Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, or Aba Prefecture (ābà Zhōu, 阿坝州), is one of two Tibetan "autonomous" prefectures in Sichuan Province, the other being Ganzi Prefecture to the west. Aba lies to the north of Sichuan capital of Chengdu; its own capital is Barkam (Mǎ'ěrkāng Zhèn, 马尔康镇), a windswept Tibetan town of yaks, motorcycles and monks that is experiencing boom times as the provincial government teams up with locals and Han businessmen to develop the region.
Aba's ethnic makeup is slightly different than its cousin to the west. While Ganzi is mostly Khampa Tibetan mixed with Qiang, Hui, Naxi and Yi minorities, in Aba, Jiarong Tibetans are the largest ethnic group, complemented by Qiang, Hui and Han. The terrain is slightly less forbidding that of Ganzi, making it more amenable to settlement and therefore a more popular destination for Han Chinese moving in from the east.
The geography of northern Sichuan is rugged and mountainous; it's also lush and riven with streams and lake-speckled valleys like Jiuzhaigou, one of China's most famous tourist destinations. Near Jiuzhaigou is Huanglong National Park, famous for its vivid turquoise lakes and hotsprings, while just south of that is semi-arid Songpan—half Muslim, half Tibetan and home to nearly as many horses as humans.
Just a few hours northwest of Chengdu and within Aba Prefecture lies the gorgeous town of Danba, which features beautiful Tibetan architecture, towering snow-capped peaks and old watchtowers dotting the mountainsides.
In the far northwest of Aba, yet another landscape awaits adventurous travelers; Zoigê, a vast wetland prairie, enjoys some of the greatest biodiversity anywhere in China.
In sum, few regions in China have more outdoor activities to offer than Aba Prefecture, from hiking and trekking, to religious and cultural sites, to jawdroppingly beautiful alpine landscapes and a rich mix of indigenous cultures.
Sichuan guide | Aba attractions | Aba flights (Jiuzhaigou)
Aba hotels (Jiuzhaigou) | Aba on the China Travel Blog