: Each Tibetan-inhabited Area has its own Cultural Customs

In terms of cultural customs, the Tibet Autonomous Region is the core area of Tibetan culture with deep-rooted Tibetan cultural and religious traditions. However, due to different local geographical environments and historical backgrounds, each Tibetan-inhabited area outside of the TAR has its own distinctive customs and cultural characteristics.

Difference 3: The Tibet Travel Permit is Only Needed for Visiting the Tibet Autonomous Region

If you're planning a trip to Tibet, keep in mind that you'll need to apply for the Tibet Travel Permit in addition to your Chinese Visa. It's important to note that this permit is only necessary for entry into the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and is not required for other Tibetan-inhabited areas beyond TAR.

Top 1 Place to Visit: Lhasa Valley and Shannan in the Central Autonomous Region

Lhasa and Shannan, as the historical seats of power for successive Tibetan dynasties and the present economic centers of Tibet, are both located in the valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. They are both centers of economy and religion. Furthermore, they have rich cultural and historical heritages, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, attracting thousands of tourists every year.

Even now, Lhasa still retains a strong Tibetan Buddhist culture and traditional way of life. On average, local Tibetans in Lhasa spend at least two hours each day engaging in prayer and circumambulation, which is a common religious practice in Tibetan culture. When you visit the Jokhang Temple and stroll along Barkhor Street in Lhasa's old town, you can feel the enduring power of faith that has remained unchanged for centuries.

Jokhang TempleThe Jokhang Temple in Lhasa is the center of Tibetan Buddhism.

A Lhasa tour during traditional Buddhist festivals, such as the Saga Dawa Festival, Shoton Festival, and Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival, offers a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in Tibet's unique festival culture.

Of course, modern Lhasa is also full of vitality. Young Tibetans pursue diverse professions, including entrepreneurship, starting businesses, and operating teahouses. The elderly enjoy a good quality of life and find happiness in their twilight years. The residents of Lhasa exhibit a strong sense of well-being.

As you explore Lhasa, you'll encounter many elderly individuals spinning prayer wheels beneath the shade of trees, congregating for social interactions, or taking leisurely strolls with their dogs in parks. The various teahouses, both large and small, bustle with activity, creating a lively ambiance. Don't miss the chance to visit a local Tibetan teahouse during your tour of Lhasa.

Top 2 Place to Visit: Shigatse Himalayan Region in the Southwest Tibetan Autonomous Region

Shigatse is located in the southwestern part of Tibet and is surrounded by the Himalayan mountain range. It is the homeland of Mount Everest and several other peaks with elevations ranging from 7,000 to 8,000 meters. The region also has dense forests, valleys, and gorges.

Visit Himalayan mountain in Gawula PassEnjoy the panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain ranges at Gawula Pass

Unlike the nomadic lifestyle of Tibetans in the harsh environment of Ngari, most Tibetans in Shigatse lead a settled life. On the way from Lhasa to Shigatse, you can see fields along the route mainly dedicated to the cultivation of Tibetan barley and potatoes, which are the staple food of Tibet. During the busy farming season, local laborers can be seen performing wonderful songs and dances in the fields, accompanied by music from instruments similar to the lute.

As the second-largest city in Tibet, Shigatse has a relatively large population, and many of its residents rely on tourism for their livelihoods. Some operate tent hotels at Everest Base Camp, providing accommodation and food for tourists visiting the Tibetan side of Everest Base Camp. Given the local love for singing and dancing, during your Everest Base Camp tour from Lhasa to Shigatse, you may have the chance to enjoy authentic Tibetan singing and dancing performances in tent hotels or local restaurants.

Top 3 Place to Visit: Ngari Plateau in the Western Tibet Autonomous Region

The Ngari Plateau, located in the western part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, is known as the "Roof of the World." Most of the region's elevations exceed 4,200 meters. Despite its harsh natural environment, Ngari boasts numerous snow-capped mountains and abundant wildlife, making it one of the least densely populated areas in the world. Some tourists describe coming here as "eyes in paradise, bodies in hell."

Ngari features vast uninhabited wilderness, desert areas, and eroded rock formations. It has a long and cold winter, so the best time to visit Ngari is usually from May to October. During this period, the scenery is particularly beautiful, with herds of cattle and sheep grazing on the grasslands, crystal-clear lakes, and clearly visible snow-capped peaks.

Located in the far west of Ngari is Mount Kailash, the most sacred mountain in Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon Religion, and Jainism. Recognized as the 'center of the world,' Mount Kailash is a major pilgrimage destination for devotees and a significant attraction for tourists visiting Ngari, along with the nearby holy Lake Manasarovar. Mount Kailash tours from either Lhasa or Kathmandu are now available and typically take around 10 to 15 days to complete. Please don't hesitate to contact us to arrange your once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mount Kailash.

Top 4 Place to Visit: Northern Tibetan Grassland - the Northern Tibet Autonomous Region

The northern part of Xizang boasts vast lands, with a total area of 600,000 square kilometers, over half of which is pastureland, home to millions of yaks and sheep. People living on the grasslands mainly rely on pastoralism for their livelihoods.

Visit Northern Tibetan GrasslandVisit the Northern Tibetan Grassland to experience the nomadic life in Tibet.

The best time to visit the Northern Tibetan Grasslands is during the grazing season from June to August. The lush green grasslands carpet the earth, the stunning Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains and Namtso Lake create picturesque scenery, and white clouds hang low over the grasslands. Cattle and sheep leisurely roam the meadows, making it seem like a paradise. The most common sights on these vast grasslands are herds of yaks and sheep, horses, and black yak-hair tents. When visiting Tibet during this time, you can take a moment to visit these tents, and the hostesses will warmly serve you butter tea.

Top 5 Place to Visit: Nyingchi Forest Canyon - the Eastern Tibet Autonomous Region

Tibet is not just what we typically envision as barren and desolate; it also has the treasure trove of nature - forests. Especially in the eastern regions of Nyingchi and Chamdo, Tibet boasts lush forests, producing precious wood and mushrooms, and serving as habitats for rare animals like snow leopards and golden monkeys.

Nyingchi ForestsNyingchi is the only area in Xizang that has forests.

The scenery in Nyingchi is picturesque, with snow-capped mountains and forests reflected in lakes, villages and fields nestled by rivers and lakes, and bees dancing among the flowers. The most famous of these is the Nanga Bawa Peak, one of China's most beautiful snow-capped mountains with an elevation of 7,782 meters. Additionally, this region is home to the world's largest and deepest canyon—the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, making it an earthly wonder.

Nyingchi's average elevation is around 3,100 meters, making it the lowest point in Tibet and the preferred destination for tourists concerned about altitude sickness in Tibet.

Tourist attractions in Nyingchi are generally at altitudes around 2,800 meters, including the Midui Glacier, Basom Tso Lake, Lulang Forest, and Ranwu Lake, all of which are beloved by tourists and must-visit destinations when visiting Nyingchi.

Top 6 Place to Visit: Amdo Tibetan Region in Southern Gansu and Qinghai Province

The Amdo Tibetan region in Qinghai and Gannan Prefecture in Gansu is one of the largest pastoral areas in western China, with elevations exceeding 3,800 meters. The way of life here shares many similarities with the Northern Tibetan Grasslands.

The Amdo Tibetan area is located at the source of three rivers, namely the Yangtze River, Yellow River, and Lancang River. This region boasts abundant grasslands and fertile river valleys. As a result, the majority of the Tibetan people in the Amdo region continue to lead a nomadic life, living on vast grasslands, and relying on horses, yaks, and sheep for their livelihood.

Amdo Tibetan Horse Racing FestivalThe Horse Racing Festival is one of the most popular events for Amdo Tibetans.

The Tibet train from Xining to Lhasa passes through a part of the Amdo Tibetan Region. On this train journey to Tibet, you'll get to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Amdo Tibetan region in Qinghai and Northern Tibet.

Additionally, in the summer, the horse racing festivals offer a splendid opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich culture of the Amdo Tibetans. If you plan to take an Amdo Tibet tour, it is ideal to visit in the summer time.

Top 7 Place to Visit: Kham Tibetan Region in Western Sichuan Province

The Kham Tibetan area is located at the intersection of the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the northwestern part of Yunnan, and the western part of Sichuan, geographically known as the Hengduan Mountains region.

This region has rugged terrain, with numerous valleys and important rivers such as the Jinsha River, Dadu River, Nu River, and Min River. It also features diverse landscapes, including snow-capped mountains, lakes, grasslands, and rivers.

This area has a long history and, for centuries, it prospered through the tea-horse trade, enabling Tibetan residents to lead a prosperous life.

Khamba Tibetans are renowned for their robust physique and rugged facial features, often characterized by thick eyebrows, large expressive eyes, tall and sturdy stature, and prominent noses, earning them the moniker "Khamba Men."

Khamba TibetansThe Beautiful Kham Tibetan Girls

Meanwhile, Khamba Tibetan women are equally strong and feature high-bridged noses and large eyes. In the Danba County of western Sichuan, beautiful women are abundant, earning it the nickname "Valley of Beauties".

Nowadays, the local Tibetan residents no longer reside in traditional earthen houses, as their housing has modernized while preserving ancient styles and traditional elements. These distinctive Tibetan dwellings are also considered one of the important attractions in the region.

If you take a Tibet overland tour from Chengdu, you will not miss the chance to visit the local village in Danba to see the beauties.

Top 8 Place to Visit: Jiarong Tibetan Region in Western Sichuan Province

The Jiarong Tibetan region covers different areas in Sichuan Province, including Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Ya’an City, and Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture. It’s also a part of the Western Sichuan Kham Tibetan Region.

The Jiarong Tibetans primarily speak the Jiarong Tibetan language and depend on agriculture as their main economic activity. They are a significant ethnic group in the Tibetan region and are sometimes referred to as 'Rongba' to distinguish them from Tibetan residents in other areas.

When taking a Kham Tibet tour, including places like Mount Siguniang and Kangding, you have the opportunity to explore the Jiarong Tibetan villages.

Top 9 Place to Visit: Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province

The Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the northwest of Yunnan Province, near the provincial border of Yunnan, Tibet, and Sichuan. This region is a treasure trove of Tibetan culture with a rich history and diverse cultural traditions, including deep-rooted Tibetan Buddhism, traditional Tibetan clothing, architecture, and exquisite craftsmanship.

Shangri-La Ganden Sumtseling MonasteryThe Shangri-La Ganden Sumtseling Monastery is a popular Tibetan cultural heritage to Visit in Shangri-La, Yunnan.

The natural landscapes in the Diqing Tibetan region are breathtaking, and characterized by towering mountains, deep valleys, serene lakes, and dense forests. Shangri-La, the capital of this region, is often referred to as a 'Utopia' due to its delightful natural surroundings. This enchanting destination lures both domestic and international tourists, especially those embarking on overland tours from Yunnan to Tibet.


Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), often called Xizang, is a well-known Tibetan area in China. However, there are also other Tibetan regions in southwestern China, that offer diverse cultural experiences for travelers.

For an authentic Tibetan culture immersion, visiting Tibet is a great choice. Yet, exploring Tibetan areas beyond TAR provides unique cultural encounters, influenced by the local culture outside Tibet.

Embarking on an overland tour to Tibet from places like Sichuan, Yunnan, or Qinghai allows you to experience the distinct Tibetan cultures of various regions along the way.

It's important to note that only the TAR requires a Tibet Travel Permit. When visiting other Tibetan-inhabited areas outside TAR, you won't need this permit, providing more flexibility for your travel plans.

Master Kungga Dundruk

About the Author - Master Kungga Dundruk

Kungga Dundruk, often respectfully referred to as “Manager Kunga”, is the most revered and legendary Tibetan guide in our team.

Currently working as a customer service manager in Lhasa, Kunga used to study business overseas and got his Bachelor of Business in Nepal and India before moving back to his homeland. With pure passion for life and unlimited love for Tibet, Kunga started his guide career as early as 1997.

As a legendary Tibetan guide with 22 years of guide experience, Kunga was awarded the Gold Medalist of China’s Best Tour Guide in 2019, marking the pinnacle of his career. Today, Kunga loves sharing his wealth of Tibetan knowledge through travel articles and stands ready to offer prompt support whenever our guests need help in Lhasa.

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