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Gar Yarsa
Gartok is located in Tibet
Coordinates: 31°43′41″N 80°20′14″E / 31.7280°N 80.3371°E / 31.7280; 80.3371Coordinates: 31°43′41″N 80°20′14″E / 31.7280°N 80.3371°E / 31.7280; 80.3371
CountryPeople's Republic of China
ProvinceTibet Autonomous Region
PrefectureNgari Prefecture
CountyGar County
4,450 m (14,600 ft)
Time zoneUTC+8 (CST)

Gartok (Tibetan: སྒར་ཐོག, Wylie: sGar-thog),[a] is made of twin encampment settlements of Gar Günsa and Gar Yarsa (Tibetan: སྒར་དབྱར་ས, Wylie: sGar-dbyar-sa, Wade–Giles: Ka-erh-ya-sha) in the Gar County in the Ngari Prefecture of Tibet. Gar Gunsa served as the winter encampment and Gar Yarsa as the summer encampment. But in British nomenclature, the name Gartok was applied only to Gar Yarsa and the practice continues till date.[3]

Gartok was established as Lhasa's administrative headquarters for Western Tibet (Ngari) after it conquered it from Ladakh in 1684. A senior official called Garpön was stationed here. Gartok (Gar Yarsa) also served as Western Tibet's principal trade-market. But the village itself was small and said to have been quite poor. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet, the headquarters of Western Tibet was moved to Shiquanhe.

Gar Yarsa is situated on the bank of the Gartang River, one of the headwaters of the Indus River, at the base of the Kailash Range, at an elevation of 4,460 metres (14,630 ft).


Gartok and vicinity
Map of the Gar valley by Strachey (1851) showing Gar Gunsa and Gar Yarsa. The Gartang river joins Sengge Zangbo at a location called Tagle, with Langmar and Rala nearby.
Map of the Gar valley in a Survey of India map (1936), showing Gartok (Gar Yarsa) and Gar Dzong (Gar Gunsa)

Gar (Wylie: sGar) means "encampment". During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Karma Kagyu lamas moved through the length and breadth of Tibet in "Great Encampments" or garchen.[4][5] The term is also used often for military camps.[6][7]

British sources interpreted "Gar Yarsa" as the "summer camp".[8][9] However, the ninth century bilingual text Mahāvyutpatti translated yarsa as Sanskrit वार्षिकावासः (vārṣikāvāsaḥ), literally, the residence of the rainy season.[10][b] Even though Gar Yarsa has acquired the name "Gartok" in popular parlance, officially, "Gartok" consists of both Gar Yarsa and Gar Gunsa (the "winter camp"). The latter is forty miles downstream on Gartang at a lower altitude.[3]

The Lhasan administrators of Western Tibet based at Gartok were called Garpöns.[11] They lived in Gar Gunsa for nine months in the year, and stayed at Gar Yarsa during August–October.[12]


Gar Yarsa lies on the road between Ladakh and Shigatse,[c] northeast of the present day Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, all of which it has had trade relations with.[14][15] William Moorcroft regarded the Gar Valley as being part of Changtang, whose main occupation is the production of pashmina wool.[2]

By all accounts, Gar Yarsa appears to have been a small village. Moorcroft wrote that it was little more than an encampment, with a number of blanket tents and a few houses built with sun-dried bricks.[13] Ladakhi envoy Abdul Wahid Radhu stated that nomad tents outnumbered solid houses.[16] British explorer Cecil Rawling stated that Gartok had only "three good sized houses and twelve miserable hovels". The Garpons resided there for three months in a year, during which time Gartok became a busy centre of commerce.[12] No less than 500 nomads and merchants would collect at the location at any given time.[17]

The village also has a small temple referred to "Gar Yarsa gompa".[16]


Tibet–Ladakh-Mughal War[edit]

The rise of Gartok as the seat of Lhasa's authority in western Tibet occurred after the Tibet–Ladakh–Mughal War (1681–1684). Prior to this, the Gar Valley was part of Guge, which was either independent or under the control of Ladakh. In 1630, Ladakh had annexed the entire kingdom of Guge, including the Gar Valley. Through the war, Central Tibet based in Lhasa challenged Ladakh's supremacy.

During the war, the large of army of Galdan Chhewang, Tibet's general, is said to have encamped in the Gar Valley.[18] The first clash with the Ladakhi forces took place near the confluence of the Gartang and Sengge Zangbo, with the locations Langmar and Rala mentioned in the sources.[19]

After the end of the war, Galdan Chhewang organised the administration of the new province Ngari, and appointed bLo bzaṅ padma as governor (gZim-dpon) before returning to Lhasa.[20][d] The Tibetan government appointed prefects (rdzoṅ‐sdod) to the traditional districts of Purang, Tsaparang and Tashigang.[22] But eventually Tashigang lost its importance, with Gartok taking its place. Lhasa-appointed governors for the whole of Ngari, called Garpons, took their seat at Gartok.

Commercially, Gartok had the advantage of being equidistant between the Changthang, whose shepherds brought pashmina wool for sale, and their buyers in Ladakh and Bashahr.

19th century[edit]

William Moorcroft was the first British official to set foot in western Tibet. He arrived in Daba in 1812, along with another adventurer Hearshey, disguised as an Indian gosain merchant. He was hoping to find Central Asian horses for East India Company's stud as well as any other profitable merchandise such as the pashmina wool. The officials in Daba sent him on to Gartok. The Garpon received them civilly and agreed to sell the goods they wanted. He was later punished by Lhasa with three years imprisonment, for permitting foreigners into the country.[23]

The prohibition against foreigners did not apply to customary traders from Indian borderlands. However the sale of pashmina wool was limited to Ladakhis, as per the Treaty of Tingmosgang of 1684.[23] Some wool did make it to Bashahr, which was an ally of Tibet during the Tibet–Ladakh–Mughal War, as well as Zanskar (along with its territories of Lahul and Spiti), which was part of the family of west Tibetan kingdoms. The British tried to exploit these connections later for acquiring pashmina wool.

In 1817, after the Anglo-Nepalese War, W. J. Webb, the East Indian Company's surveyor of Kumaon and Garhwal, also made efforts to enter Tibet for the purpose of surveying. He earned the trust of the Tibetan officials and was permitted limited entry, beyond which the officials said permission would be needed from Lhasa and Peking.[24]

20th century[edit]

In accordance with the Treaty of Lhasa in 1904, Gartok, together with Yatung and Gyantse, was thrown open to British trade. On the return of the column from Lhasa in that year, Gartok was visited by a party under Captain C. H. D. Ryder, who found only a few dozen people in winter quarters, their houses being in the midst of a bare plain. In summer, however, all the trade between Tibet and Ladakh passed through it.[14]


  1. ^ Variants of the spelling include Gartog,[1] Gardokh, Gartokh, Ghertope, while Garo appears to be an alternative form of the name.[2]
  2. ^ Mahāvyutpatti gives a different term for summer residence: Sanskrit ग्रैष्मिकावासः (graiṣmikāvāsaḥ) is said to correspond to Tibetan: དཔྱིད་ས་, Wylie: dpyid sa.
  3. ^ Moorcroft writes that the road from Ladakh was a six days' journey, along the course of the Indus river, which was "tolerably level" and "thinly coated with coarse pasturage".[13]
  4. ^ This appears to have been Blo-bzan‐padma-bkra-śis-lde (Losang Béma Tashidé, 1676-1743), the last member of Guge's dynasty. He moved to Central Tibet in 1692 and remained there till his death.[21]


  1. ^ Handa, Buddhist Western Himalaya (2001), p. 203.
  2. ^ a b Moorcroft & Trebeck, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces, Vol. 1 (1841), p. 362.
  3. ^ a b Rawling, The Great Plateau (1905), p. 272: "Gartok in reality consists of two distinct places situated forty miles apart. The one we visited is known as Gar Yarsa or Summer Quarters, and the other, which is also on the Indus but at a lower altitude, Gar Gunsa or Winter Quarters."
  4. ^ Sullivan, Brenton (2020), Building a Religious Empire: Tibetan Buddhism, Bureaucracy, and the Rise of the Gelukpa, University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 37–38, ISBN 978-0-8122-5267-5: "During this pivotal period of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, [Gyelwang Karmapa's] power was manifest in his Great Encampment, garchen in Tibetan. The garchen's influence included even outposts in Ngari of far western Tibet and it maintained a significant presence at the major pilgrimage site of Tsari, or Crystal Mountain, along the border with Arunachal Pradesh."
  5. ^ Chakraverty, Anjan (1998), Sacred Buddhist Painting, Lustre Press, p. 66, ISBN 978-81-7436-042-7: "Karmapa lamas who used to be on the move constantly lived in large tent cities with great pomp. The mobile Karmapa encampments were known as Karma Garchen and thus the style patronised in the encampments was labelled the Karma Gadri style (the style of the Karma encampment)."
  6. ^ Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan Civilization. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 122–123 – via
  7. ^ Eric Teichman, Travels of a Consular Officer in Eastern Tibet: Together with a History of the Relations Between China, Tibet and India (Cambridge: The University Press, 1922), p. 130.
  8. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. 10 (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1973; ISBN 0852291736), p. 3.
  9. ^ John Keay, History of World Exploration (The Royal Geographical Society; Mallard Press, 1991), p. 76.
  10. ^ Mahāvyutpatti: 5600-5699, Eyes of Worlds website, retrieved 20 July 2021.
  11. ^ Waller, Derek (2015), The Pundits: British Exploration of Tibet and Central Asia, University Press of Kentucky, pp. 100–101, ISBN 978-0-8131-4904-2
  12. ^ a b Rawling, The Great Plateau (1905), p. 272.
  13. ^ a b Moorcroft & Trebeck, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces, Vol. 1 (1841), pp. 362–363.
  14. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gartok". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 11 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 480.
  15. ^ Moorcroft & Trebeck, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces, Vol. 1 (1841), pp. 362–363: "it is, in fact, little more than a trading station, or mart, where in the summer months the natural productions of Tibet and China are exchanged for those of Hindustan [i.e., Himachal Pradesh] and Kashmir [i.e., Ladakh]."
  16. ^ a b Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas (2020), pp. 292–295.
  17. ^ Rawling, The Great Plateau (1905), p. 273.
  18. ^ Petech, The Kingdom of Ladakh (1977), p. 76.
  19. ^ Petech, The Tibetan-Ladakhi Moghul War (1947), p. 178.
  20. ^ Petech, The Tibetan-Ladakhi Moghul War (1947), p. 190.
  21. ^ Petech, The Kingdom of Ladakh (1977), p. 45.
  22. ^ Petech, The Kingdom of Ladakh (1977), p. 78.
  23. ^ a b Meyer & Brysac, Tournament of Shadows (2009), Chapter 1.
  24. ^ "Sur l'Elévation des Montagnes de l'Inde, par Alexandre de Humboldt" [On the Elevation of the Mountains of India], The Quarterly Review, London: John Murray: 416–430, 1820. The Garpon is referred to as "Gertop" in this article.