Tang Ke Town: A Classical Scenery
Written by Liu Qiankun
Tang Ke Town is the only route for vessels entering or leaving the first Yellow River bend. It is the necessities supply area and distribution center for more than ten townships around. Moreover, the township government of Tang Ke is also located in here.
About the History and Legend
The word “Tang Ke” comes from the transliteration of the Tibetan word “Tang Fei”. Legend has it that the local tyrant of Xiaman Town, Xiang Man, was the tribal leader. However, his brother Za Xiwang refused to obey him, and was expelled from the tribe. Later, Za Xiwang led his family and a part of the herdsmen to Tang Ke to establish their own territory. His wife was the daughter of Tang Nong who was the local tyrant of the Luqu County of Gansu Province. She was called “Tang Fei”, and her clan relatives were called the Tang Family. Later on, this place was named as Tang Ke based on the legend, which is still used today.
The earliest inhabitants here is the Cha Burang tribe, in whose heyday the number of the herdsmen was up to more than 600 households. This place was once under the jurisdiction of the Mongols. After the Gesar Army drove the Mongols away, it returned to the jurisdiction of Cha Burang tribe. During the period of Suo Zang III, a plague struck the tribe. Desperately, the tribal leader had to disperse the property to people who were on their way to the Ngawa County, and the rest of the property was donated to the Suogezang Temple.
At that time, the Gesar Army was divided into three groups to cross the Yellow River, leaving three ancient ferry ruins. After the withdrawal of the army, the Cha Burang tribe was left here to administrate Tang Ke Town, and the troops led by the King Gesar’s offsprings were left in Xiaman Town. Because of this, there is an A’xi tribe (also translated as A’xu) in Nengwa Town and Xiaman Town today, which is regarded in the whole Qinghai Tibet Plateau as the descendent of the Gesar Army. The large quantity of black soil that exists on the boundary ridge of Tang Ke Town and Ngawa County, is said to be formed from the ashes left by the King Gesar when he was forging his weapons. Later on, this mountain was named as Tanshan.
Tang Ke is a town with a long history. The legend itself is the historical evidence of a nation, and also a secret history of a nation. Although it is difficult for us to prove the validity of these legends, some of the remaining customs today can tell us about the forming reasons and the long history of this place.
About the Unique Customs
It is a common phenomenon that men do the mending in all the areas of the Qinghai Tibet Plateau, whether it is to stitch a Tibetan robe or to sew a button. However, the custom is totally different in Tang Ke. It is women that do the mending here, the reason of which is unknown, but I believe that it may be a unique phenomenon in the whole Tibetan plateau.
There is another unique custom in Tang Ke since ancient times, which is that every household of herdsmen store food. As we all know, in the pastoral areas, the herdsmen always choose the place which around water and grass to live. If they store food, they will encounter more inconvenience when they migrate. However, settlements appeared in Tang Ke a long time ago. In the place where herdsmen live in the cold winter, the stocks of food vary from ten thousand kilograms to fifteen thousand kilograms. This kind of phenomenon can be observed in many places of Tang Ke, which does not exist in other Tibetan areas.
In the past, grasslands were not used as grain-producing areas. If people wanted to exchange for agricultural products like the highland barley and wheat, they needed to go to Gansu Province. Before the winter, the young men of every household would drive a herd of yak and yak cattle out to exchange for sugar, salt and food. This kind of scene has appeared in a famous movie named “Himalaya” which is also translated as “The Claim”. It tells the story that herdsmen in the Ladakh Dynasty, which is in the south of the Himalaya Mountains, go towards the north to exchange for salt and food. In the Sichuan Tibetan area, the spectacular scene also exists hundreds of kilometers away.
In addition, the herdsmen of this area plant oats on the grasslands in the summer and get them aired in the sun before the winter. The store of oats will be used as for the cattle’s forage in the winter, the mst environmental-friendly growing method of which is to plant them in the lairages of the winter settlements. In Tang Ke, there has been a habit of growing oats in the fences in winter for a long time. The herdsmen sow the seeds in the winter settlements before moving to the summer pastures, and when they get back here before winter, the oats will have been ripe. The oats grow well because there is a large amount of animal waste in the fences. This growing method not only helps with the conservation of soil and water, and the maintaining of the ecological balance, but also increases the winter forage, which can provide the best of both worlds.
As we all know, all the Tibetan people like drinking tea, of which the buttered tea is the most famous. However, the Tibetan tea and milk tea are more popular. The method for making milk tea is to put tea and fresh milk into the pot and boil them together. By this way, you can taste the tea aroma and milk flavor at the same time. Once, we went to visit the homes of the herdsmen. The hostess took a pot out of the cupboard to pour some fresh milk into every bowl as she made the Tibetan tea on the stove. Then she poured the boiled tea into each bowl. This method for making milk tea is applied in all the Tibetan areas except Ruoergai County. The method for making milk tea in Ruoergai is a bit like making coffee, which originated in Tang Ke.
About the Simple Folk Customs
Tang Ke is the only route for vessels entering or leaving the first Yellow River bend and is also the main artery leading to Qinghai Province. Many people, both the photographers and the casual tourists, often ignore this place because of their strong sense of purpose. It is easy to be ignored if you visit it in a hurry, because it does not possess the peculiarity that makes you fall in love with it at first sight. However, if you try to enjoy it to the fullest, you will feel its purity to the utmost. There are no distinctive buildings for the architects, no aesthetic things for the photographers, and no rare items for the cool hunters. The only thing it has is the primitive style of the Tibetan townships.
Tang Ke only has a T-shaped street, with one branch leading to the first Yellow River bend, another one leading to the pastures in Maqu County of Gansu Province, and the last one leading to the 213-national highway. Tang Ke is the nearest distribution center for the thirteen surrounding pastoral townships, so it is filled with moving men all the time.
As for a region or a nation, those beyond decoration are the most essential. Although temples are a characteristic feature of the Tibetan areas, it is the details in daily life that show the essence of Tibetan. You can see these scenes in Tibetan: women with a scarf around their mouth and nose are riding a horse; men wearing black leather boots and robes are wandering in the street; an old man is guarding a vegetable stall in the corner; some monks are dressed in red robes. What a busy place it is! Children are very cheerful here, laughing and talking, jumping up and down, just like the children in any other place.
The sky here is always blue; the people here are always honest and hospitable. Even a restaurant makes you feel at home. There are many restaurants in the street, including Sichuan food, Northwest food, and Tibetan food. People in Tibetan like to stand or sit beside the window. Their robes make you feel warm in the winter. When sitting in a halal restaurant, you will be instantly immersed in the delicious smell of roast beef. Through the little window, the horses come into your sight, and soon disappear. Everything sends out the classical refined breath here, just like the town where a chivalrous hero is borne under the pen of Gu Long.
Public transport: the route is from Chengdu (Chadianzi Station) to Ruoergai. The departure time is at 6:40 am or 7:20 am. The price is 171 yuan. After arriving at Ruoergai, you can take a bus to Tang Ke. Two buses depart at 6:30 am every day, and one bus at 11:50 am.
Self-driving: the route is “Chengdu-Dujiangyan-Wenchuan-Lixian-Hongyuan-Tang Ke”, the distance of which is about 500 kilometers.
The main food in the local place is pasta, and the steamed bread is also very common. There are many restaurants in the town, including Sichuan cuisine. The accommodation is also very convenient, with many family hotels available.