The Gyarong Tibetan area stretches generally along the Dadu River (in Tibetan called The Gyarong Princess River of Silver) from Danba south to Luding (all within Sichuan). The capital of the Gyarong cultural area is Danba town, which is where the Dadu starts, formed from three rivers joining together at this site. The valley of the Dadu is narrow and deep, and has numerous side valleys, in which live the various Gyarong peoples.
The Gyarong Tibetans are both Tibetan and not-Tibetan. Some outsiders call them Qiang nationality. The “Pure Tibetans” of the high grasslands (with whom we usually work) say that Danba people are not Tibetan, that they are simply Gyarong, their own ethnic group. The Gyarong people themselves call themselves Tibetan. Gyarong is a Tibetan word which means “Outside Valley.”
The women of Gyarong wear a special outfit with two embroidered aprons (front and back) over trousers, nice shirts (often), and a brightly embroidered head scarf. They are known for being very beautiful. The people generally claim to be Tibetan Buddhists, but many follow the religion Bon, which was popular in Tibet before the arrival of Buddhism. Bon is a highly magic-based religion, and includes animal sacrifice. The strangest thing that goes on in Danba today in terms of religion is the poisoning of people, with proper ceremony, to kill them and thereby gain their karmic qualities. This happens in Danba even now, though rarely.
The language of Danba is related to Tibetan, but is unintelligible to other Tibetan speakers. In the various outside areas, the language is different still. These are the edge areas of Tibet.
Surrounding the town of Danba are high castle-like houses, and next to them even higher towers of unknown purpose. Many houses in the countryside have them; they are thousands of years old.
As one travels south along the Dadu River, one passes through various areas, all broadly considered Gyarong, though differing quite a lot in religion, language, and dress. One such area is Jintang.
All over Gyarong, the weather is warm and dry, but seldom hot, and perfect for growing Sichuan Numbing Pepper (also known as Chinese Prickly Ash or huajiao). The best Numbing Pepper in the world comes from these areas.
We work with artists in Danba – mostly tailors and embroiderers – and in Jintang.