Archives: Tibet

Tibet Tour with Achi Tsepal – Summer 2009 Travel Tracks and Overview 31 July 2009

Hello dear family and friends – I hope you will find the following stories interesting and informative! The photo above I took on our overnight expedition above the nunnery at about 15,000′, looking south, on July 1.

Here is a map of our trip (starting in Beijing and ending in Delhi), and the 21 related posts below are in reverse order. On the map, blue lines were flights, red lines were by van/car. We had 2 days in Beijing, 1 in Chengdu, 14 days in Tibet (6 of those in the Drikung Valley where Achi was born, and 4 days on the road), 8 days in Nepal, and 4 days in India. Make sure you visit exotic islands and you can try this out to get the right kind of guides.

It was a wonderful and truly amazing experience, thanks to our in-country guides, drivers and hosts, our fellow travelers, Hidden Treasure Tours, and **most of all** to Achi and his beautiful family in Tibet!

If you want to display only this journey’s posts for easier reading, simply click on the Tibet category in the right hand column. The Photo link above has a “Tibet Tour” album with lots more pictures than are in the posts below – there are several sub-albums, including one just of people. And here is a link to my Google Map of the trip – you can zoom in for more detail. ENJOY!

Delhi (Day 30) – Old Delhi, Mosques, & Memorials 20 July 2009

This last day of our trip we spent touring more of Delhi. jantarmantarActually, when we arrived in Delhi (and before my pedicure), we walked around the area of the Imperial Hotel to Connaught Place, and found only a long block away from the hotel the compound where Lester lived during his last year of high school. Right across the street from there is one of his favorite places, Jantar Mantar (left) – an astronomical observatory built in the early 1700s.

Today was a very full day visiting three of the eight Cities of Delhi, starting with a (more…)

India (Days 27-29) – Taj Mahal & Agra Fort 19 July 2009

First, a small mundane note: Upon our arrival in New Delhi at the Imperial, I got a pedicure! tajI think it was the most divine pampering I have ever experienced, given that my feet had been in boots and [mostly] sandals in dust, mud, and rock and sorely neglected, for weeks. I felt like new!

Also, an observation on arriving in India… I was expecting, when we exited the airport, a literal mass of children and beggars to swarm us as we left the main buildings (much as I remember the Philippines years ago), but that was not the case at all. In fact, I found the parts of Delhi we visited to be very cosmopolitan. Yes, there are TONS of people and vehicles (4 lanes of them where only 3 are marked), but in fact Nepal was *far* more chaotic than Delhi.

The very next morning, yep, we climbed back into another vehicle for a 4+ hour drive to Agra, to spend many hours enjoying the Taj Mahal – it was worth every minute of the drive. (more…)

Nepal (Days 23-26) – Thamel, Photos, Bhaktapur 16 July 2009

We are tired, homesick, and have thousands of photos to review, delete, and/or share!! Kunsang

So we spent the next few days – in the unpretentious and lovely Excelsior Hotel, owned by Achi’s Tibetan friends Kunsang Dorje and Jigme – in the heart of Thamel, the ‘Georgetown’ of Kathmandu. We worked on photos, enjoyed lots of Indian and Nepali food, wandered the streets and shops on foot, and never sat our bums in a vehicle! And Jigme is a jewelry artist, so I was delighted to purchase a sampling of her beautiful wares. 🙂 (more…)

Nepal (Day 22) – Last “Tour” Day / Everest Flight! 12 July 2009

Today is our last day as part of the “Tibet Tour with Achi”, and it was a great way to finish. YetiWe got up *very* early (5am) for our 7:30am flight on…YETI Airlines!! (My sibs will *love* that name!) These flights (several leave within an hour of each other via multiple carriers) operate every day if clear. Before committing everyone who has paid for a ticket into the air, a small plane is sent out to see if the peaks are clear. If not, you can get your money back, or keep your ticket to try another day.

We were lucky! Our flight actually took off around 8:45 am, and on all of these flights, only the window seats are sold. So, as the plane reaches just past Makalu, it turns around, and both sides of the plane have a wonderful view. (more…)

Nepal (Day 21 continued) – Kathmandu; healing singing bowl 11 July 2009

After that fantastic “morning of mountains”, we breakfasted in the hanging gardens with the resort management (they don’t get many American guests, and were interested in feedback), and then flew back to Kathmandu.

templeThe afternoon was filled again with too-short visits to ancient temples, stupas, and pagodas – we started in Patan, one of the four kingdoms, and it’s Durbar (royal) Square, and marveled at more of the beautiful, intricate woodwork everywhere. One highlight of our tour in Patan was to a renowned Tibetan singing bowl vendor. (Patricia gave Lester one for his birthday several years ago, and I love it.) The bowls in this shop were exquisite; the vendor informed us that the handmade bowls are used for healing purposes. He invited me to come inside his tiny shop and be seated on a small stool. I was instructed to remove my hat and pony-tail holder and place my hands on my knees in the traditional Buddhist meditation pose (palms up, thumb to middle finger). (more…)

Nepal (Days 20-21) – Pokhara & the Annapurna Himal 11 July 2009

On arriving in Nepal we only one night in Kathmandu annapurnabefore flying off in the morning for one night in Pokhara (POKE’ uh ruh), a resort town on a large lake nestled beneath the Annapurna Himal range at ~3000’. The flight was beautiful with a wall of snow-covered peaks poking up through the monsoon cloud cover. (I was also finally feeling much better…maybe it was the altitude?)

We toured the town, stopping at Devi’s Fall (Patale Chhango – below), a river/waterfall carving horizontally through rocks for hundreds of feet, and then falling far below into a cave. (more…)

Hello Nepal (Day 19) – Zhangmu to Kathmandu 9 July 2009

The next morning, on the last day of our road trip, the sun was out!, and we continued down the gorge to the Friendship Bridge – the border between Tibet and Nepal. friendship bridgeOnly foot traffic is allowed on the bridge, so we bid a fond farewell to Kunchok and Sangye, and crossed over, porters carrying our luggage. On the other side of the bridge we were met by equally efficient and personable Prabin, who would be our Nepal guide, and his assistants. We were SO thankful they quickly ushered us through immigration, bypassing what most tourists had to contend with, which was an absolute, chaotic mess…a tiny, dark, packed room off a narrow muddy main street, elementary school desks used to sit and complete the paperwork…wow.

The road – a MAIN road – was even worse than before (I wrote ‘madness’ in my journal!), going from wide mud holes to smooth new concrete, construction in fits and starts. (more…)

Tibet (Final Day 18) – Perilous Journey: Shegar to Zhangmu! 8 July 2009

Lester called today a “perilous journey” – maybe exaggerated, but it felt like an APT description!

The very short version of this very long day goes like this: hairpinOnly a couple hours after we got underway and through a Chinese checkpoint, and saw Everest for the second time, we got told the road was closed until 8 pm. Then were let through after only one hour, but told we had to detour; we then built our own road (the 8 of us in the van) at ~16,000′, and then we hairpin-turned over and over, dropping over 9000’ in elevation for the day. The last few hours were in pouring rain, during road construction on the slopes of a near-vertical gorge, and for the last hour we competed with literally hundreds of semi-trailer trucks for one lane of road. More than once I found myself thinking “please don’t let the road slip away underneath us!”

So, to back up to the beginning… Appropriately, we slept our last night in Tibet at over 14,000′, and were looking forward to having MORE AIR to breathe! But most of us were pretty well acclimatized by now, and no longer huffing and puffing when climbing stairs. (more…)

Tibet (Days 16-17) – Road Trip: Lhasa-Gyantse-Shigatse-Shegar 7 July 2009

green fields

These two days our road trip took us to the major Tibetan cities of Gyangtse and Shigatse. Mostly traveling through valleys bright with florescent-yellow mustard fields and surrounded by rugged, brown, rain-starved mountains, we wound our way back and forth up an amazing, Chinese-built road over Khamba La pass at 15,750′ (4799m). Engineers’ efforts to tame nature by channeling the occasional but powerful rainstorm runoff away from and under the road are simply awesome.

As we crested the pass, we could finally see a beautiful, snow-capped crook of a peak above the clouds beyond the monstrously huge Yamdrok Yumtso reservoir. Even so, it is still only Tibet’s 3rd largest. (more…)

Tibet (Day 15) – From Drikung to Back to Lhasa 5 July 2009

Our poignant departure from the Drikung Valley once again featured the kata scarves, tsampa-and-beer, finger-flicking-and-drinking-ritual of our ‘formal’ arrival celebration, but with significantly more laughing and hugging and forehead touching (I don’t think I have mentioned that is also a traditional Tibetan greeting among friends). We have made life-long friends, and the originally shy young women were now relaxed and joking.

We will truly miss *every one* of these gracious and fun-loving family members, and will think of them in many ways as our own extended family. farewellKonchuk, who had set the standard for drinking the afternoon AND night before, was clearly suffering with a smiling face, and the young folks were merciless with him, insisting he finish off the beer bowl after it had done its rounds! (Poor fellow- he slept most of the way to Lhasa!)

In Lhasa, after being re-ensconced in our favorite Kyichu Hotel, Konchuk rallied to lead the five of us around the nearby Barkhor market to do some shopping, and we all were delighted to make some or all of the purchases we had anticipated. Alexandra’s insight from a dream was to acquire an authentic page of Buddhist scripture – hand-written Tibetan script (like Sanskrit) on waxed hand-made paper. I too could not resist, and cannot wait to get this beautiful piece of culture-art-history translated and framed.

We finished the evening with one last family dinner at Tsewang and Kesang’s beautiful home. Tsewang was *instrumental* all week in dealing with the authorities and smoothing our travel and entrance permits at the many places we visited. And as I have already mentioned, but worth mentioning again, Kesang is a superb chef, and we ate one last time like Tibetan royalty.

Tibet (Day 14) – Sky Burial, Farewell to Drikung 4 July 2009

Almost unbelievably (after the past two days’ efforts), we arose at 6 am today, after hiking ~20 miles to well over 17,000′. I was…AM exhausted! But we were ‘willing,’ because today was our last opportunity to witness the sky burial, since we are heading back to Lhasa tomorrow.

So it was that around 7:30 am we found ourselves once again trudging along the path at the base of the Drikung Til Monastery, up, up toward the top of the ridge to the burial site. sky burialThis time however, our ‘trudging’ was due not the effects of the altitude, but to our having gone much higher for much longer. We were ALL knackered, and I recall even saying to Lester that, where we were headed NOTwithstanding, my stomach felt ‘fragile’. But we also ALL did not want to miss this experience…I doubt any of us would say we were looking forward to it though, especially given how tired we felt physically. (more…)

Tibet (Days 12 & 13) – “Peace Ridge” Expedition! 3 July 2009

According to Achi, we were well prepared for this trek with our hikes of the previous two days… Maybe, but these last two days, especially Friday, I believe may nearly equal a trek to Everest, because we were literally on the roof of the world, at somewhere around 17,500′, and really felt like it (although Everest, over 350 miles away, was not yet visible).

horses in courtyardThursday

On Thursday morning after an early breakfast, the five of us and Achi, plus 14 more support folks – 20 in all – collected in a nearby valley at about 14,000 feet (near the hot springs we visited Tuesday). The 14 consisted of his family and 5? neighbors from the village. From there the six Americans climbed onto small ponies, each with a handler (some were the pony’s owners), and two more ponies and a rider carried most of the supplies: food for two days and camping gear, including bedding, four beautiful new expedition-quality tents, and one traditional nomad tent (canvas, not yak hide). So we had six riders (the NON-acclimatized Americans), and 14 walkers – six leading the ponies, and the rest carrying more supplies…keep that in mind. (more…)

Tibet (Day 11) – Hike to Tsabuk Hermitage 1 July 2009

Amala milking yakYak tent wake up call: yak snorting *very* close to the tent! We emerged in the pre-dawn mist to find Chotsomo tying up the calves so she could milk the mothers undisturbed (the bag contains salt which the yaks love). Soon Achi’s mother (left) came along and took over the milking, which she clearly does on a routine basis. After enjoying the ‘phe’ (baby yaks) and morning tea & coffee, we headed back along the river path, marveling as Chotsomo’s husband Tashi rode over the suspension bridge on his motorcycle.

hike startOur all-day hiking/picnic excursion to the cave where the founder of the Drikung Kagyu lineage became enlightened was with many of Achi’s family, and was a blast. We drove to the start of the ~8 mile hike, up the valley from the Guest House, all of us in the van, plus three motorcycles each with a rider also along. (more…)

Tibet (Day 10) – Drikung Monastery, Hot Springs, & a Nomad Tent 30 June 2009

First full day in Drikung – waking up to dogs barking, yak bells tinkling, and a great breakfast of fried egg sandwich between a lovely chapati- or naan-like bread made with onions, and bananas, watermelon, and apples. And surprisingly, the instant coffee is quite good!

monasteryToday we visited the Drikung Til Monastery, one of the oldest still functioning in Tibet. Buddhists believe this valley to be one of the power centers of the world with 108 sacred springs, and it is also the most sacred sky burial site in Tibet. Those who can afford the time and expense bring the bodies of their loved ones from the far corners of Tibet. (more…)

Tibet (Day 9) – Lhasa to Drikung 29 June 2009

We left Lhasa around 11 am in a 9-seater van (with Lester and I in the back, and we learned the shocks are completely shot!).

One thing I have not yet mentioned is that the boom town of Lhasa has a very strange and mysterious traffic flow system. Many busy 4-way intersections have great lights, but one of the MAIN 3-way intersections at the heart of the city has NO streetlight, and it is LITERALLY every vehicle AND pedestrian or bicyclist for itself, going in every direction imaginable. In addition, there are almost no horns heard, and it is as if drivers have a sixth sense for other vehicles or pedestrians. It is quite amazing how people drive – not just here, but everywhere in China we have been. On a two-lane road, everyone drives in the *center* in order to leave room for pilgrims, bicyclists, and motorcycle carts on both sides, and weaves continually around slow and between oncoming traffic. On a four-lane road, usually the outside lanes are blocked by parked traffic, and it is quite common to for vehicles to move all the way over to a far, oncoming lane!! We see vehicles coming straight at us all the time – I am astonished that we have yet to witness an accident, and wonder what the vehicular death rates are. (more…)

Lhasa (Day 8) – the Jokhang, Barkhor, and a birthday picnic! 28 June 2009

jokhang Today’s wanderings took us to the nearby Jokhang temple, the most sacred site for Tibetans…we passed by here Friday night after dinner at Dorje’s, and were fascinated by the pilgrims performing ‘kora’ – pilgrimage circuits around the temple. They come from all walks of life, though most are in traditional Tibetan dress, and of all ages, many, many of them carrying and twirling beautiful, ancient hand-held prayer wheels. Some may come here on pilgrimage from hundreds of miles, prostrating every step of the way. Walking slowly through the temple, it is clearly still quite ‘alive’, and even more beautiful than the Potala, with literally hundreds of exquisite icons. (more…)

Lhasa (Day 7) – Potala Palace & Sera Monastery 27 June 2009

potalaToday we toured the Potala Palace – the seat of Tibet’s government and home of the Dalai Lama from its construction in the 17th century until 1959. What an incredible structure. It literally dominates the city, built on a hill in the center of the valley, and rises from the valley floor with imposing but graceful white- and red-washed walls. It is massive, quite beautiful, and very exotic. We climbed the hundreds of stairs on the front outside, and were allowed to take pictures anywhere outside. Once we entered the palace, no more photographs were allowed. Every surface, from floor to ceiling, is incredibly intricate, with finely filigreed molding and trim and brocades that are almost hard to believe, and the colors are vibrant and primary. Red does dominate, but the ceiling is yellow with bright blue beams, and green and gold are everywhere. The number of Buddha and bodhisattva and lama icons is mind-boggling. (more…)

Hello from Lhasa! (elev. 12,000′ / 3650m) 26 June 2009

(Did I mention that we are now grandparents?! -grins- )

tour group with buddhaI CAN’T BELIEVE that I forgot to ask for a south-side window seat on the airplane, with an Everest-view possibility, but it didn’t matter anyway, because it was socked in with clouds. Can you imagine?…it would have been nearly at window level! We did see several impressive peaks (> 7000m/23,000′) that were marked on the China Air map, and the Tibetan terrain is incredibly rugged – FAR more so than I had imagined. I think of a ‘plateau’ as flat – so wrong. (more…)

Chengdu: Pandas, pandas everywhere…and the Leshan Buddha 25 June 2009

bicyclesWe took it easy on Wednesday (103 degrees in Beijing), enjoying the idea of being grandparents and checking my iPhone frequently, hoping for more photos and stories! After meeting a business acquaintance in the morning, we packed and headed for the airport for our flight to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, an industrial city of over 10 million in the center of the agricultural belt of China. We were met by our tour guide for the next day, Andy, and one of our Tibet Tour group, Frank. (more…)

Beijing’s Summer Palace, Forbidden City & Temple of Heaven – in 95 degrees! 23 June 2009

A whirlwind day, all while grinning and wondering if we would become grandparents, and checking my text messages about once an hour in anticipation… LOL!
long corridor
Liu picked us up at 8:30 am, and after a 30″ unscheduled stop at Olympic Village to see the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, we spent about 4 hours wandering around the beautiful grounds of the Summer Palace, then stopped for tea in a traditional tea house, and noodles for lunch in a noodle house. Then still terribly hot, we just drove around Tian’anmen Square, but did spend several hours walking through most of the Forbidden City, finishing up with the Temple of Heaven.

WHEW – tons of walking, brain and eyeball beauty overload – what a day! To the left is ONE of the 200+ photos I took today…of the Summer Palace’s Long Corridor built for the Dowager Empress Cixi so she would not be exposed to sun getting from the dock to the palace. It is 728 meters long, winds around the lake, and has over 8,000 paintings of scenes from Chinese folklore!

Beijing: “Let me take your temperature!” 22 June 2009

Yep – we are here, in Beijing, CHINA!

But not without humorous hiccups already… After flying for 13 hours, straight over the North Pole, Russia and Ulan Bataar, we landed and were relegated to a remote corner of the huge international airport, and not exactly close any terminal. Just before landing, as the crew handed out a second health card form everyone had to complete, we were given some hint (I don’t recall what exactly) that we may not be able to get off the plane immediately, and we were thinking about the planeload of students recently held in a hotel for a week… (We had even commented on the fair number of folks wearing surgical masks, including the three American college-age girls behind us.)

Sure enough, as soon as we landed we were told, graciously, “Please stay in your seats everyone – a team of white-suited people will be boarding to take everyone’s temperature. They will put a gun to your forehead (at THIS point everyone on board laughed nervously!), and shoot an infrared beam aimed at your forehead.” And on they came – young, slender, efficient technicians, about 20 of them dressed literally head to toe in white, complete with hoods, booties, gloves, and full face masks, carrying a bag and ‘guns’ – it felt like being inside the movie ET! (more…)