Tibetan Quarters // This is Chengdu, China
Exploring Chengdu’s Tibetan Quarters -- Little Lhasa
The largest major Chinese city to Tibet is Chengdu. Its population consists of about 60,000 Tibetans, many of them living in an area just south of Wuhou Temple. This is the Tibetan quarters; sometimes referred to as Little Lhasa. The area is vibrant with Tibetan culture including shops, food, and a whole lot of that beautiful bright orange.
As Han Chinese people move to Tibet looking to take advantage of the growing tourism industry, many Tibetans are leaving the Tibetan Autonomous Zone and going to large Chinese cities like Chengdu. In the last 65 years, the South West University of Nationalities has been offering courses for ethnic minorities. This has helped grow the Tibetan population in the Wuhou District, and ultimately created the Tibetan quarters. Furthermore, the government in Chengdu began offering incentives aimed at improving the lives of Tibetan migrants, including medical and employment services, legal aid, and free education for children.
I can’t speak for what it’s like to be Tibetan and living in Chengdu, but Little Lhasa definitely does a good job of playing home to the people. The monks walking the streets in their robes, holding their prayer beads, are hardly out of place. The restaurants serve up the meat and milk of the Tibetan-domesticated yak. Sure, some of the area feels very setup for tourists, but the majority of the people shopping and eating were in fact locals.
The area is also setup to help travelers prepare for an adventure to Tibet. There are many outdoor stores stocked with the latest camping gear. If you want to buy a winter jacket in Chengdu, come to the TIbetan quarters and you’ll have lots to choose from. Name brands like North Face are present, but for the warmest coat you might want to browse a traditional Tibetan store for a yak wool poncho.
Speaking of yak, hungry and thirsty travelers will want to stop at one of the many restaurants along Ximianqiao Cross street where you can sample Tibetan dishes. The food in Tibet is often hearty to help cope with the cold weather. Momos, which are very similar to a dumpling, are quite popular as is yak meat. Sha-balep is an almost pie-like dish with pastry-like bread that’s stuffed with yak meat. One of the more popular restaurants in the area is A’re Tibetan Restaurant (234 Wuhousi), which certainly has a good selection of Tibetan dishes, but is slightly more expensive than the smaller joints around the corner.
For something hipper, although not really authentic, pop into a Tibetan-themed cafe. Recently, a few coffee and tea houses have opened up that offer a relaxing atmosphere, with traditional Tibetan items as decoration, and a menu that features yak milk cappuccinos, mochas, and yogurts. In Tibet they drink yak-milk teas, so you can find some traditional places in the area that offer up the warm and soothing drink, but the places that serve coffee, which may still be owned by Tibetans, are really more of a hipster joint.
Location: The corner of Wuhouci St and Wuhouci East St is a good place to start, but if you are taking the metro you could get off at Sichuan Gymnasium and walk up Dianxin South street which turns into Ximianqiao Cross street (the main street of the Tibetan quarters). It will take about 25 minutes, but it’s a decent walk. If you’re coming from Tianfu square, you can walk to Dongchenggen South street, and catch the #57 bus. Just get off in front of Wuhou Temple (4 stops). From there, the Tibetan area is just south of you.
I recommend combining your visit with a stop at the Wuhou Temple, and Jin Li street.
Hours: Always open, but shops may close by 8 or 9 and restaurants by 10 at the latest.
Entrance Fee: Free, but if you are shopping expect the prices to be heavily inflated, so don’t be afraid to bargain hard. A good starting point is half of what they want.