Kham Tibet

It's hard to imagine a much more dramatic introduction to Tibet than flying over the Kham province in historical eastern Tibet.  Since China carved up Tibet in the 1950s, much of this eastern region has been annexed to the Sichuan province.  As a result, many authentic Tibetan villages can be readily visited not far west from Chengdu.  Somehow two highways snake through these seemingly impassable mountains  to connect China to the capital city of Lhasa on the Tibetan plateau.  Foreign tourists are now permitted to travel overland from Zhongdian (Shangri-la?) in Yunnan province to Lhasa and this must be one of the most devastatingly beautiful road trips in the world.


Potala Lhasa

The Potala Palace remains the emblem of Tibet, but it is devoid of life as the former seat of the Dalai Lama.  It is now an empty museum piece charging exotrtionate fees to milk the tourists.  To the highly religious Tibetans, a kora (ceremonial clockwise circuit) around the palace remains de rigeur.  One of these ladies is holding a prayer wheel, which must be gently swirled in the hand to rotate the suspended talisman clockwise around the stick.


Jokhang Square Lhasa

Jokhang kora Lhasa

Of more religious importance to Tibetan buddhist pilgrims is the Jokhang Monastery, the mother temple of the religion.  On most days, hours of wait time await worhippers to briefly enter the central shrine in the morning.  The roof of the Jokhang can also be accessed, with nice views over Lhasa (above).  Considerable crowds perform the kora around the Jokhang, and in fact, around all temples of religious significance.  Many of the principal temples of Tibetan buddhism are located within 4 hours by road from Lhasa, but that doesn't include the grueling circuit of sacred Kailash mountain in the far western reaches of Tibet, functioning as their Mecca or Western Wall.





Yamdrok Tso Lake tibet

Prayer flags sit atop a hilltop viewpoint overlooking the Yamdrok-Tso Lake.  It takes your breath away, quite literally at 4488m altitude as I found out on the day after my flight to Tibet from lowland China.  Those green gracial lakes are as beautiful here as  any other glacial lakes in the world.


Qomolangma Mount Everest Tibet

Qomolangma is what Tibetans call Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.  Instead of the 3 week hike to achieve a partly obscured view of the peak that you'd have to undertake on the Nepali side of the border, a Landcruiser takes you to within an hours walk to the Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side.  And with a beautiful sunset tinting the snow red in the waning light of the day.

Rambo fixes our Landcruiser

Hardship is still a fact of life along the primitive network of roads in most of Tibet.  Flat tires are a common occurrence and they're a whole lot more enjoyable in the sunlight than at night in below-freezing temperatures!  Our Landcruiser was also trapped in frozen streams, had wiper fluid freeze on contact with the windshield, and had to inch past several dramatically overturned trucks which had skidded off the iced mountain passes.  And this was in mid October!  I would never attempt this trip in the dead of winter.


Tingri Tibet girl

Tingri Tibet woman

I can say for certain that one of the inevitable discoveries and enjoyment of Tibet is the interaction, however rudimentary, with Tibetans.  Their natural expressions are a photographer's dream and their friendly engagement of visitors marks such a sharp contrast with the aloofness of the Chinese, always paralyzed by fear of social embarrassment.  Wandering into any random village off the beaten path in Tibet, where one can imagine a "first encounter" might still be remotely possible, is an essential and unforgettable experience for locals and visitors alike.  These portraits were taken in a village near Tingri, one of the most rewarding and unchinesified cities along the main road to Nepal.