By Duncan Gordon
Sichuan province is home to a large population of ethnic Tibetans. In towns and villages across northern and western Sichuan, Tibetan people practice their own customs and eat their own distinct cuisine.
The road north from the capital of Sichuan province, the huge city of Chengdu, winds through some stunning mountain scenery. Most tourists travelling this road are heading to Jiuzhaigou nature reserve, part of the Min Mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The park is renowned for snow-capped peaks, multi-tiered waterfalls and bright blue-green lakes. The region was little known to outsiders in China until the 1970s.
The indigenous population in this area are Tibetans. Due to the steady increase of tourists each year, more and more Tibetan villages are opening up to visitors and offering tourists a chance to experience Tibetan culture and cuisine.
Often Tibetan villages will put on a traditional banquet for tourists. A Tibetan hotpot is a really hearty meal. Juicy chunks of lamb and beef are washed down with local homemade alcohol and warm Yak’s milk. The atmosphere can be raucous at banquets as the locals encourage tourists to sing-along to Tibetan songs and play games involving drinking the local alcohol.
Yak meat is a local delicacy of this far-flung part of Sichuan province. However, tour guides warn that some people try to sell tourists fake yak meat. They advise it is based to stick to officially authorised sellers. Another special local food is Sichuan cured sausage. Sold at restaurants and stalls along the road to Jiuzhaigou, it is delicious and slightly spicy. The taste is not too dissimilar to Spanish chorizo.
Other villages in the region introduce tourists to traditional Tibetan homes and locals tell visitors about their culture in detail. It’s interesting to see people from completely different parts of China learn from each other in that way.
If travelling to Tibet itself is not convenient, this is the next best thing. The added benefit is that a trip to one of the world’s most spectacular national parks in Jiuzhaigou can be combined with experiencing a culture as ancient as that of the Tibetan people.