Trekking Mount Kailash

Tony backed by Mount Kailash

The following post was written when we visited Tibet in 2007. In the last decade, much has changed. The roads leading to Mt. Kailash have been paved, Chinese guides must accompany tourists, and the once isolated region sees more visitors.

We were still half a day’s drive away from Darchen, the town at the foot of Mount Kailash and the starting point for our trek, when we caught our first glimpse of the snow-covered peak in the distance. After ten days bumping up and down on a series of increasingly deteriorating dirt rodes, Tibet’s holiest mountain was within sight.

The tension had been building for days. Rumors had been circulating that the Chinese military had moved into the area to clamp down on unrest resulting from the construction of an unapproved Buddha on the slopes of the mountain. Conflict had broken out between the soldiers and Tibetan pilgrims doing the Kailash kora. We had met several foreign trekkers and travelers who had been turned back by the troops. As we silently bounced our way towards our destination, we were all asking ourselves the same question: would we be allowed to trek Continue…

Leaning Towers of Danba

Danba Three Towers

Danba (丹巴) is a small town along the border of the Tibetan and Qiang ethnic regions of Sichuan. It is known to adventure travelers for the ancient Qiang watchtowers that cling to the steep slopes of the surrounding mountain valleys.

In order to get up close and personal with these impressive monuments, we hired a driver and headed out into the villages of Zhonglu and Suopo near Danba. After roaming the terraced cornfields and orchards, we casually strolled by houses with towers waiting for an invitation. Hilariously, there weren’t many Continue…

Our Roughest Roads

Madagascar south of Maroantsetra – 2003

Recently, we were asked about the worst roads we had ever been on. Hmmm, there’s a post in that question, I suddenly thought to myself. Thomas and I sat down to reflect on the thousands of roads we had traveled – the breakdowns, the potholes, the drop-offs, the landslides, the dust, the terrifying drivers – and came up with a list of some of the most challenging stretches we had experienced. As with all such questions, the year we traveled these roads is also relevant because things change. Here’s a list of our roughest roads Continue…

10 Highest Mountains

We’ve managed to get our first view of phenomenal Kangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world. Although we are still 74 km (46 miles) from the mountain, it looks massive towering over the valleys of Sikkim.

Seeing Kangchendzonga is also a milestone for Thomas and me. This means we have seen 8 of the top ten highest mountains in the world. The remaining two mountains, K2 and Nanga Parbat, are both located in northwest Pakistan, and we obviously won’t be heading there right now.

To celebrate the eight, we have put together our own pictorial list of the world’s ten highest mountains, respectfully leaving blank spaces for K2 and Nanga Parbat. We’ll get to Pakistan some day!

Friends Arrested in Sichuan!

In October last year, I was raving about our stay in Dargye Gompa, a beautiful and serene monastery in Sichuan, China. We spent several days there with three monks and a wonderful, small group of travelers, French Thomas, Fredy the Nomad, and Rachel.

French Thomas just left a comment on our blog that monks from Dargye Gompa have been arrested while protesting for their freedom, and he left a link with photos from an online source.

This is terrible news, and we hope the Chinese government will end this nonsense and release our friends.

Crossing to Nepal

Our Car in Tibet

I’ve always said the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing is the most abrupt, most dramatic border transition I’ve ever experienced. It turns out, there is another…

Driving along the desert roads of the Tibetan plateau, the road peaked just before Nyalam to reveal a spectacular Himalayan panorama and a road heading down, down , down. After what seemed like an unending series of switchbacks, the open moonscape we were moving through gave way to tight canyons that slid their way through the snow-capped mountains. Stone villages and terraced fields clung to the steep cliffs, herds of yaks and goats wandered along the road.

Pema, our driver, carefully navigated the hairpin turns and steep drop-offs as suicidal Chinese drivers Continue…

Trash Eating Cow

Trash Eating Cow

As in many third world countries, trash management in China, and even more so in Tibet, is a huge problem particularly outside the tourist areas where there don’t seem to be any centralized places for disposing of trash. The more organized municipalities have random piles of trash distributed throughout the town while less organized places are evenly littered with garbage – it is just like living on a dump.

The most shocking examples of trash mismanagement, we encountered in Tibet. Continue…

The Long Road Back

Black-Necked Cranes, Tibet

Two days of driving to the Nepalese border and most of it was backtracking via the same route by which we had come. Our 17-day trip was almost over and I knew, we would hit the same spine-crumbling potholes again.

Tibetan Landscape

I didn’t expect a lot of excitement going back. Going through familiar terrain, though, provides a chance to relax and let your mind wander. I believe all of us were thinking about Continue…

Lake Manasarovar

Gurla Mandhata

After Nam Tso Lake, which supposedly is the highest fresh water lake in the world, the holy Lake Manasarovar is the highest salt water lake at an altitude of 4550 m (15,000 feet) and a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site. We spent a couple of nights there on our way back from the Guge Kingdom staying at a small guest house situated between the lake shores and the Chiu Monastery atop a small hill. Continue…

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…