Photos from India

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tibetan Yunann

After leaving Tiger Leaping Gorge, I headed further North into the Himalayas to the Tibetan township of Shang Ri La. The town was even higher up in the mountains than Lijang and the buildings here had a similar feel just on a much smaller and less commercial scale. I spent a few days exploring the mountains and valleys that surrounded the town as well as the enormous Tibetan monastery clinging to the hillside, standing guard over the city. With cool air and blue skies, it was a wonderful place to spend a couple of days exploring, relaxing and meeting other fellow travelers.

While in Shang Ri La, I managed to make a few friends who were interested in heading further North into the mountains as well. We all complied the few maps we had found and any information that we had learned about the road further North. The guide books didn't have much information on the area but we had heard rumors that there was supposed to be some incredible trekking through small Tibetan communities that were tucked away in the surrounding mountains.

Myself and five friends set out for our journey North in a small little van that we hired for the day. Although only 180 kilometers away the drive there was supposed to take 8 to 9 hours. I wasn't sure how this was possible but needless to say I soon found out. Now I have seen some pretty crazy mountain roads in New Zealand, the Andes in South America and Sumatra but nothing that compares to the drive between Shang Ri La and Dequin. Sheer drops the entire way on mostly dirt roads with landslides being cleaned up around almost every turn. Trucks passing us, us passing trucks, all the while, nothing to prevent us from sliding off the road and tumbling down thousands of feet to the Yellow River below. It was a terrifying experience that I can now say I am happy that I lived to talk about.

Nine and a half hours after we began our trip, we finally made it to the town of Feile Si where we took refuge for the night in a small hotel that fortunately provided us all with electric blankets. That seems to be the alternative to heat in this part of the world. Early the next morning, four of us set off into the mountains. After another hour and a half drive, we made it the beginning of the trail that we had be told would lead us into the heart of the massive mountain that had been looming high overhead since our arrival the previous night before. Standing at 6,700 meters, this was by far the tallest mountain I had ever seen. So tall and steep that in fact no one has ever survived a journey to it's summit. The last expedition that attempted it was in 1991 and resulted in the death of the entire party. Needless to say, a summit attempt wasn't in my plans for the journey. I was happy just to explore the area without need of risking life and limb.

Most of the first days trek was all uphill. We climbed through endless forests that revealed the enormous valley that separated us from the small town that we had slept in the night before. As we neared the pass, the trail became covered in Tibetan prayer flags and just as we crossed over the ridge, we were given our first glimpse of the mountain that we until then only knew to be looming above. Crystal clear blue skies were the backdrop for the snow and ice covered mountains. A few clouds hung just around the peaks but were moving around fast enough to provide us with incredible views of each of the mountains seven peaks. You could see the Tibetan towns that we would be sleeping in tucked away in green fields far down below. I don' think I have been to a place anywhere in the world that was more beautiful. A bold statement I know but words cannot describe the place that lay before me.

On the decent down to the town, I must have taken two hundred photographs. Each turn revealed another breathtaking view and the sky just kept getting clearer while the light kept getting softer. I was ecstatic to be there and have the opportunity to explore the lush valleys, misty waterfalls, frozen lakes, and ancient glaciers that lurked around every corner.

I spent three incredible days in the little Tibetan town that I can't seem to remember the name of now. I climbed muddy slopes in the rain, wandered around on frozen lakes, had snowball fights, warmed myself in a yak herders hut and all in all had an amazing time in the mountains. If I didn't have to meet Allison on the other side of the country in a week, I could have easily spent a month here. It seems that this is just a predecessor to what I can expect when I reach Nepal. Hopefully by then, Tibet will open as well and my journey will take me further into this area which is known as the rooftop of the world.

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