Xichang is the capital of Liangshan Prefecture in southern Sichuan. Liangshan is home to the largest Yi minority community in the nation and the most extensive series of Torch Festivals as well.
The region is underdeveloped, mountainous and beautiful. There are hot springs, mountain lakes, obscure Yi villages and dense forests that are basically untouched by tourism.
But not for a lack of trying: the Xichang Municpal government has been trying very hard to bring more visitors to the city and region, most notably through an expansion of the annual Torch Festival held each August. In the past, the Torch festival was celebrated mostly in the mountains by the Yi minority that claim to have originated the festival. Xichang, as the administrative cpaital, was and still is a Han dominated city surrounded by Tibetan and Yi towns and as such did not celebrate the "barbarian festivals"—that is until they realized that the festival could be profitable.
Since 2006, the government has poured millions into revamping the festival, inviting delegations from all over the world and engaging the media to a much greater extent. The city has also rebuilt many old and tottering roads and buiildings, renovated existing Buddhist temples (harking back to when the Tibetans ruled this city) and also developed nearby Qionghai Lake.
Qionghai is now surrounded by a nice parkway and dotted with little hotels and B&Bs as well as two massive hotels geared toward rich Chinese visitors. You can tour the lake on a boat, fish or just walk along the edges eating from the BBQ stands or sit and sip tea. The lake is a 20 munute cab ride from the city center.
The efforts have made the city a nicer place to visit. Transportation in and around the city is still more difficult than in Chengdu or other larger cities, but it is getting better and more reliable.
The Torch Festival is now one of the best in the nation—rivaling Lijiang and Dali in Yunnan Province. The festival usually last a few days in Xichang, but goes on for more than a week in the surrounding villages—places like Meigu (Měigū, 美姑) and Puge (Pŭgé, 普格). The festival includes bullfighting, horse and yak races, fire dancing and beauty contests.
With Xichang's high elevation and sunny weather, it is only a matter of time before visitors start passing through here on their way to other nearby destinations such as Lu Mountain (Lu Shan), Luoji Mountain and Lugu Lake.