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SAFETY ADVISORY for TRAVELERS IN KHAM
Crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise all over China, and unfortunately Ganzi and the rest of the Tibetan plateau have not been exempted from this trend. During the last few years Khampas (men of Kham) have been reclaiming their reputation as bandits par excellence. This is one aspect of Old Tibet that we would prefer not to see revived!
Probably the most common crime is theft of livestock, which is a terrible hardship for herdsmen but not much concern to the traveler. More important to us is that bandits like to prey on vehicles traveling through sparsely inhabited terrain, forcing them to stop and then relieving passengers of valuables at gun- or knife-point. Buses are rarely victimized, but single trucks and small cars such as Landcruisers occasionally are. Robbers also attack travelers on foot passing through remote areas.
Foreign travelers are not invulnerable from crime; in fact sometimes they attract it. A reliable source reported that a European couple trekking in lightly populated part of Amdo was attacked by bandits who pinned them down with AK-47 fire for some minutes until they surrendered. (The lost everything, but they were not harmed).
Of even more concern is the stabbing attack of a French woman in Tagong in 2006 and the murder of a British hiker on Paomashan, just outside Kangding, in year 2000.
We've also heard reports of luggage being stolen from the roof of a bus on the way to Derge, and a villager working as a guide in the Gongga Shan area extorting more than the agreed-upon payment from his foreign clients.
Bear in mind, these incidents are rare. But it's worth taking a few precautions to prevent them. We recommend:
- Before you set out, non-Chinese should register with their country's embassy in China. (US citizens can do this on-line). Everyone should make sure someone knows about your travel plans who can sound an alarm if you don't reappear on time.
- Don't travel alone. Even on public buses, you will be much better off with a companion who can help watch your baggage.
- In some towns, for example Tagong and Ganzi, you would be wise not to be on the street after dark.
- When trekking, go in a group of at least four people (six is better), of whom at least one is a Tibetan from that area. Typically, this only costs 40 yuan per day per paid companion--well worth it.
- Hire at least one of your guides from a trusted source, for example a travel agency.
- When traveling by car, form a caravan with other vehicles.
- When you fill out a hotel registration form, be accurate about the length of your stay and intended direction of travel. When setting off on a trek, tell someone where you are going, and with whom.
- If you set off into a wilderness area with a local guide, check his ID (shenfen zheng) and write down the information inside. Provide this info to someone who will give it to the police if you don't return on time.
- Divide your cash into separate smaller stashes in your baggage, money-belt, and clothing. In cities, beware of carrying your valuables in a knapsack that can be slashed or unzipped by pickpockets who follow you through a crowded market or shopping center.
- Don't flash wads of bills. Don't wear expensive gear dangling around your neck or fancy jewelry (one of our volunteers once had earrings grabbed right off of her ears). Don't bring unnecessary equipment.
- If you are attacked by robbers, don't attempt any heroic maneuvers. Just give them your money!
- Finally, watch out for dogs. They are more dangerous than the people.
See also: more safety tips
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