Yushu is in the traditional Kham Area of the Tibetan Plateau. Although it is outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, inhabitants are mostly Tibetan but most merchants here are Han Chinese who have moved from eastern China to take advantage of the newly opening market and business investment opportunities in one of China’s major efforts to promote Tibetan tourism.
The area has a population of over 250,000.Yushu is a county level town in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous and is the fourth largest city in Qinghai Province.
Right on the valley of the Batang River and a significant part of the Yangtze River watershed, the city seat itself is called Gyegu (also known as Yushu and Jiegu in Chinese). Qinghai Province is famously known as “the source of the 3 rivers” including the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and the Mekong River. Yushu is a great base to explore the sources of both the Yangtze and Mekong (in Zhiduo and Zaduo towns respectively). The Yangtze is the world’s third-longest river at 3,917 miles. Its source is on the Tibetan Plateau, in western China. Its mouth is the East China Sea, near Shanghai. The Yangtze flows through nine provinces of China and drains an area equal to 695,000 square miles of land. The Mekong, following close behind, is the world’s 12th-longest river and the 7th-longest in Asia. Its estimated length is 4,350 km (2,703 mi), and it drains an area of 795,000 km (307,000 sq mi), discharging 475 km (114 cu mi) of water annually.From the Tibetan Plateau the river runs through China’s Qinghai and Yunnan Province,Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Yushu may seem like a remote Tibetan outpost town but its placement in southwestern Qinghai makes it not only a cultural center but an important area for ecological preservation for a watershed that feeds some 1 billion people.
Yushu has an alpine subarctic climate with long, cold, very dry winters, and short, rainy, and mild summers. Average low temperatures are below freezing from early/mid October to late April; however, due to the intense high altitude sun the average high never goes below the freezing mark during this long winter season. In November, the city receives 2,496 hours of bright sunshine annually. The monthly 24-hour average temperature ranges from −7.6 °C (18.3 °F) in January to 12.7 °C (54.9 °F) in July, while the annual mean is 3.22 °C (37.8 °F). As with most areas in northwest Sichuan and southwest Qinghai, about 74% of the annual precipitation of 486 mm (19.1 in) is delivered in the relatively rainy season from June to September.
In the morning of 14 April 2010, the town was struck by 7.1 magnitude Earthquake. Thousands of people died in this horrible tragedy and the entire town was leveled. As of 2017, the city has been rebuilt and city life has returned to normal. There are still some minor construction works but these should not be of any problem to your visit. Because of this recent effort in rebuilding the city carries a fresh air of modern Tibetan architecture, mixing greener technologies with the old form of Tibetan design. Beijing has poured more than $7 billion into transforming this county into a visitor-friendly tourist destination. Visitors no longer arrive exhausted from a 22-hour grueling trip on the overnight bus. There is an airport and miles of fresh-paved roads for those wishing to get off the beaten path without ridiculously lengthy travel. The main street has a brand new school with a spacious, spotless playground and at the heart of downtown Yushu is an incredible statue of King Gesar, once the king who united this region of Kham. And every family was given enough money to build a new, 80 square meter home.
Since Yushu is not so big, walking is the easiest way around town although there are also countless taxis and multiple bus routes across town.
Highlights of your visit to Yushu may include a walk up the hill to the Jiegu monastery, also known as the Jyekundo Dondrubling Monastery, which has an excellent view over the town below.
The Gyanak (Jiana) Mani Stone Pile, Tibet’s largest pile of sacredly engraved stones with 100’s of pilgrims that walk and prostrate around its perimeter, is a 30-40min walk to the east on the main road. Or it’s convenient to take bus #1 or #2 for just 1 RMB to this interesting spot. The best time to visit the Gyanak Mani, assembling over 2 billion individually carved stones, is in the early morning when locals show up en mass to make the pilgrimage circuit before the day’s activities. At this time, the Mani Stone pile is buzzing with energy and you could easily spend 2-3 hours just people watching as a wave of Tibetan nomad culture walks right in front of you.
Another highlight in the Yushu area is the Temple of Princess Wencheng. The Temple of Princess Wencheng is a historical and cultural relic left by Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) on her way to Tibet in the year of 641 to marry the then ruler of the Tibetan Kingdom, Songtsen Gampo, in a move for political unification. This is an excellent place for a 2-3 hour hike around an entire mountain totally covered in a blanket of bright colors of prayer flags. From a distance the mountain appears to have been the home to a giant spider who has woven its all encompassing web from mountain top to mountain top. A taxi to the Temple of Princess Wencheng cost around Y50. Try to negotiate with a driver to see both sites as they are both outside of town in different directions.
A few buses depart daily between Xining and Yushu. You can expect this bus ride to take around 12 hours and often the buses have reclining beds that make for a decent (albeit a little cramped) night’s sleep. Bus fare is ¥207. As of June 2017, the bus station for buses to and from Xining and other towns/cities is in the center of the town. A taxi from anywhere to the bus station should be no more than ¥10.
If you arrive in a minivan from Sichuan (many leave from the Tibetan area of Chengdu) it is possible you will be dropped somewhere random outside of the town center. A taxi into town will cost anywhere between 5 to 20 Yuan depending on your destination, your negotiating skills and the number of people already inside.
The Yushu Batang Airport (YUS) opened in 2009 and is a small, clean airport. It is 18 KMs to the South of Yushu Town. The airport certainly makes it easier to get into Yushu but the 1 hour nonstop flights are not cheap because Chinese Eastern Airlines has a monopoly on this small airport. There are multiple daily flights to and from Xining which cost between $90 and $250 USD for a one way trip. There is an airport bus in town as well as taxis. Fare for a taxi will be between 50 and 100 yuan depending on your negotiating skills.
All buses from Xining going further South in Qinghai, to Zaduo or Nangqen for instance, pass by Yushu Town on their way.