MATO COUNTY རྨ་སྟོད་རྫོང་། (MADUO 玛多)
This sparsely populated county contains vast grasslands and numerous lakes, two of which, Ngoring Tso and Gyaring Tso, have as their outlet the upper Yellow River (and which, apparently, are quite beautiful). Often desolate and stark, this region has experienced extensive desertification in recent years, and consequently many nomad families have moved elsewhere to the proverbial greener pastures. This is ground zero in China’s struggle to protect the Yellow River’s sources from the encroaching desert – mostly to ensure continuity in rates of flow downstream – and you’ll see massive signs with environmental slogans everywhere. The eponymous county town (4280m) is rather barren, with a strip of truckers’ restaurants near the highway and the town 3km up a side road. The county also includes the important crossroads town of Huashixia 花石峡 (4100m), where the Xining-Yushu highway is met by the road leading towards the center of Golog (Darlag, Banma, Jigdril, etc); nearby is the road leading to Xiadawu and Amnye Machen. Aside from waiting for buses, there isn’t much to do here. There is a shockingly good restaurant near the crossroads (on the left about 20m down the side road leading towards Darlag) and several small guesthouses are located in the vicinity.
DARLAG COUNTY དར་ལག་རྫོང་། (Dari 达日)
Spectacularly beautiful grassland/mountain area with many monasteries. However, usually closed; avoid. The county town (4000m) has a somewhat friendly bus station.
BADMA COUNTY པད་མ་རྫོང་། (Banma 班玛)
REALLY spectacularly beautiful grassland and forested-gorge area with some outstanding monasteries including major institutions of the rare Jonangpa sect (see this post). The county town (3500m) is small and friendly. Again, unfortunately closed to foreigners.