The Guge Kingdom

Guge Kingdom Landscape

Guge was an ancient kingdom that once existed in the far west of Tibet about a day’s jeep travel north of Mt. Kailash. Set in a spectacular desert canyonlands, Guge was once a series of prospering irrigated valleys ruled from the monastic fortress complex at Tsaparang and large monastery at Tholing. Continue…

Bumping our Way to Guge

Desert Mountains on the Way to the Guge Kingdom

Leaving Kailash, we headed west on the road to Ali before turning off on to some of the worst roads on our journey so far (that’s quite a statement). The jeep tracks snaked their way up into a surreal multi-colored desert mountain range like nothing I’ve ever seen elsewhere.

We spent hours inching our way through sandy riverbeds and rocky slopes. At one point Continue…

Altitude Sickness Follow-Up

The first time I got sick was in the middle of the night at Nam Tso Lake. We had driven directly from Lhasa at 3,700 m (12,200 feet) to Nam Tso Lake at 4,800 m (15,800 feet) for an overnight stay. This was way too much of a climb – a big no no when it comes to do’s and don’t’s of avoiding altitude sickness (although, I was the only one affected in our group of six.) The first few hours after arriving, I was completely fine and hiking around. But by 1:30 in the morning Continue…

The Coldest Night

After driving for hours through a deserted landscape without seeing much more than some yak herds and a few nomads, we noticed a single Tibetan house next to a couple of tents sitting on the wind-swept grasslands ahead of us. That’s where we would spend the night.

Ice Crystals on the Car Window, Tibet

Because it was freezing cold and very windy (not the best of combinations), we decided to stay in the house rather than in the tent which was violently shaking from the gusts. Desperate to warm ourselves, we all collected around the yak-dung stove trying to warm up while the windows were covering over with ice crystals and the sheep outside with frost.

Sitting there shivering, it suddenly dawned on us that this could all be for nothing. Our big goal is Mt. Kailash, but will we be able to go there with all the military around? I guess, we’ll know more by tomorrow.

Journey to the West

Sand Dunes, Lake and the Himalayas

We’ve been bumping up and down for days on dusty roads (or lack thereof) heading for Mt. Kailash. Each day seems like an epic journey in its own right, winding our way up over mountains, across desolate lunar landscapes, down through canyons to grasslands filled with herds of yaks and sheep. We drive straight through rivers and streams hoping the water won’t flood into the car. We inch along steep mountain roads and spin our wheels trying to get the car over landslides that have Continue…

Blowing Up Buddha

While enjoying lunch at a roadside restaurant, a group of Swiss travelers delivered some disturbing news which put our Kailash trip in question.

Two days ago, the Chinese military blew up an “unauthorized” 30-foot stone statue of Buddha at Mt. Kailash. The Swiss warned us of the military presence, probably there to snuff out any Tibetan response to destroying their Buddha. Nearby Lake Manasarovar, where we plan to spend a couple of days, has apparently been flooded with soldiers and is only partially accessible to tourists.

To make things worse, the Swiss mentioned that it just snowed on Mt. Kailash and that the pass is covered with three feet of snow. If it continues to snow, the pass will be closed until spring.

Considering the Swiss are supposed to be neutral, they sure were angry at the Chinese for this pointless act – and so are we! It certainly calls to mind the Taliban’s mindless destruction of the Buddha of Bamyan statue in Afghanistan.

What next?

Everest North Base Camp

Mt. Everest in the Sunset

WOW, we are at Everest North Base Camp (EBC) at an altitude of 5200 m (17,160 feet) – how cool is that?! If you imagine the base camp cramped with expedition tents and buzzing with climbers and tourists, you are wrong. Since a group of Americans protested there in May for a free Tibet, the base camp has been cleared and visitors can now only stay at a tented camp 4 km away. All that remains at Everest Base Camp is a military checkpoint with very drunken soldiers whose job it is Continue…

Everest…Not!

Cho Oyu, Himalayas

As we approached the Pang-La Pass 5,120 meters (16,900 feet), Thomas, Dimitri, Irina and I were keeping our fingers crossed hoping for clear weather to see what is considered one of Tibet’s most phenomenal Himalayan views featuring the king of them all – Everest.

Losang smiled and indicated that we were about to reach the view point just as our car wound around the last corner and the stunning panorama came into view. Wow!

I jumped out of the car with my camera and immediately started climbing up the ridge to my left to find and even better vantage point. Oohing and aahing my way upwards, I snapped dozens of pictures of Everest simply stunned by the incredible mammoth.

Twenty minutes later – still snapping away – as Thomas and I were discussing nature’s masterpiece, a Chinese man who obviously understood our conversation looked over and said, “Excuse me, you are not photographing Everest Continue…

Xigatse

Tashilunpo Monastery Xigatse, Tibet

Xigatse, the second biggest city in Tibet, resembles Lhasa in many ways.

Most importantly it is the location of the Tashilunpo Monastery, traditionally home to the Panchen Lama. The massive monastery is second only to the Potala in gold covered Buddhas, jeweled burial stupas, colorful frescos… art everywhere. It also contains what is supposedly the largest gilded Buddha in the world. I don’t know if it is the biggest, but it was certainly the most awe-inspiring Buddha I have ever seen. (I kept going back to the chapel to look at it again.) Once more, no pictures of the interior due to the most extortionate photo permits known to mankind.

Not surprisingly, there were not nearly as many pilgrims at Tashilunpo as in other major monasteries. Certainly, its importance as a pilgrimage site has declined since the Chinese abducted the real Panchen Lama in 1995 and replaced him with Continue…