Amdo, one of the three traditional Tibetan regions, is located on the northeast corner of the Tibetan Plateau, the other two regions are U-Tsang and Kham. Amdo is home to approximately 25% of the total Tibetan population, roughly around 1.7 million Tibetan lives in Amdo. Parts of Amdo lie in 3 Chinese provinces: northern and eastern Qinghai, southwest Gansu and northern Sichuan. It is also the birthplace of the 14th Dalia Lama.
Amdo encompasses a large area from the Machu (yellow river) to the Drichu (Yangtze). By historically, culturally, and ethnically a Tibetan area, Amdo was administered by a series of local rulers since the mid-18th century and the Dalai Lama have not governed the area directly since that time. From the mid 18the century until the mid 20the century, much of Amdo was ruled by local kings and chiefs or by warlords. Much of Amdo was incorporated into the newly formed Qinghai province. Today Amdo is broken up into 8 prefectures: Golog, Malho, Tsolho, Tsobyang, Tsoshar in Qinghai province, Ganlho in Gansu province, and Ngaba in Sichuan province.
The Tibetan inhabitants of Amdo are referred to as Amdowa as a regional distinction from the Tibetans of Kham and U-Tsang, however, they are all considered ethnically Tibetan. Today, ethnic Tibetans predominate in the western and southern parts of Amdo. The Han Chinese are a majority in the eastern part of Qinghai, this area has the largest population density, with the result that the Han Chinese outnumber other ethnicities in Qinghai generally.
The northern part of Qinghai has a Mongol majority. Power struggles among various Mongol factions in Tibet and Amdo led to a period alternating between the supremacy of Dalai Lama and Mongol overlords. In 1642 the fifth Dalai Lama received both spiritual and temporal authority from the Mongol King, Gushi Khan. This allowed the Gelugpa Buddhist sect and the Dalai Lama to gain enough power to last until the present day. Mongol too has been long-term settlers in Amdo.
Under the Mongol Yuan dynasty of Kublai Khan, Amdo and Kham were split into two commanderies, which along with u-Tsang, were collectively referred to as the three commanderies of Tibet. When the Manchu Qing dynasty rose to power in the early 18th century it established Xining, a town to the north of Amdo, as the administrative base for the area: Amdo was placed within the Qinghai province. During this period, they were ruled by the Amban, who allowed near-total autonomy by the monasteries and the other local leaders.
The Yongzheng Emperor seized full control of Qinghai (Amdo) in the 1720s. The boundaries of Xining prefecture, which contains most of Amdo, with Sichuan and Tibet proper was established following this. The boundary of Xining prefecture and central Tibet was the Dangla mountains. The boundary of Xining prefecture with Sichuan was also set at this time, dividing the Ngapa area of the former Amdo into Sichuan.
The monasteries, such as Labrang, Repkong, and Taktsang Lhamo supervised the choosing of the local leaders or headmen in the areas under their control. This tribe consisted of several thousand nomads. Meanwhile, Sokwo, Ngawa, and Choni had secular leaders appointed, with some becoming kings and even familial dynasties. This secular form of government went as far as Machu.
Amdo was traditionally a place of great learning and scholarship and contains great monasteries including Kumbum Monastery near Xining, Labrang Monastery south of Lanzhou, and the Kirti Gompas of Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture and Taktsang Lhamo in Dzoge County. Amdo was and is the home of many Tibetan Buddhist monks or Lamas, scholars who had a major influence on both politics and religious development of Tibet like 14th Dalai Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, 10th Panchen Lama and the great Gelug reformer Je Tsongkhapa
There are many dialects of the Tibetan language spoken in Amdo due to the geographical isolation of many groups. Written Tibetan is the same throughout the Tibetan-speaking regions and is based on classical Tibetan.
Amdo Tibetan’s traditional lifestyle and economy is centered on agriculture and nomadic livestock. Depending on the region and environment they live in they are either nomads or farmers. This lifestyle has been evolved throughout history and had little change in modern times. Most of them in the summer they move up the mountains with their animals for better grazing, then in the harsh winters come down to the valleys, where they have small agricultural fields that grow fodder for their livestock.
A large area of the Amdo is covered in the best grasslands that Tibet has an offer. The grassland lies between 3000 and 3500 meters above the sea level and is perfect for grazing yaks, sheep, goats, and horses. Though many nomads have been relocated to small resettlement villages, there are still plenty of nomads living in traditional yak wool tents in eastern Qinghai, southwest Gansu and northern Sichuan. This area is easily the best on the Tibetan Plateau to see the authentic, traditional nomadic culture. While most of Amdo consists of rolling grassland, there are some high snow-capped mountains as well. Golok prefecture in southeast Qinghai has the highest peaks in Amdo with many peaks rising above 5000 meters. Mt Nyenbo Yurtse rises 5300 meters in the remote Jigdril county in Golok, while the highest mountain in Amdo is Amnye Machen in Machen county, which rises to 6282 meters above the sea level.
There are no large cities in Amdo. The cultural heart of Amdo is the region between Rebkong and Labrang Monastery which is along the Qinghai-Gansu border. This region is filled with many large Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and according to Tibetans, this area speaks the standard Amdo Tibetan dialect.
The winters in Amdo can be quite extreme in parts. The regions of Amdo around Qinghai Lake and the nomadic grasslands of southeast Qinghai and Gansu Sichuan have bitterly cold winters with temperatures regularly reaching -20c. The coldest region in all of Amdo is the western Golok prefecture county of Mado. Amdo people wear a thick Chupa by both men and women.
Amdo is home to the largest lakes on the Tibetan Plateau. Qinghai Lake is not only the largest in the Tibetan plateau but also the largest in all of China. Ngoring and Kyaring lakes are located very near to the headwaters of the Yellow River at nearly 4300 meters above the sea level in western Golok prefecture.
Amdo is a great place to spend the time and visit to explore the beauty of its nature and the rich culture and tradition. People over there will be friendly in nature and welcoming. Foreign travelers are free to explore most of Amdo on their own using public transportation. No need for permits to travel in Amdo regions of Tibet.