For the first time, Guo Yuchao, a 33-year-old programmer, had the chance to experience the unique Tibetan culture of Losar, or the Tibetan New Year.
This year's Losar coincided with the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, that fell on Feb 12. In Gannan autonomous prefecture, Northwest China's Gansu province, local Tibetans celebrate the festival with religious rituals, horse races, family gatherings and feasts.
"I've never seen the celebration of Tibetan New Year before and finally have the chance to experience the unique culture," said Guo, who has been working in Hezuo city in the prefecture for three years. Many of his friends are Tibetans.
On their invitation, Guo ventured to Xiahe county, neighboring Hezuo, where he immersed himself in the traditional Tibetan New Year celebrations.
"It was a novel experience for me to try traditional Tibetan cuisine and watch their celebration ceremonies," he said.
Official data showed more than 40,000 visits were made by tourists to Gannan during the seven-day Spring Festival holiday, bringing in around 21.06 million yuan (about $3.26 million) in revenue to the prefecture.
Wang Yiqing, 47, also spent his holiday "on the road." Driving from his hometown Xi'an in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Wang and his family enjoyed a leisurely trip to Gannan.
"I've long dreamed of traveling to Gannan. I was taken aback by the beautiful scenery and unique ethnic customs here," said Wang, adding that the trip had been planned long in advance.
Wang's family enjoyed a four-day stay in Gannan. In Zhagana village, one of the most famous tourist destinations in the prefecture, they chose to stay in a homestay with distinct local cultural characteristics.
"We went hiking on the very first day of the Chinese New Year. Breathing in the fresh air and with breathtaking scenery all around us, it felt like all my troubles were gone," said Wang.
Rinkho, the homestay owner, said that in previous years they usually shut down the business during winter. "This year, tourists are still coming despite the cold weather, and our rooms are fully booked," he said.
In a bid to attract more tourists over the winter, Gannan has rolled out a series of preferential policies including free admission to some scenic spots.
"People are looking to relax over the Spring Festival period, and welcome the Chinese New Year with high spirits and new beginnings," said Ma Wentao, head of the culture and tourism bureau of Gannan.
Tenzin, a former Tibetan herdsman in Hezuo, is planning to open a homestay this year, providing accommodation and Tibetan food for tourists.
"The rooms are decorated with Tibetan ethnic features, and we also provide facilities such as Wi-Fi and shower," said Tenzin. He also persuaded his daughter-in-law to sign up for a Tibetan cuisine workshop organized by the local government.
Tourism has triggered a spectacular improvement in the lives of local Tibetans in Gannan. In 2020, the prefecture saw nearly 16.71 million visitors, generating about 8.3 billion yuan in revenue, up 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively, year on year.