Kathmandu and travel – Days 1-4 (July 16, 2010 to July 19, 2010)

Days 1 and 2: The Tibet 2010 trip starts with travel to get there; lots of travel to get there. We arrived at the Cincinnati airport for a very early departure (6:15 am). Our first stop was Newark, New Jersey, where we had a 12 hour layover. The consensus vote was to take the train into New York city for a bit of site seeing. So we did just that. We had lunch, then pretty much just wandered around town, spending the majority of our time in Central Park. In Central park we stopped at the boathouse where we drank beer and ate more food. It turns out that it was pretty hot and humid in the city that day. If we didn’t have to carry our daypacks, I think that it would have been much more enjoyable. After we’d gotten our fill of the city, we headed back to the airport for our 8:30 pm flight to New Delhi, India.

The flight to new Delhi was 14 hours. For me, the flight consisted of eating, sleeping and watching movies on my iPad and the airplane TV. At this point I should mention that one of our crew didn’t make the India Flight. Barb’s first leg flight to New Jersey was canceled. She tried to drive from Rhode Island to Newark, and made it to the airport right around 8:00, not enough time to check bags and make the flight. Barb eventually catches up with us in Kathmandu, but more about that later.

We arrived in New Delhi, and quickly were moved into a waiting area to stay over night. We arrived in new Delhi around 8:30 pm. Our short flight to Kathmandu wasn’t until 6:15 the next morning. So, we hung out, sitting, and sometimes sleeping in very uncomfortable chairs.

The flight to Kathmandu was short, and a couple of us on the left side of the aircraft tried our hardest to spot Everest and some of the other high Himalayas. We saw big peaks above the clouds, but can’t be sure exactly what they were. As we stepped off the plane in Kathmandu, it was hot and humid; pretty much the same as what we left in New York, and Cincinnati. We got our paperwork complete, got our Nepali visa and got through customs no problem. We met our guide for the week – Sunil – outside the airport. After everyone got a chance to get some Nepali money from the ATM, we headed to the hotel. The bus ride to the hotel was our first chance to see Kathmandu, and also our first chance to experience driving in Kathmandu. Both were unique. Kathmandu is a relatively small city in area, but a very dense population. There is a lot of people jammed into a very small area. Most of the buildings and houses are 3-4 stories high and every inch of land
had something on it. The poverty in Nepal was clear. Our guide mentioned that the unemployment rate was something around 50%. Although there was a lot of poverty, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of people living in the streets. They seemed to find a way to make it work.

Day 3: On our first day in Kathmandu we took it pretty easy. After checking into the hotel, we took a walk to check out the area and get a bite to eat. The shopping was all market-style with very small booths. Some items were interesting and unique, other items looked like garage-sale items and others looked like cheap Chinese tourist trinkets. We just a little bit of shopping the first day with mostly just post cards and stuff like that.

Day 4: Our second day in Kathmandu was more interesting. We visited several Hindu and Buddist worship sites. Our first visit was to Swayambhunath. At Swayambhunath is a Buddhist Stupa that is suppose to be 2,000 years old. A stupa is best described as a large stone structure, composed of a solid hemisphere of brick and earth supporting a lofty conical spire capped by a pinnacle of copper gilt. Painted on the four-sided base of the spire are the all-seeing eyes of Buddha. Our visit to Swayambhunath also gave us our first sampling of climbing lots of steps. The entrance to Swayambhunath was pretty much at the bottom of the hill. Just inside the entrance were some fountains and a fenced off area, where there were dozens of monkeys playing, including several very small baby monkeys. The monkeys were very tame, and were free to roam where ever they wanted to. After taking plenty of pictures of the monkeys, our crew labored up the steps to see the
stupa and also to see the various temples.

During our drive to Swayambhunath we were again witness to the poverty in Kathmandu. Along the drive we noticed that trash was pretty much everywhere; in the streets, in the rivers, on the sidewalks, and in the empty lots. We also observed more than once someone urinating pretty much anywhere they pleased. Later in the day we saw a lady dumping a whole basket of trash into the river. We asked our guide why she would be doing that. And, the guide told us, “because nobody has told them not to.” Seems very simple, but if you aren’t taught the values of cleanliness and conservation, then why would you know any better.

Also, along the drive to Swayambhunath we were able to experience the true thrill of driving in Kathmandu. It was aggressive driving at its finest. Our bus driver would stop for almost nothing. And, the other vehicles on the road applied the same strategy. There were very few street lights or signs. So, the drivers actions were based more on predicting what the other guy was going to do rather than any stationary guide posts. I actually found it very amazing that such chaos could exist without having many accidents. But, it was very clear that there was a particular skill in observing the other guys intentions, then reacting on them. I actually felt that this was much more efficient – albeit more stressful – than the western style of vehicle navigation. Needless to say it was stressful for the passengers if you allowed yourself to watch out the windows too much.

The second place that we visited was a Hindu populated area. Here we visited Durbar Square, where several hindu celebrations and ceremonies seemed to be going on. We also visited the temple of the Living Goddess. Although I missed the majority of the story of this Goddess, the basic gist is that a young Buddhist girl is chosen at a very young age. Notice that this is a Buddhist girl to serve a Hindu role. This girl must meet 32 very specific physical characteristics, such as soft light skin, small feet and have a body with the shape of a banyun tree. This girl lives essentially in isolation until she reaches womanhood, but at times she acknowledges the greetings of the devotees from the balcony of her temple residence. In addition, we saw several Hindu temples, and also the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, the ancient residence of the Nepalese Royalty. One of the more interesting, but a bit creepy, parts of this particular stop was the many Hindu holy men
that were in the area of the square. They were bizarre looking to say the least, with long grey beards, and wearing strange colored beads and other things in their hair and beards. They also were primarily dressed in orange. The creepy thing about them is that their primary job was begging for money. One of their main sources of money it seems was getting tourists to pay them for allowing them to take pictures of them. If you aimed your camera anywhere near one of these characters, you would surely have him walk up to you with a big smile asking if you wanted to pay to take his picture. Holy men?… I wonder.

The next place that we visited was Boudhanath. This was a huge Buddhist stupa, one of the biggest in the world. Around the perimeter of the Stupa was a nice shopping area, probably one of the cleanest areas that we had visited in Kathmandu yet. We ate lunch in this square, and also visited a very nice artist studio, where the artists specialized in Buddhist Thanka paintings. Several of our group bought beautiful Buddhist paintings ranging from $20 to over $1,000. We also did the requisite clockwise walk around the Stupa. I’ll mention here that Buddhists always travel clockwise when walking around a monastery, stupa or other religious location. So, we did so also. By far one of the neatest things that we did was sit in on a Buddhist monk chant. Right after we ate lunch, our guide led us down into what was essentially a small apartment off of the square. In this room, there was a group of about a dozen monks chanting. Our guide arranged for us
to sit in on this for about 10 minutes. It was totally awesome and the rhythm of the chant, following the beat of the drum, was just beautiful. Such a simple and very basic ceremony for them I’m sure, but for us, it was a very unique experience.

The last place that we visited for the day was another Hindu location; Pashupatinath. Pashupatinath temple is one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. We weren’t actually allowed to go into the temple this time. It was for Hindu only. The temple is located along the banks of the Bagmati River. After viewing the entrance to the temple, our guide took us around back to the bank of the river. This is were the people of the temple performed ceremonies for their deceased. We didn’t view full ceremonies but we did see several parts, including placing of the deceased on a platform near the river, and the finale which is full cremation. For the cremation, the deceased were cremated on stone platforms right along the river bank. After the body was fully burned, the ashes and remains were swept into the river. This was interesting and slightly disturbing to us, but we recognized that it was a ritual that had probably been around for
hundreds or thousands of years..

Tomorrow we head to Tibet…

First Day in Lhasa – Day 5 (July 20, 2010)

Today was essentially just another day of travel. We left our Kathmandu hotel around 8:15 am in the morning for a 10:45 am flight to Lhasa, Tibet (China). As we waited for our flight, it was announced that it was going to be an hour late due to weather in Lhasa. What were we headed into? It was 90+ degrees and humid in Kathmandu. What sort of evil weather was in this place called Tibet?

Our flight ended up leaving more around 11:30. As we flew towards our destination, the lucky souls that sat on the left side of the plane (seats A, B and C) were able to get a wonderful view of mother Everest, the highest point on Earth. The flight attendants pretty much ignored the fact that a bunch of people from the right side of the plane were hanging out in the aisle, craning their necks, trying to get a view also. I wondered if the pilot had to compensate any on the plane controls to account for all the weight removed from the right side of the aircraft. I should mention that I was unfortunate enough to be seated in seat J. I saw nothing.

When we arrived in the Lhasa airport, we almost immediately noticed a huge difference from Kathmandu. While the Kathmandu airport bathrooms had the most vile smell of urine that I’d ever smelt in my life, the Lhasa airport bathrooms were some of the most extravagant and clean bathrooms that I’d seen in any airport, ever. I suspect that a lot of the China ports were upgraded significantly in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics. The rest of the airport, and outside the airport was similar. Lhasa was a very clean place and it had a very substantial infrastructure. The roads and streets were relatively clean, and they were very wide (4-6 lanes); unlike Kathmandu, where trash was prevalent and the roads were 1.5 to 2.5 lanes at best. At first glance, it was hard to imagine that the Chinese influence was anything but a great thing for Tibet and the Tibetan people. As we lived through the week though, that opinion tapered a bit.

The drive from the airport into Lhasa was about an hour and a half. As we made the drive, we were amused by the huge gas station that we saw along the way. This gas station had to be the size of 6 typical gas stations in the US, but with pretty much the same number of pumps, spaced very far apart. Even more amusing is the fact that we saw two of these huge gas stations along our trip into Lhasa. It was almost as if the Chinese government was playing the game “Sim City” and they placed gas stations in the middle of this highway, in the middle of no where, all in preparation for future expansion of their great simulation city.

As we pulled into Lhasa, we observed the same great streets and cleanliness that we had seen along the route from the airport. We also noticed that very little was written in English; everything in Chinese. Kathmandu had spoiled us a little bit in that manner with much of the signage written in the local as well as English. As we drove towards the hotel, we saw the beautiful Potola Palace. We would visit the Palace in two days.

After checking into the hotel, we grabbed a bite at the hotel’s buffet dinner. For the evening’s entertainment, our guides decided to take us on a walking tour of Lhasa. We needed to exercise our legs. Plus, we needed to start building up those red blood cells and begin acclimatizing to the higher elevations. I should mention at this point that Lhasa, Tibet is located at 12,000 feet above sea level. Although this would not be the high point of our trip, it was certainly very high for a bunch of Ohio yocals that normally live at 700 feet above sea level. To put the elevation into perspective, there is nothing in the US, east of the Mississippi that is higher than even 7,000 feet. In the western US, there are plenty of 12,000 foot and up to 14,500 foot peaks, but there is no established city in the US, anywhere, that is above 12,000 feet. And, Lhasa is not only a big city at this elevation, but it is relatively low compared to much of Tibet. It is
amazing to imagine that millions of years ago the Tibetan plateau was actually under the sea, instead of thousands of feet above it.

The high point of our evening walk was again seeing the Potola Palace. This time, we saw it basked in spot lights. We viewed Potola from the park across the street. This park was a beautiful place in itself. It was beautifully treed and there was a choreographed water jets display that was the size of a football field. After seeing some kids running through the water jets, tempting fate that they didn’t step into a jet just as it was going off, I couldn’t resist the desire to run through myself. So, I did, and I can say that I made it through (twice) relatively dry.

We made our way back to the hotel and went to bed, all wondering what kind of sleep we would get at 12,000 feet.

Second Day in Lhasa – Day 6 (July 21, 2010)

At the beginning of our first full day in Lhasa I started the day off with an easy 2 mile run. Although I could definitely feel the effects of the altitude, I felt amazingly good during that run. I did have a very slight altitude headache which started the night before, but I was partaking of my secret magic altitude elixir with sincere discipline. That elixir is simply water. Drink and stay hydrated. By mid morning my altitude headache had pretty much gone away. When heading to higher elevations you never know for sure how your body is going to react, but I seemed to be doing pretty good. Hopefully that would hold for the remainder of the trip. The rest of the group was a mixed bag. Some were short of breath, some headches, some nausea, and some just tired. But, overall, everyone was doing pretty good.

The first place that we visited on day 1 in Lhasa was the Drepung Monastery. Drepung is located a little north of town, and up in the mountains a bit. In fact, I had studied some of the high mountain peaks in the Lhasa area before hand, and the second highest peak in the area – Gepher Ri – had its trail head in the area of this monastery. I should mention at this point that we had gotten an additional Tibetan guide in Lhasa. We still followed Sunil around, but now we had Jigme to follow also. I asked Jigme many questions about the Lhasa area, and especially about the mountains around Lhasa. Jigme was very knowledgable about the area. He had pretty much grown up in the Lhasa area. But, he had left for about a 12 year period to live with his grandparents in India. This was when he was younger.

Drepung was quite the hill climb. We climbed a bunch of steps, then it was time for most of the group to take a bathroom break. Needless to say, the stone building on the side of the hill with the letters “WC” on the side was not a pleasant building to enter. Without going into details, I’ll just say that there was pretty much just a trough down the middle of the room, and everything, and I mean everything, went down the middle of this trough. Some things didn’t move down the trough as fast as others. There were separate accommodations for the ladies though that were just as bad. Post potty break, we continued up the hill. Our first visit was to the kitchen. This was a huge stone building that had clearly been used for open fire cooking a lot over the years. There was some really cool cookware on the walls and around the floor. Overall this place was very rustic. I’m not sure how much it still gets used. But, at one point this monastery housed 7,000 monks. Now it only housed 700 or so.

After the kitchen was the main hall. This was really neat for our group. The main hall was where the monks would meet, chant and pray. There were robes and blankets on the ground, in rows throughout the middle of the hall. The perimeter of the hall was surrounded by various small chapels, also used for praying and meditating. At the far end of the main hall was a huge storage case that pretty much ran the length of the hall (about 100 feet). It turns out that a massive rolled up painting was stored in this case. This painting, also called a thank, was taken out once a year for celebration, then put back in the case for storage. It takes over 50 monks to move this painting around.

After leaving the main hall we continued to tour the grounds of the monastery. We greatly admired the rich colored paint through the grounds. Every bit of wood windows, doors and trim was brightly colored and very intricately painted. The beauty in this coloring left several in our group wondering how they could hire a Tibetan painter for beautifying their houses at home. We finished our tour of Drepung by working our way back down the hill, through small stone alleys, down steps, and eventually back to the parking lot. I kind of got the feeling that we only got a small sampling of Drepung. Our group was rather large (15 people) and pretty slow. So, some sacrifice had to be made for the sake for time.

After Drepung, we headed back to Lhasa for some lunch, and a visit to Jokang Monastry, right in the middle of the Barkhor section of Lhasa. Jokang is one of the most important monasteries. One unique thing about Jokang was that they did not allow picture taking at all within the buildings. Part of the reason was just to keep the masses moving along, but in addition it was to protect the sacred nature of the site. I can’t say much about Jokang beyond the fact that it was more chapels and worship areas, with more beautiful statues and paintings of buddhist spiritualism. One of the more interesting things at Jokang was actually occurring outside. As we toured the grounds, there were several points where we could hear a thumping along with a rhythmic chanting. It was actually quite beautiful. As we got up to the top level of the monastery, we saw that 30 or so kids were stomping the roof on one of the other buildings and chanting as they stomped. It turns out that what these kids were doing was pounding the sand and rock on the ceiling into a solid, pressed surface. Our guides pointed out that the surface on the roof that we were standing on was manufactured the same way. The final product was smooth and hard, like something that any man would just love to have covering his garage floor. It amazed us how manual this process was. But, in addition to the utility of the final product, the presentation of the manufacturing process was also very entertaining as well.

After Jokang, we returned to the hotel for a small break, then headed out to dinner. We enjoyed a group rickshaw ride through the streets of old Lhasa. that was fun, and the kids in the neighborhoods really enjoyed the westerners rolling through their streets and alleys. They waved and practiced saying “Hello” to us. After dinner, back to the hotel for a second night sleep at 12,000 feet. So far, so good.

Third Day in Lhasa – Day 7 (July 22, 2010)

In the morning I went for a 3 mile run in Lhasa. At this point (with two runs in) I was contemplating the idea of running at least once everyday while at altitude. That would be an interesting goal.

Today was the day that we would visit the Potala Palace. The Potala can be a tricky place to visit. First off you have to purchase your tickets the day before, and there is a maximum number of tickets sold, so there is no guarantee that you will get tickets. Then, there are the steps. The beginning of your visit to the Potala requires that you climb several hundred feet of stairs. It isn’t too bad, but it certainly wakes you up, especially as a visitor to 12,000 feet. There is also a one hour time limit for a visit to the Potala. Luckily the time limit does not start until after the walk up the stairs. Finally photography is not allowed in the Potala. You can take pictures outside all you want, but once inside you cannot take pictures. This is probably for a couple of reasons: 1) They need to keep the crowds moving. It is a very crowded place, and people stopping to take photos would really jam things up. 2) There area a lot of precious works and valuable items. It would be best not to allow people to take pictures in a place with so much valuable stuff.

So, we arrived, and made the ascent of the stairs. We rested a bit at the top, then entered the Potala. It was similar to Drepung and Jokang in some ways, with a lot of buddhist sculptures, chapels and scriptures. Just like the monasteries, it was a huge amount of stimulation for the human brain. One of the more interesting things to me was the tombs of the various Dalai Lamas. Each of the tombs was a huge golden stupa, laden with gold leaf and hundreds of jewels. The quantity of gold on the tombs was in the range of thousands of ounces, making the metal value of them in the millions to tens of millions of dollars. One of the tombs was even 13 meters high. I wasn’t planning on buying a souvenir book of the Potala, but once I glanced through the book and realized that it captured such great pictures of the things that I had seen, I just had to buy one. We cruised through the Potala in just around our allotted one hour. Next we ate lunch then headed to the Sera Monestary to view the monk debates.

The monk debates was very interesting and animated. It was performed in a large courtyard area. Basically the monks were matched up in twos or threes. One (or two) monks would be sitting on the ground, and the other one would be standing. They would debate about very intricate details of scripture. Generally the monk on the ground just sat there and took it, defending their stance, but not as aggressively. The monk standing was much more animated, jumping around, clapping their hands and sometimes even touch the head of the monk on the ground. The level of their animation generally indicated the emphasis in which they were declaring that the other monk was wrong. I should mention at this point that their were 10 to 12 of these debates going on at the same time in the courtyard. You could tell that they put a lot of thought into the debates, but there definitely was some amount of joviality and humor in them as well. As the debates continued, the monk standing would move to another group, and sit, and via versa, in a sort of round-robin. I think that the debates were one of the more interesting and entertaining things that we’d seen yet.

Fourth Day in Lhasa – Day 8 (July 23, 2010)

You kind of had to figure that my morning started with a 2 mile run around Lhasa (third run at high elevation). What’s even more crazy is that the rest of the day was suppose to be hiking, hiking and more hiking. I guess a morning run is good for a warm-up.

The group intent for today was to do a 6-7 mile acclimatization hike. We would gain maybe 150 meters of elevation overall, and get to check out a couple hill side monasteries along the way. The hike that we were to do is called the Pha Bong Kha hike, and offers stunning views of the city of Lhasa.

Our hike started with a very rare sight for foreigners to see – a “sky burial.” A sky burial is performed by many of the Tibetan locals and basically goes like this: After a relative has passed on, the body is kept at the home for a few days. Then, after 2-3 days, the body is taken to a sky burial area. In this place, a designated person, dressed all in white, essentially chops up the body and lays it out for nature to take it. In this case, vultures quickly came to feed on the body parts. Those attending the burial are usually friends and relatives, but not direct family, because it is too disturbing for them to see. After the body is disposed of, then the clothes are burned, and the ceremony is complete.

As we drove up to our hike start point, our guide quickly noted that a sky burial was in progress. Our bus driver stopped so as to not disturb the ceremony and for respect. We pulled a little back, and started our hike at a slightly different point. What we did observe though was a flock of very large vultures being very active on the site. We started our hike, and within 30 minutes were above the sky burial site, and could see the site. Fortunately the ceremony was essentially over at that point. The vultures had all flown off to a nearby hill side, and were spread out on the hill side, clearly resting after filling their bellies. Our Tibetan guide – Jigme – told us that locals mostly perform this ceremony, and that his family also performed it. He also mentioned that the “man in white” essentially did a rudimentary autopsy, viewing the organs as he disassembled the body. Often he found that the liver was the cause, as some of the locals can be heavy drinkers. Our Nepali guide – Sunil – told us that this was the first time that he has witnessed a sky burial, although he knew of them. He later told us that seeing the sky burial was one of the highlights of his trip.

After we passed the sky burial view point, we continued on the hike. At this point we were doing a lot of up hill hiking, and it was pretty slow. Part of our uphill hike included hiking along side the Pha Bong Kha monastery for which the hike is named. We kind of walked along the outside of it, so we didn’t get to see much of it. Much of it looked in ruins. Towards the top of our climb we had to navigate through a huge prayer flag maze. Prayer flags are placed in the mountains as a religious offering. The ideal location for prayer flag placement is a windy location so that the wind will blow the flags. In this case, we did not have a windy day, but clearly this location was an optimal one. Once we cleared the prayer flag maze, we crossed over the ridge and around the corner. This is where we visited the Taktsang Simbu Nunnery. This Nunnery is built into the caves of the mountain. We met one of the nuns and were able to view her house. Her house was very small – similar to others that we’d seen at monasteries, but the primary functions were sleeping and meditation, so they didn’t need to be larger.

After leaving the Nunnery, we continued along our hike, mostly flat at this point. We ultimately stopped for lunch at an out cropping along a ridge. As we ate, the vultures showed some interest, or more specifically, they seemed interested in coming by after we left to clean up our scraps. It was certainly enjoyable to see these large birds in flight.

After lunch, we continued our hike, still pretty flat. We passed above the Sera Monastery, where we had seen the monk debates the previous day. We also passed by a monk retreat which was built into the hill above the Sera Monestary. As we continued along, we eventually ended up at the Phurbu Cho hermitage, another monk retreat or monestary. This was again built into the hill, and above an older side of Lhasa. We climbed down several steps of this hermitage, passed several shelters and rooms. We toured one room which was essentially a cave built into the mountain. As we continued down, we also visited a chapel where monks were chanting. This was the second or third time that we had witnessed chant, and it was still awe inspiring. After a short break, we continued to walk down the hill, this time on a very rough dirt road. About 45 minutes later we were at the bus. We took the bus back to Lhasa.

Immediately when we got back to the hotel, I went to the room and repacked my backpack for an afternoon attempt on a local peak called Bumpa Ri. I had been planning to hike this 14,400 feet peak for months, once I’d investigated the peaks in the Lhasa area. Bumpa Ri was the only one that seemed realistic within a limited time frame. I had hoped to get an earlier start, but the day hike had taken a few hours longer than planned. After pulling my pack together, I hailed a rickshaw for the ride to the Lhasa bridge. I got to the bridge around 4 pm, and started towers the Bumpa Ri trailhead.

For my hike, I had conflicting trail information. From the internet, the instructions said the trail started just over the bridge. But, our Tibetan guide had told me of a trail that started about a mile around the west side of the mountain. I decided to go with the internet instructions, since they were more complete. I easily spotted the trail from the bridge, and headed across an open park area to the trail start. I started up the trail, and about 200 feet up, a police man at the bottom hailed me to come back down. I was frustrated, but complied. By the time that I got back down, the officer had left. I guess that he didn’t really need to talk with me, but for some reason didn’t want me on that trail. There was a lot of water pipes and other type things on that hillside, and along the trail. In addition, the trail backed up to a police station. So, I guess I can understand why they wouldn’t want people on that particular trail.

So, I started around the west side of the mountain toward my guides recommended trail. I thought that I’d be able to spot the trail easily, but I did not. I did however spot a 4×4 trail in the middle of a shepherd’s field that seemed to go towards the mountain. So, I made my way towards that trail. Once I got off road, and onto the trail, I spotted some shepherds. As I got closer to them, they seemed like they wanted to talk to me, so I slowed my pace to meet up with them. It was a lady shepherd and her son. We communicated very roughly through hand signals, as it was clear that neither of us spoke the other’s language. At first I didn’t understand. She kept making the sign for “one”. I thought that she wanted one yuan from me in order to pass by. But as I attempted to give her money, she refused it. Eventually I figured out that she was asking if I was climbing alone. And, she seemed to express concern that I was climbing alone. She also made an upper body motion indicating “falling” meaning that she was concerned that I would fall on the climb and hurt myself. I told her (in hand signals) that “yes, I was only one, but that I would not fall.” She finally made a hand gesture indicating “rain” in which she was warning me that rain was coming, and to be careful of that. I made gestures that I would be watching the weather (pointing to my eye and to the dark clouds), and that I would turn around if rain came. She seemed ok with that. After that we smiled and I continued on my way.

I continued up the trail, and continued to wonder where this path would lead me. Although there was a clear path, the upcoming stuff really looked very steep and loose. I continued. The path turned into a pretty serious class 3 climb where I definitely needed to use my hands for upward progress. I also had to be very careful, because a clumsy move on my part could mean a pretty nasty fall. At this point, I continued, but with extreme caution. This was not the USA, and I had no idea would the outcome would be if I got injured on a fall in China.

Although cautious, I still made solid upward progress. The route really never got much easier, and it was starting to wear on me. I had pre-determined that my turn around time would be 6 pm, unless I was really close to the top (less than 10 minutes away). I didn’t want to flirt with darkness on this climb, and I didn’t want to return to the hotel much later than 7:30 in order to not worry the rest of my group. Well, 6 pm came, and I could clearly see the top. But, I was probably 30 minutes away still. My legs were tired, and my brain was tired. So, I made the call, and started the difficult climb back down. The class 3 climbing down was as hard as going up. I eventually made it back down to the solid trail, and across the fields towards the road. As I crossed the field, I saw the shepherds again and waved hi, and held up my hands indicating that I was “that close” but did not make the top. I continued down to the road, and made the long walk back to the bridge, and across, where I caught another rickshaw back to the hotel. I found out where my group had gone to dinner, and eventually made it to the restaurant around 7:30 pm. So, although I didn’t make the top of Bump Ri, the climb was still a great experience, and most importantly, a safe experience.

I guess if I had followed my guides suggestion from the start, I wouldn’t have wasted that time on the other trail, and would have had a better shot at the top. Also, after explaining my route to Jigme later, It seems that I may have missed his trail altogether also. It sounded like his trail started a bit North of where I had started up the peak, and it did not involve any heavy class 3 climbing, just easy hiking. Oh well, lesson learned, and a fun hike to boot.

Travel to Gyantse Day – Day 9 (July 24, 2010)

The trip from Lhasa to Gyantse started with a small drive down the Friendship Highway, then a turn-off, towards Gyantse. After leaving the Friendship Highway, we started climbing, ultimately gaining the Kamba La pass at around 15,700 feet. From the Kamba La Pass we had a great view of Yamdrok Tso Lake (aka Turquiose Lake, aka Scorpion Lake). This lake is huge, something like 160 miles total length. After dropping down from the pass, we followed the lake shore for many miles. Along the way, we spotted some snow capped peaks which baffled us. We thought that the sun must be playing tricks on our eyes. But, as we climbed our second mountain pass for the day, Karo La pass at 16,500 feet, we were welcomed with astonishing views of several high Tibetan peaks. Kaluxung at 6678 meters (21,900 feet) was on our left and the first peak that we noticed. It was wonderfully rugged looking and glaciated. But, Nojin Kangsan at 7206 meters (23,600 feet) was the peak that left our jaws hanging to the ground. Nojin Kangsan came almost out of no where on the right as we crossed up over the pass. The glaciated face of Nojin Kangsan was very rugged, with ice cliffs that reminded us of the famous Everest Khumbu Ice Falls. The size and distance of both of these peaks was wonderfully deceiving. They both looked much closer and smaller than they really were.

After leaving these wonderful peaks, we began our drive down from the Karo La Pass. Our drive continued along a huge river, which had clearly risen to various levels over the years as the water had cut very noticeable markings in the rock at multiple levels. As we pulled into Gyantse, one of the first things that we noticed was a large outpost being built just on the outside of town. It seemed pretty clear to us that this was an army barracks or something similar, since an army outpost was located on the other side of the road at the same place. Since Gyantse was suppose to be one of the small Tibetan towns noted for not having a strong Chinese influence, this left us wondering, “how much longer?”

After checking into the hotel, I snuck off for another one of my high altitude runs. This time, I ran another short 2 miler, from the hotel, down the main strip, left at the Gyangtse Fort, to the Monastery, then back the same way. The run felt pretty nice, and gave me a a nice solo tour of this quaint little Tibetan town. This would be my fourth high altitude run.

In Gyantse and travel to Shigatse – Day 10 (July 25, 2010)

Our first adventure in Gyantse would be the Gyangtse Fort. This fort is hard to miss, located right in the very middle of town. It towers above the center of town, and beckons the adventurous soul to climb its steps for an outstanding view of the town and surrounding area. After climbing the steps of the Potala in Lhasa the steps of the fort were not as much of a challenge. The fort was pretty much deserted when we visited. Our group was the only one touring it today. Within the fort were some mocked up human figurines depicting a some supposed Tibetan historical points: tax collection, torture and a dungeon scene. According to Jigme these scenes were not real to history, but placed there by the Chinese government. They were interesting none the less. As we continued to climb, we also toured several rooms in the fort. The rooms were pretty much empty and uneventful, but still gave an interesting perspective of the age when the fort was in use. The climb continued, and we bypassed a set of precarious steps, by going around the outside instead. At the bottom of the steps was an amusing sign with mangled english that said, “This place danger, Take a devious route”. Clearly this was trying to suggest that the steps wre dangerous, and to find another way to the top. So we did. After we got to the top of the scary stairs, we saw another sign at the top that said, “Stairs precipitous, Please take care yourself”. Amusing. From that point it was only one more flight of steps to the highest point in the fort. The view from the top was great. We could see the whole city, the plains, the mountains around the city, and also the monastery which we would visit next. After a few pictures, we headed back down. This time we bravely chose to venture down the precipitous stairs. All made it safely. After the fort, we headed back to the hotel to pack up, then off to the monastery.

The monastery is only one mile from the hotel. We got to the monastery and first toured the chapels. We spent a good amount of time in these chapels, but honestly I can’t remember anything notable able this monastery. There was a rather large Buddha statue, but it was nothing compared to the size of the one in Shigatse. The Kumbum Stupa however was another story. We were given 30 minutes to tour the stupa, and that was not nearly enough. But, we did the rapid tour none the less. The stupa consists of four stories. In those fours stories are chapels around the perimeter of the stupa. There are a total of 75 chapels within the stupa. The chapels are all single, very small rooms – no more than maybe enough for 3-4 people to stand. But each has exquisite artistry on the walls, and sculptures at the head of the room. I tried to visit every room, but I quickly felt like a tourist racing from room to room, snapping the camera, and not taking the time to appreciate. I could spend more time at this stupa given another chance.

After leaving the monestary and the stupa we headed off to Shigatse. Shigatse is a bigger city, about half the size of Lhasa, the capital. As we pulled into Shigatse, the Chinese influence was prevalent. Much of the signage was in Chinese. After we checked into the hotel, a small group of us roamed around town looking for an ATM in order to get cash. We were surprised that we actually had problems finding a functional ATM in such a large town, With three ATMs, we found one that was Chinese language only, and two others that seemed to be out of money for the day. So, getting money would have to wait until the next day,

After the ATM search, I decided to grab a quick 2 mile run. This would be one of my less enjoyable runs. The streets were dirty, and the dust and dirt in the air was tough on the eyes and the lungs. My fifth high altitude run.