“Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss or tranquility, nor is it attempting to be a better person. It is simply the creation of space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deception, our hidden fears and hopes.”
On February 1, 1994, Gil Gillenwater sets his intention to go to Tibet. One week later, this article appears on the front page of Section C of The Arizona Republic, the local newspaper. The feature states: “Tucson resident Richard D. Fisher is looking for people to join his 21-day expedition in May to Tibet, where a team will explore the Namche Barwa Canyon.”
Landing in Hong Kong.
Left to right: Jerry Dixon, Troy Gillenwater, and Chris Grace.
Chairman Mao welcomes us to the bustling Chinese city of Chengdu.
Flying over the Himalayas.
Coming from the deserts of Arizona, we are all thinking, What the hell are we getting ourselves into?
Our first up-close look at the river. We were told to expect a flow of around 5,000 CFS (cubic feet per second). What we find is a river surging at over 20,000 CFS. Left to right: Chris Grace, Mr. Changxun Luo (our Chinese liaison), Rick Fisher, Troy Gillenwater (looking up-river), Jerry Dixon (looking up-river), and Eric Manthey.
Readying to launch. In hindsight, attempting an illegal first descent of Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo River (the “Mt. Everest of Rivers”) in a smuggled 12-foot paddle raft seems extremely naive. But at the time, it all makes perfect sense.
Documentary film producer Bill Bacon records the departure on our unpermitted first-descent attempt of the Upper Granite Gorge on the world’s highest river – the Yarlung Tsangpo. Here the Himalayan river surges over two miles above sea level. Left to right: Rick Fisher, Gil Gillenwater, Troy Gillenwater, and Eric Manthey.
Soon we begin “lining” the raft through the more difficult sections.
Portaging rapids in the Upper Granite Gorge of the Yarlung Tsangpo - the world’s highest river. These water formations are simply gravity-driven liquids negotiating different terrains in a perpetual effort to seek their own levels. With a river this size and a drop this severe, that can only be achieved by racing to the most level place on earth - the ocean two vertical miles below. Left to Right: Eric Manthey, Gil Gillenwater, and Troy Gillenwater.
Gil Gillenwater holds a human mandible. “We’d been rafting with a bunch of sinners.”
These recirculating hydraulic holes, or “keepers,” are to be avoided at all cost.
Portaging rapids in the Upper Granite Gorge of the Yarlung Tsangpo - the world’s highest river. In many places the river is simply un-runnable. We come to accept that we are essentially powerless on the “Mt. Everest of Rivers.”
Left to right: Rick Fisher, Eric Manthey, Troy Gillenwater.
Abandoning the first-descent portion of our trip, we stash our raft and all our river gear under a house-sized boulder. It's probably there to this day. We later regret leaving our life jackets.
Though the hiking is difficult in river sandals, we never regret being off the river.
Many times we have to swim around riverbank obstacles.
A not-so-subtle lesson in impermanence.
Rick takes a break. Altitude sickness and lack of food are depleting all his energy.
Troy Gillenwater (on left in the shadow) scouts our next climb. Where is the hamlet Eric promised is just ahead? Where is Eric? Our energy is waning and our packs feel heavier.
Multi-colored Buddhist prayer flags guide us to civilization. Standing on the roof, Troy and Rick peer into the courtyard. There must be food!
Their minds - unadulterated by modernization and technology - welcome us as family.
Rick Fisher and Gil Gillenwater revel in outside human contact. Gil can feel his energy return as he chokes down the tsampa and gulps the high-fat yak butter tea.
Our host breaks out the homemade rice wine, poured from an old kerosene can, and the party begins. Though from opposite sides of the planet and cultural strangers, the human connection prevails.
After Gil Gillenwater gives his river knife to the father (who is ecstatic to receive it),Troy Gillenwater shows him how to remove it from the plastic scabbard. The boys look on in wonder.
The stacked-stone homes in the enchanted hamlet of Dabucun remind us of those we’ve seen on the Hopi Mesas in Arizona.
“There is a peace here I have never found before or since.” – Gil Gillenwater
Troy Gillenwater says goodbye to the village of Dabucun as we hike an ancient cliffside pilgrimage trail.
Hiking out of the Upper Granite Gorge of the Yarlung Tsangpo River following our aborted rafting attempt becomes significantly easier when we have an actual trail.
The Tibetan people we pass on our hike out always seem to be smiling.
Photograph by Rick Fisher. Here Troy and Gil Gillenwater cross Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo River in a traditional yak-skinned coracle. The RailRiders© outdoor clothing company included this photograph on the cover of its 1995 summer catalogue and ran an article on the Gillenwater's Tibet adventures.
The drive to Pelung is rife with obstacles. The days seem endless.
The food at the roadside lunch houses are a challenge. Rick Fisher is still angry with Eric Manthey.
The Chinese invasion took a tremendous toll on Tibet.
On our long drive we experience a traditional Tibet that is fast disappearing. Note: The Tibetans we encounter in rural areas are always smiling.
Nomadic herders and their yak-hair tents.
Gil and Troy Gillenwater at their first monastery – the Buchusergila Khang Temple (Buchu Monastery).
Troy Gillenwater stands atop the 15,300-foot Dakmo Serkyim La Pass surrounded by hundreds of prayer flags and Mani stones.
Tumbatse was the 1924 operating base for the British botanist explorers Francis Kingdon-Ward and Lord Cawdor.
Troy deep in a game of Khampa Billiards.
“The Monpa Mafia”
Direct decedents of the warring Mishimi and Abor tribes, our local porters are an interesting lot. Their load carrying strength is matched only by their nefarious behavior.
We are continually amazed at the agility and durability of our porters. They are truly “people of the earth.”
Left to right: Gil Gillenwater, Bill Bacon, Jerry Dixon, Eric Manthey, and Chris Grace take a much-needed break at the top of a small pass. Prayer flags denote the crest. For Gil, Troy Gillenwater, Jerry, and Chris, this is “buzzed hiking.”
Gil Gillenwater winds his way through a combination of thick, jungled vegetation and hulking, old-growth forest.
A false step on the hanging bridge would deliver one to the raging maelstrom below.
Gil Gillenwater hikes the hand-gouged trail. Locals call these carved out sections the “Tiger’s Mouth.”
Troy Gillenwater and Jerry Dixon take a break at a Mani stone shrine. Jerry’s turquoise shirt may have saved him wandering into Bhutan!
Cresting the ridge, it is a short hike down to Mondrong.
Following the brutal hike to Mondrong, Mr. Luo cooks up soup on an open fire in a one-room log hut offered us by the village elder. Left to right: Gil Gillenwater, Jerry Dixon, Chris Grace, Mr. Luo, and Bill Bacon.
Troy and Gil Gillenwater were serenaded by the sing-song harmony of these three Monpan nightingales.
A leech! These repulsive creatures torment us day and night.
Rick Fisher is obsessed with finding the fabled “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra.” Left to right: Two porters, Rick Fisher, Eric Manthey, Troy Gillenwater, porter, and Jerry Dixon.
The village of Sengchen. The term “village” is misleading. Two or more houses constitute a village. These are hamlets - small collections of log houses.
Gil Gillenwater and Jerry Dixon lead the group down the ridgeline in hopes of fulfilling Rick Fisher’s dream – a glimpse of the “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra.”
Gil Gillenwater and the others hike the same Mondrong-to-Sengchen trail that Captain Francis Kingdon-Ward and Lord Cawdor first explored 70 years earlier in 1924
Left to right: Gil Gillenwater, Troy Gillenwater, and Jerry Dixon in Sengchen.
A porter sets the line for our river cable crossing.
Troy Gillenwater offers a last-minute prayer before placing his life in the hands of our porters.
Troy grins as he’s lashed to the pulley.
Troy midway over the Po Tsangpo River. He must now pull himself up to our group waiting on the other side.
Gil readies for his cable crossing.
Tibetan bamboo pit viper coiled and camouflaged on a broad leaf. The porters call them “Nagas.”
A tiger leech full of Gil Gillenwater’s blood.
The hamlet of Zachu has the cat-bird seat at the apex of the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Here the Himalayan views are endless.
A Monpa boy from Zachu. In addition to their ubiquitous daggers, note the Dalai Lama portrait on a string around his neck. Even in the Hidden Lands they love their God King.
Our hosts in Zachu – a young Monpa family.
Troy showing his camera and zoom lens to a young Monpa boy above the village of Zachu. Introducing outside technology is tricky business.
A typical Monpan kitchen. That night we slept in the smoky attic above.
Tibetan tough guys.
Gil Gillenwater and Jerry Dixon above the stream where Jerry had a leech attach to his eye.
Troy Gillenwater mingling with the locals on our hike back to Pelung (Leaping Rat Lodge). We are as curious to them as they are to us.
Gil Gillenwater and Bill Bacon give the porters a break on the hike back to Pelung (Leaping Rat Lodge).
Left to right: Troy Gillenwater, Jerry Dixon, and Gil Gillenwater, happy to be safely back at the infamous Leaping Rat Lodge.
Tashi Island and its Tsozong Gongba Monastery appear to float as the crown jewel on the emerald Basong Tso Lake. Built in A.D. 1400, Tsozong means “Castle in the Lake.”
Riding a hand-pulled log ferry for the short crossing to Tashi Island. There, Troy Gilenwater, Gil Gillenwater, and Chris Grace each receive a special blessing from the head lama in the monastery’s inner sanctum.
A Buddhist ceremonial tent erected next to the lake.
Not to be rude, Troy Gillenwater, Chris Grace, and Gil Gillenwater get just as drunk on chang as the locals.
Ferrying back to the mainland from Tashi Island, we are immediately surrounded by a throng of Tibetans in traditional dress. Before we leave, we gather a brightly clad group of locals on the ferry landing for a parting photograph. Truly a day to remember.
The Potala (the Dalai Lama’s palace) is a 13-storied building containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines, and 200,000 statues. Situated on top of Marpo Ri, the "Red Hill," at 384 feet in height, it has a commanding view over the Lhasa Valley. The year we are there – 1994 – it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
94 #80 & #81
Built in AD 652, the Jokhang Temple is Tibet’s most revered sanctuary and the "spiritual heart” of Lhasa. In 2000, the Jokhang became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an extension of the Potala Palace.
The Barkhor’s public square with the Potala Palace hovering on the top right. The two large incense burners (sangkangs) are fed juniper boughs constantly to please the gods protecting the Jokhang.
Gil and young “Monks in Training” at the Sara Monastery.
It’s a long, dusty 600-mile drive from Lhasa, Tibet, to Kathmandu, Nepal. But the view of Mt. Everest from the north makes it all worthwhile.
The ruins of the ancient Shelkar Dorje dzong (fort) snake up the mountain above New Tingri. This fortress was constructed in 1266 to protect the Kagyu Monastery.
The climb up to the Shelkar Dorje dzong affords spectacular views.
Soon the climbing becomes very steep.
Skulking through town to avoid detection, we follow a centuries-worn pilgrimage path up to a saddle. Troy Gillenwater stands amongst 800 years of devotional Mani stones and prayer flags crowding the pass. Now the real climbing is about to begin.
A night Gil and Troy Gillenwater shall never forget atop the Shelkar Dorje dzong.
Todd & Gil on the streets of Hong Kong with their new friend and fellow expedition member - Christiaan Kuypers.
Gil, Todd, Troy & Christiaan having a gay old time in the, “Top Gun” bar. This did wonders for our jet-lag.
Buddha eyes on the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.
Watching bodies burn at the Pashupatinath Temple funeral pyres in Kathmandu on the edge of the Bagmati River.
Oy Kanjanavanit, Christiaan Kuypers, Troy Gillenwater, Todd Gillenwater, Gil Gillenwater
Bhakha Tulku appeases the Himalayan mountain gods with a two hour Puja Ceremony.
Photo taken in Tucson, Arizona of the Dalai Lama in front of a saguaro cactus. I had 100 copies laminated and smuggled them into Tibet.
Todd Gillenwater, Christiaan Kuypers & Oy Kanjanavanit. On our way to Lhasa, Tibet. Little did we know what lay in store.
Hamid Sardar pretending to eat a chicken foot while Ian searches for the elusive chicken breast.
Following a military convoy in the rain, the muddy road led us deeper and deeper into the land of Vajrayogini.
Slogging through the logging town of Tumbatse, not much had changed in 13 months.
Passing Pelung (Leaping Rat Lodge) the road conditions deteriorated.
95 #13, 14, 15
“Landslide Alley” a lottery of luck. Some made it. Some didn’t.
Arriving at the 800 year old Bhakha Monastery we entered another dimension.
At the Bhakha Monastery, Ian Baker and our Chinese travel liaison - Geng Quanru - (AKA Mr. Gunn) negotiate with the monks and local Monpa tribal people to serve as porters on our pilgrimage. A few females were a must to balance the male energy.
At the Bhakha Monastery the local Monpa tribal people weave their own backpacks.
At the Bhakha Monastery. Left to Right: Todd Gillenwater, Christiaan Kuypers, Mr. Zang (seated in army camouflage), Mr. Gunn, Troy Gillenwater & Oy Kanjanavanit. Note nobody is swallowing the rancid Yak butter tea.
A lukewarm dinner at the “Carnage Cafe”. When we got back to our dumpy room Troy asked Todd, “Did that dinner taste a little weird to you?”
“Surreal” is the only way to describe a roller skating rink in the squalid frontier town of Pome.
The Communist Chinese forbade the Bhakha Buddhist monks to travel with us. Ian Baker counts the group’s cash. Certainly a bribe will change their minds.
The head Lama of the Taksham Monastery bore a remarkable resemblance to Yoda.
At the Taksham Monastery (the, “Tiger Skin Monastery”) we found a most unusual mural depicting five tigers devouring a corpse.
Conducting a divination ceremony known as a "prasena" the Buddhist monks manifested a rainbow to guide us to our trailhead. An elderly Ani (Nun) looks on in knowing devotion.
The Rainbow of “Divine Guidance”.
Driving out of Pome we passed this sign claiming the Communist Chinese as the protectors of the Himalayas.
The Himalayan scenery from our 1st camp was other-worldly.
Seemingly out of nowhere a Lama - Kaba Tulku (pronounced Kawa) - and his small entourage arrive. What a gift!
The enigmatic Kaba Tulku (the “Cloud Lama” ) with his tell-tale Red Hat. This represents his adherence to the Nyingma or “Old School” sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The ethereal Lama was to become an integral part of our pilgrimage and the mystery of our journey.
We were surrounded by massive Himalayan glaciers.
Double loads equal double pay. Here our “Gentle Giant” carries over 120 pounds.
Finally we were hiking! Our group moved as a multi-legged centipede wending its way along and across the glacial spillway.
Soon the climbing began. At first I felt bad – me carrying 25 pounds and the porters carrying from 60 pounds to double that. I soon got over it. That is what they are trained and paid to do.
It was a dream come true. Hiking the Himalayan “Hidden Lands” with the 2 people I could count on the most – my brothers Troy & Todd.
Camping at the base of the Dashing La Pass. At an elevation of 12,850 feet, we had half a mile of vertical climbing to reach the Pass. Then we would descend into the depths of Pemako’s “Hidden Lands”.
Following a dip in the glacial stream, Gil and his “Buddha Eyes” survey the Dashing Valley.
Finding a dead bear incurred no negative karma. Our food shortage was solved. We would eat like Kings! Kaba Tulku guided the bear’s soul to a better rebirth.
Gutting the bear in search of the prized gallbladder. Soon we would have meat aplenty.
Roasting the meat took all night. We had over 200 pounds of bear steaks.
The butchering and tribal incantations went on for hours. The Guardian Spirits were pleased. They’d given us this gift. The porters chanted their gratefulness.
The porters played with the bear’s head throughout the night hoping to embody its spirit. They kept the head for several days.
At 14,000 feet in elevation, climbing up and out of the Dashing Valley was a formidable task.
95 #44 & #45
The Sherpas and porters were super-human.
95 #46 & #47
Stopping to soak in the scenery. At times it was overwhelming.
Hiking the ice fields was treacherous. Especially with a 100 pound load.
One final look back into the Dashing Valley.
Todd reaches the Dashing La Pass.
Troy and Pasang Sherpa reach the Dashing La Pass.
A pony caravan emerges from the roiling Pemako abyss.
With Mr. Zang well ahead I offer Dalai Lama photographs.
Dropping off the Dashing La Pass and negotiating the ice fields at the head of the Chimdro Valley.
Waterfalls have special significance in Pemako. Hundreds were cascading into the Chimdro Valley.
Staring into the throat of the Chimdro Valley.
This cabin had wall to wall porters chomping on putrefied bear meat.
The ground was so saturated with water our tent felt like a waterbed.
Our dropping elevation took us deep into leech country.
A steep descent off the Dashiing La Pass and into the Chimdro Valley.
Pemako weather vacillates from pounding rain to scorching sun several times a day. Here Todd crosses a cantilevered bridge.
Pemako was a Fairy Land.
The Crazy Nun.
Poison witches in Pemako have tattooed tongues. Therefore, local etiquette requires the sticking out of tongues for all female introductions. Here the Crazy Nun is proving to us she is not a poison witch.
Two different rivers - 30 feet apart - flowing in opposite directions?
Troy won the “worst place to find a leech” contest.
Leech bites became common occurrences.
The tunneled bamboo thickets were very disorienting. Knowing the area’s large tiger population didn’t help.
Troy and porters hope they’re on the right trail.
95 #70 & #71
The hot and tangled Rhododendron forests became oppressive.
The local children would stare at us for hours. Inbreeding was taking a toll in these isolated villages.
With Mr. Zang in Ghutan trying to secure our permits, I had free license to hand out Dalai Lama photographs in the village of Samdrup. This man lost the sight in his left eye due to a leech bite.
95 #74 & #75
The tribal people’s love for the Dalai Lama knew no bounds.
I love this photo. Here our Lama rests in meditative peace. Next to him, exhausted, is our Communist Chinese military escort – Mr. Zang. Mr. Zang was conflicted. He couldn’t square the spiritual magic of Pemako, he witnessed thru the Lama, with his atheistic Communist beliefs.
95 #77 & #78
Porters setting the lines for our cable crossing over the tumultuous Chimdro chu River.
The odds of surviving a plunge into the river were not good.
Gil pulls himself across.
95-B #81, #82, #83
Todd makes it safely across and promptly takes a nap. Next to the river was the only place we could escape the relentless heat.
95 #84 & #85
Ian makes it across the raging river.
Hamid gets tied in.
Once across the river, the trail to the PungPung La pass is almost non-existent.
Our trail steepened as we left the bamboo and rhododendron thickets on our wet climb up to the 15,150 foot high PungPung La pass.
We began to lose our light as the group got separated. The higher we went the more landslides we encountered. The earth was alive.
Finally daylight! Troy stands next to the makeshift camp. Todd, Gil, Troy, Christiaan, Oy, & Hamid spent the longest, wettest, most leech infested night of their lives under this crude shelter.
Pemba Sherpa could start a fire in an aquarium. These guys were the ultimate outdoorsmen. Right to Left - Christiaan Kuypers, Hamid Sardar, Troy Gillenwater & Oy Kanjanavanit. Pemba Sherpa is on the far left.
One misstep on the slippery log and it was “game over”.
Lobsong and his wife found dinner. Suspicious not to look at the camera, Lobsong carried his “Gau” with him at all times. (A Gau is a portable Buddhist shrine worn as a protection amulet).
Pemba Sherpa (far right) sliced the mushroom into the pot. Chombi Sherpa (far left) checks on its progress.
Taking a break on the trail. “Was this our trail?”, we wondered as it disappeared into the clouds above. Nobody knew for sure.
This was Beyul Pemako, “Hidden Land of the Blossoming Lotus”.
Left to Right: Todd and Troy pose with our senior porter – Puntsok. We had another 1,000 feet to climb to gain the PungPung La pass. Punstok’s eyes avoid the camera.
Dropping off the PungPung La pass. Todd is not looking real thrilled about continuing the steep, wet descent ahead. Through the mists on the far ridgeline, porters can be seen beginning their descent.
Troy & Todd resting with three of our porters. It was an uncharacteristically clear day for Pemako.
Carrying 2 loads, our “Gentle Giant” porter is enjoying the drier weather and firmer trails.
Todd negotiates a moss covered log.
The “Jolly Lama” was imperturbable.
The young, married, porter couple examine bear tracks on the banks of the animal spirit lake.
Our “Jolly Lama” often sat by himself in deep thought. This Vajrayogini pilgrimage in the “Year of the Pig” was his life-long dream come true.
Todd admires one of the many waterfalls cascading into the sacred lake.
Little could we have known the dangers that lay in wait in this idyllic spot.
Gil, Troy & Todd marvel over the paradisiacal landscape. Who made this place?
Gil walks through a scene from Hobbit Land.
Clouds begin to gather in Paradise.
The cantilevered bridges were primitive engineering masterpieces.
A sure footed porter crosses the cantilevered bridge.
The skies become foreboding as Gil says good bye to Paradise.
The forest was cold and wet as we slogged into a ferocious storm.
Todd deathly ill in the middle. Malevolent water spirits or food poisoning? At his point Todd didn’t care. He just wanted to die. It was an excruciatingly long night.
Ghastly ill, Todd somehow manages the 1,100 foot, rain drenched climb to the dreaded Adrothang swamp.
In a super-human effort Todd continues to move forward. But in his sickened condition we fall further and further behind.
As brothers we felt horrible for Todd but there was little we could do but try and encourage him onward. Waiting for him was difficult in the glacial cold and rain. We became chilled to the bone and could feel the insidious onset of hypothermia tighten its lethal grip.
Looking off the lip of Adrothang into the swirling abyss.
Todd started feeling a little better. Gil didn’t.
Todd waits patiently as Troy continues to vomit. The high elevation exacerbated the symptoms of our illness.
This photograph was taken at lower elevation of Chimed Gompo, the "Deathless Lord”. We are convinced he saved our lives.
The climbing continues. Far above timer-line, we knew the SangMen La Pass (14,200 feet) had to be close.
Chimed Gompo is carrying 2 of our packs at once. Our destination, Kundu Dorsempotrang Mountain, the “All Gathering Home of the Vajrasattva Mind”, (Vajrayogini’s heart chakra) reigns prominently on the distant horizon. We had a long way to go.
Chombi Sherpa sent 2 Sherpas back to us with hot water and noodles. Now we had 3 Sherpas to carry our packs and help us down to the day’s camp on the banks of another glacial lake.
Dropping off of the SangMen La Pass, we could see part of our group approaching the glacial lake.
As the others surge on, Gil looks for camp near the lake. “What was the hurry?” the Gillenwater’s wondered.
Close examination shows our vanguard porters, like ants, on the ridgeline in the middle left of the photograph. The ice caped peak on the right is the 25,531 foot Namcha Barwa.
Kundu Dorsempotrang Mountain was easily recognizable by the anvil shaped stone on its summit.
Steep climbs up and steep climbs down. This is hiking in the Himalayas.
With her keen interest in botany, Oy was forever examining trailside plants. We felt that she, Christiaan, Chombi & Chimed Gompo were the only expedition members who had our well-being at heart. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Ian & Hamid had a different agenda that didn’t include us and that they weren’t sharing.
Guru Shugstrethang Lake. An extremely revered pilgrimage site.
To the porters, theirs was a living landscape.
Kundu Dorsempotrang Mountain (Vajrayogini’s heart chakra) was easily recognizable by the anvil shaped stone on its summit. We were getting close.
Kundu Lha Tsho Lake, “The All Gathering Soul Lake". Photo by: Christiaan Kuypers
The porters stare at the cliff face in veneration. Photo by: Christiaan Kuypers
The Jolly Lama and his young attendant join Scarface at a holy boulder. Photo by: Christiaan Kuypers
Vajrayogini’s essence manifests as sacred lakes dotting the landscape. Photo by: Christiaan Kuypers
Kundu Dorsempotrang offers us one final view as the porters labor below.
Ongel, the old Sherpa with his cheap rubber boots, was a stabilizing influence and a wonderful companion.
Matuk (on far right) and his companions are stunned at the manifestation of the, “Deities from the sky”.
The Gillenwater brothers can’t shake their dogged illness as evidenced in Troy’s expression.
We finally found a fallen log where we could inch our way across the rushing waters.
Back in leech country.
The Rinchenpung Monastery translates to "Mound of Jewels”. It was a welcome sight.
Troy shares photos from home with an older lama. His left hand and all his fingers had been severed by Mao's "Red Guard".
Rang Rig Gyapo the "King of Self-Awareness” is a rare wrathful emanation of Padmasambhava.
A Garuda, representing the consciously awakened mind, hovers above the "King of Self-Awareness”.
The Old School of Tibetan Buddhism ingeniously incorporated many animistic traditions of the indigenous Bön religion seamlessly into its theology.
With our military escort, Mr. Zang, gone we could freely hand out our coveted Dalai Lama photographs. Here Gil hands several out to the porters.
The love and reverence they have for “His Holiness” is difficult to describe.
Our distribution of the Dalai Lama photos gained us great status at Rinchenpung. They truly were “spiritual currency” in this remote frontier - forgotten by time.
As Todd looks on, Troy presents our foam football to the caretaker’s sons.
The caretaker family at the Rinchenpung Monestary. Note the brother’s foam football and ball point pen.
The Rinchenpung Monastery. Vajrayogini’s naval chakra is arguably Pemako’s most revered pilgrimage site. Meditation in this power spot generates compounding benefits.
By this time, the leeches didn’t seem to bother us that much. We learned that in Pemako it was just a way of life.
It was difficult for us to say goodbye to Kaba Tulku – our “Jolly Lama”. He was such a presence and living example of clear thought. It’s doubtful we could have ever located the magic mountain - Kundu Dorsempotrang - without his knowledge and intuition.
Visiting with the local villagers as we were leaving the Rinchenpung Monestary was fun. Their homes are perpetually filled with smoke.
Trading beads are a big part of the villagers’ lives.
The day’s hike to Medog began with an unexpected 600 foot climb.
It was a hot and muggy 4,000 foot descent into the military outpost of Medog.
At these lower elevations leeches were everywhere.
Medog. What a disappointment.
Even in this military pigsty with its Mad Max characters - the Dalai Lama photographs carried a huge significance.
Troy relaxes in our Medog luxury suite.
The Medog General Store. Todd purchases snacks for us and beers for our life-saving Sherpas.
Though beer and high doses of Flagyl don’t mix – we couldn’t resist. (Flagyl was our drug of choice for treating parasitic infections and amebic dysentery. We were popping the pills like M&M’s.)
At just over 2,000 feet in elevation the jungle heat was stifling. Bepuk lies in the background. Close examination of the photo shows the Doshong River flowing aqua green into the muddy Yarlung Tsangpo. We would cross the Yarlung Tsangpo and follow the Doshong Valley up to the 15,300 foot high Doshong La Pass – our gateway out of Pemako and on to the village of Pei.
Early outside of Bepuk we encountered a local Lopa tribal woman carrying ferns.
Close examination shows the “Liberation Bridge” and its shadow cast on the river in the left of the photo. The aqua green Doshong River flows in from the right.
The Doshong River.
Our trail virtually “tunneled” up the side of the canyon.
Close examination of this photo shows Troy on the trail in the top right with his arms raised high.
Our well traveled trail led us by a few Lopa homes. There was a simplicity in their primitiveness we found alluring.
Pemako is a magic place.
Little by little our climbing took us above and out of the stifling heat.
Troy looks up the Doshong Valley. Our pass out of Pemako was a half mile above us.
Setting camp for our last night in Pemako.
Wet and cold at the “Doshong La Base-Camp”, we were ready to leave Pemako.
Here the climbing to the Doshong La Pass began in earnest.
Todd filters water as we climb higher into the mists.
Chombi (shirtless) and fellow Sherpa climb on by. These guys were tough!
95 #181 & #182
Our porters were unfathomably strong.
Porters inching their way up the Doshong La Pass.
Todd moves on ahead.
Visibility was difficult as Todd disappeared into the clouds.
There was too much water in the streams to be close to the Pass?
Gil & Todd working their way up to the Doshong La Pass.
Precarious hiking in the ice fields.
The porters push on. It was near here that we saw the dead man.
Troy poses for a quick picture on the Doshong La Pass.
Leaving Pemako was just as dramatic as entering it three weeks earlier.
The road! Todd & Troy relish in the moment.
The end of the Pemako trail.
Todd, Gil & Troy. The outpost of Pei. Finally civilization!
In the village of Pei, Chombi Sherpa (right) had the thankless job of calculating porter wages. When nobody was around, Troy, Todd & I gave Chimed Gompo (middle) a large tip. He literally saved our lives.
As we ready for the long drive back to Lhasa, Christiaan has a celebratory smoke and entertains the residents of Pei with a juggling act.
Gil can’t stop smiling. “We made it. We made it. We’re finally out of Pemako!”
High on a hill just outside the town of Tsethang, sits Tibet’s oldest fortress/castle - Yumbulakhar.
95 #199, #200, #201
Some of the interesting Tibetans we passed on our long drive back to Lhasa.
Left: Raktayamari & Vajravetali - Yab (father)-Yum (mother), Middle: (to follow), Right: White Tara
Eating in an actual restaurant. We were all smiles.
Known for serving American style food, we dreamed of eating at Mike’s for a month. Our breakfast lasted for two hours and ended with hot fudge brownie sundaes.
Still not feeling that well, Todd gets some fresh air atop our Hotel Marshyangdi overlooking Kathmandu. Later that evening he would have a severe intestinal relapse.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and an unforgettable lesson in Buddhist Dependent Origination & Emptiness.
95 #207 & #208
A final fun night in Kathmandu.
Three very strong shots of tequila were in order upon landing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. We were home!
In the military town of Bayi, Gil gets a mohawk and Hamid emerges hairless from the Noble Lady Beauty Shop.
Left to Right: Troy, Bunny, Pasang and Gil with his newly acquired mojo Mohawk. (Bunny would rarely look at the camera.) The fading double rainbow in the background burned brilliant a few moments before indicating the passing of a high Buddhist lama.
Injecting an anticoagulant, leech bites can bleed for hours.
“Landslide Alley” The geologic instability of the Great Bend area rendered vehicular travel extremely dangerous.
As the ground continued to crumble under the trucks rear wheel we all new this vehicle was doomed.
The monks were spellbound by the photos of our 1995 Dorje Phagmo pilgrimage. Ani Rigsang, the tantric Tibetan nun, looks at the camera on the right.
Ian negotiating porter selections and daily wages with the head Bhakha Lama.
At the Bhakha Monastery, Ian becomes frustrated with the porters’ increasing wage demands.
Lining up at the Bhakha Monastery for a departing photo, many would not look at the camera. Standing in the back row on the right, Gil and Troy in white shirts, then Ian and the head Bhakha Lama (with yellow sleeves). Ani Rigsang, the tantric Tibetan nun, is on the far right of the back row.
Entering the jungles of Pemako brought back many painful memories.
Waterfalls were everywhere as we headed up towards the Su La Pass.
Troy hiking the ice fields up to Su La Pass.
Left to Right: Pasang, Gil, Troy & Ani Rigsang on top of the Su La Pass. According to Ian, we were the first Westerners to hike this Pass since the British explorers Bailey’s and Morshead’s clandestine dash in 1911.
There was water everywhere. Here Troy negotiates a slick two log bridge over a tumbling cascade. A slip would have been disastrous.
Arriving at the end of the day we found two porters and Ani Rigsang enjoying a cup of tea at Cabin Camp. It had been a long day with over 4,000 feet of climbing. Soon the others staggered in and the cabin was stuffed with bodies. Nobody minded – at least it was dry.
Hiking in the rain we descended from alpine glacier country to the tropics. We had Gore-Tex while our porters had simple sheets of plastic.
A severed chicken foot is a simple Lopa tribal toy. The young boy showed us with great amusement how pulling a tendon would cause the claw to contract.
It was a very steep descent with water everywhere. Here Troy and the porters cross a makeshift bridge.
Here Troy negotiates the tricky jungle slopes. Even though the village of Charasa was 2,000 feet below us, this portion of the trail headed steadily upwards.
The tribal women of Pemako were remarkable. In addition to their natural beauty, their strength and sure-footedness as porters was phenomenal. And their calm and even demeanor helped balance out the aggressive energy of the male porters.
The tribal women of Pemako could also be extremely seductive and beguiling.
This was Pemako in all its immensity and magic. Note the tiny porter crossing the stream at the bottom of the waterfall.
Our first glimpse of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Even from 2,000 feet above it looked daunting.
Gil and a Lopa takin hunter pose with flintlocks. These smooth-bore rifles looked like they were right out of the American Revolutionary War.
Troy scopes out our evenings camp – Charasa – 1,000 feet below.
At an elevation of only 4,100’ the barrack grounds of Charasa were sweltering hot and crawling with bugs and leeches.
A surprise visit from three of our 1995 porters. We are convinced Chimed Gompo saved our lives on that fateful expedition. Left to Right: Chimed Gompo (avoiding the camera), Troy, Lobsang, Gil & Sonam Chimbe (avoiding the camera).
Dawa (in green shirt) translates as Gil records the conversation. Left to Right: Chimed Gompo, Lobsang, & Sonam Chimbe laugh as they recount the trials and tribulations of our 1995 Kundu Dorsempotrang expedition.
Like moths drawn to light, the heat seeking leeches would slither into the flame and die.
The day’s climbing was hot – real hot.
Ken Storm decides to also split from the expedition and join us on our unpermitted dash to Pelung. His study and knowledge of the Pemako area would be key to our extraction and exploration efforts.
Troy and Ken Storm cross a cliff face over a primitive scaffolding on their way to Longlep.
Gil and Ken Storm get their first view of Longlep.
Arriving in Longlep late in the day, the few villagers welcomed us as family.
We were graciously offered a place to stay in Longlep. While waiting for dinner Troy & Ken Storm discuss possible escape routes out of Pemako. Our wet clothes can be seen drying in the background.
In addition to Stalin & Lenin, our host cabin sported a poster of the Kalachakra. In Vajrayana Buddhism this symbol represents the “wheel(s) of time” and is one of many of the tantric teachings and esoteric practices.
The view from our cabin’s glassless window was spectacular. The mighty Yarlung Tsangpo churns through the serpentine valley below.
Initially, cloudless skies escorted us on the trail back down to the river and the village of Gande.
A telephoto view of Kangla Karpo.
Two Gande boys with Kangla Karpo in the background.
Our “coincidental” 2nd encounter with Matuk was the key that unlocked the guarded entrance to Pemako’s forbidden inner gorge for our clandestine expedition.
We were such a curiosity in the sequestered world of Gande that the children followed us everywhere.
Our 2 young Tibetan Sherpas, Dawa & Bhim, hired local porters to assist in our escape from Pemako. We were a motley looking crew. Pictured: Back row left, Bhim, Troy and Dawa (hands in the air) with Gil on the far right. Many were wearing the scarves Gil passed out.
Matuk pointed out a tiny rock spire situated high on a cross-valley mountain shoulder (as seen in the top right of the photograph). This stone outcropping would play a pivotal role in our upcoming journey and in our lives.
With an average annual rainfall of around 25 feet, these uncharacteristically clear Pemako skies were a true blessing. Gil hikes down a grassy shoulder in the bottom right of the photograph.
While Dawa was negotiating with the porters we hiked down and explored the river. Here we were 8,000’ lower in elevation than we were when we rafted this same river three years prior - in 1994. Even at these lower elevations the “Everest of Whitewater” was earning its name.
With our porter dispute settled everyone jumped into action to set the lines and get us across the Yarlung Tsangpo River in the fading day’s light.
The immensity of the Yarlung Tsangpo River gorge made this late afternoon cable crossing a daunting task.
We had 12 people and a lot of gear to cross in the fading daylight.
The heights and churning waters below were daunting. See the lone porter at the top of the photo.
Matuk looks on as Troy gets lashed to the pully for his cable crossing of the Yarlung Tsangpo river.
Photo taken in the middle of the crossing.
Troy is half way across.
This night hike brought us together as a group. The extreme circumstances allowed us to better recognized our shared human condition. This bond would grow tighter as our journey continued.
In Lugu we peeked inside a small home. It was filthy. A Lopa man and his son lived there and Gil gave the boy a glow-in-the-dark pen. He hung it proudly from his neck.
In Gogden we were offered a shrine room as a place to sleep. Here a thangka of the goddess White Tara was displayed prominently.
Two boys from Gogden. The locals were always so happy to see us.
Our porters Matuk, Brad Watts & Trashi Padi load up on yak butter tea in preparation of the day’s grueling hike ahead.
In Gogden we spied a propaganda poster tacked to a wall purportedly representing the harmony between the Communist Chinese military and the Tibetan people. To see this brain washing propaganda in a cabin this remote was absurd.
In Gogden the village chieftain proudly shows us his flintlock rifle. There were three such rifles in the village.
Uncharacteristically clear skies shine on Troy and the chieftain’s flourishing marijuana crop.
The ongoing collision of two continents created seismic geologic instability and constant landslides.
Negotiating the many landslide areas was hard on your body as well as your nerves.
The steep climb out of the Yarlung Tsangpo gorge to the Tsebung La Pass was two vertical miles in elevation.
Cresting the Tsebung La Pass we had our first view of the 23,891 foot high Gyala Peri Mountain. Standing on the Asian continent, it was only 13 miles away from the 25,531 foot high Namcha Barwa Mountain situated on the Indian continent.
Matuk ceremoniously offers three full prostrations and then beckons us to follow.
Takin skulls adorned mossy grottos along the shrine site.
An unnoticed crack in the stone led us to the inner sanctum of Tsebung “Million Lives”.
Gil and Matuk. The Tsebung “Long Life” ceremony included carving a notch in a stick for each year you have been alive.
Troy emerges from the birth canal of Mother Earth.
As we emerged from the womb of Mother Earth the storm abated and the skies miraculously cleared affording us unique views all the way into India.
Our telephoto lens captures a distant peak manifesting from the clouds (see top of photo).
The Dorje Phagmo Mountain – our guidepost into the Inner Gorge.
Leaving the trail, we climbed up into the unknown.
Our porters were anxious. Entrapment by monsoon clouds was a constant threat.
Hacking our way through the entangled rhododendron thickets slowed our progress and zapped our energy.
The geologic exposure was frightening. See Troy in the foreground on the bottom right and the porters dotting the top of the hill in the upper left.
Hiking on the edge of the rhododendron thickets was easier going. But the risk of a landslide and an endless fall was also heightened.
Our porters gain the ridgeline.
Fresh evidence of landslides and earth fissuring were everywhere.
On the steeper sections we were reduced to crawling on our hands and knees.
The higher we climbed the more spectacular the Himalayan views. Gil in photo.
As the mists got thicker and thicker our group spread out.
Every now and then the clouds would part and we would, with relief, see our porters traversing the same ridgeline.
Who was this apparition manifesting from the clouds? With no pack he wasn’t one of ours.
When the clouds lifted we saw our porters scattered all over. Note Troy and Ken in foreground and some of our porters in the top left on the distant ridge.
Suddenly the apparition, with his flintlock, charged us.
“Mystical Warrior from the Mists” Our guide for the next leg of our journey.
Our porters were truly people of the earth. Here they are breakfasting after a long rainy night. Their plastic rain cover lies nearby.
Namcha Barwa - 25,531 feet
Konlakarpo - 23,733 feet
Gyala Peri - 23,891 feet
The Konlakarpo peak (Sanglung) on the Indian continent, looms large on the left of the photograph. The Namcha Barwa peak, also on the Indian continent, is the pyramidical peak just to the right of Konlakarpo. The Gyala Peri peak, on the Asian continent, is situated on the far right of the photograph. Between Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri lies the deepest gorge in the world. With these landmarks revealed we knew how to find our destination. The uncharacteristically clear weather allowed these to be the first photographs ever taken from this vantage point. The spirit of Pemako was with us.
We were miraculously granted clear skies and unprecedented views. Troy and I knew a divine guidance was at play in revealing this once in a lifetime experience. Luminous Kangla Karpo in the background.
With the 23,891 foot Gyala Peri in the center, Troy scopes out the guardian protector’s Dorje Traktsen Mountain on the left. This would be our gateway into the Inner Gorge.
Mesmerized by the mountain, our porters revolted and refused to continue. They understood that this was the guardian protector’s gateway into the Inner Gorge. To take Westerners into this most sacred place would incur the wrath of the local spirits. In this photograph Gil attempts to convince the porters to continue. His pleas, offers of more money and cajoling fell on deaf ears.
Our Buddhist shaman guide’s mystical dream the night before assured the porters that we could continue up and over the sacred mountain without incurring the guardian protector’s wrath. This would be our gateway into the Inner Gorge. In this photograph Matuk and the others debate the surest route of ascent.
In this photograph the porters can be seen as tiny specs on the ridge approaching the formidable Dorje Traktsen Mountain.
Troy readies to ascend the almost vertical slope up Dorje Traktsen. Porters can be seen inching their ways skyward.
Without ropes the exposure of this climb was daunting. Here we stop and take a break. Dawa is in the green shirt.
Gil approaches the summit of Dorje Traktsen.
Our Buddhist shaman guide, likewise, reaches the summit of Dorje Traktsen.
On top of Dorje Traktsen our porters got a “bird’s-eye-view” of the region they lived in but had never seen from this vantage. Dawa is in the green shirt with our Buddhist shaman guide to his left in the photo and Bhim to his right. Matuk points from the tip of the hill.
Rock solid Matuk on the left with a pair of socks I gave him, and our hunter/shaman guide who appeared from the mists on the right. Nobody could believe how clear the skies were. They told us the Pemako Guardian Protectors were pleased!
We were truly on top of the world.
The sheer grandeur of Pemako was an acute lesson in the transiency of continual process. Troy is in the left hand bottom comer of the photograph.
Troy and I realized this experience was a mystical gift. Pemako was revealing herself.
The porters were ecstatic to be on top of the mountain. In this photograph Matuk points our way down and into the long-sought Inner Gorge.
We were provided an unprecedented view into the Inner Gorge. In this photograph a porter marvels over the use of Troy’s binoculars. Bhim is looking at the camera.
Readying to descend into the Inner Gorge, Troy confers with our Buddhist shaman guide as to which route to take. Unfortunately, our hunter guide from the mists had never been this far out of his territory and could offer no advice. We would have to proceed on intuition alone.
With the clouds moving in, we began our long descent down Dorje Traktsen.
Our porters were rock solid as they descended into unknown territory. Note the line of porters tracing down the mountain in the upper right.
Sooner than expected our Buddhist shaman guide called a halt to the day’s march. He said the weather was too unstable to continue that late in the day.
We pitched our tent on the platform constructed by one of our Gogden porters. The porters camp is below.
Troy surveys the scene from the tent porch of our platform perch.
Our setting afforded us miraculous views into the upper portion of the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo. The gorge was so steep we couldn’t yet see the river.
Our porters’ camp. There was magic afoot as we all knew we were on the adventure of a lifetime.
With clouds moving in and out we proceeded to climb. In this photograph our porters can been seen in a tiny line on the left.
Gil and Ken look on as the porters gather crystals. They called the stones, “Vajrayogini’s tears”.
We were startled to find that Buddhist pilgrims had traveled this way many years before.
Another hunter manifests from the mists.
The hunter’s name was JamYang. We nick-named him the Gentleman Hunter.
JamYang knew the way to a large waterfall. We negotiated a price and he agreed to guide us.
The clouds briefly lift and we see our porters scattered in the background. With JamYang’s help we had located the elusive Sechen La Pass. Here, Ken, JamYang and Troy (on the right side of the photograph) celebrate reaching this long-sought landmark.
With JamYang’s guidance we were finally able to reach the Sechen La ridge which led to the pass. With the constant severe and unstable weather conditions, the porters wanted to descend into the gorge as quickly as possible.
With the swirling could movement the massive Himalayan landscape was displaying itself like an I-Max movie.
From this vantage, Troy could had a bird’s eye view of the deepest canyon in the world. The perpetually cloaked Inner Gorge was beginning to reveal itself as the veils of clouds were lifted.
As the mists lifted we could clearly see the Yarlung Tsangpo River left but what was going on down on the right?
Ken Storm films the Yarlung Tsangpo River as it flows between Namcha Barwa Mountain situated on the Indian continent and Gyala Peri Mountain on the Asian continent. Ken had dreamed of this moment for years.
It looked like an “S” turn on the bottom right. Was the river flowing back on itself?
Were we looking at the “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra”?
The sun was blazing hot as we relocated our porters in the seemingly impenetrable rhododendron thickets. Earth fissures posed a constant threat, well concealed under the thick underbrush. In the photograph Troy is in the foreground and the porters are on the ridge in the middle.
In the waning light we had a magnificent view of what Ken Storm convinced us was the “The Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra”.
With our camera’s telephoto lenses we could clearly see the pleated geography of two colliding continents. It was this unique twisted formation that kept the Falls hidden for so many years.
The porters camp nestled under the overhang of a giant boulder.
Our tents were set on the most level area available – the top of a house-sized boulder. Our porters camped below.
Awaking early, we knew we had an exciting day ahead. The views from our perch were mystical. Magic was afoot.
As we worked our way further and further down into the gorge we could mark our progress by eyeing the slopes on the opposite side of the river. Here Gil looks upriver.
With a clear sight of both Rainbow Falls and Hidden Falls, Ken Storm insisted we proceed north for another view angle.
Instead of walking across the wet and slippery homemade bridge like the porters did, we opted for the more stable “butt-slide” maneuver. At this point we weren’t taking any chances.
As we worked our way horizontally down the gorge we got an unobstructed view of Rainbow Falls (center) with the Hidden Falls just around the corner.
Ken Storm could recognize Rainbow Falls by the large boulder at the Fall’s pour-over on river right (bottom left of the photo above & bottom right in the photo below). It was the same boulder as featured in Lord Cawdor’s 1924 photo of Rainbow Falls. Kingdon Ward and Lord Cawdor got to within – what they estimated at – 1,800 feet upstream from Rainbow Falls and photographed their discovery. They never saw what lay just around the corner – Hidden Falls.
Lord Cawdor’s 1924 photograph of Rainbow Falls shows the same boulder that Ken Storm pointed out to us. Close examination of Lord Cawdor’s 1924 photo (97 #144) and our 1997 photo (97 #143) also shows the same cliff markings where the river slams into the wall before its 90° turn into Hidden Falls. Stopped at river level in 1924, Kingdon Ward and Lord Cawdor never saw Hidden Falls.
Convinced we had located the “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra”, we estimated the Falls height at 100 feet.
Today’s aerial photography allows a bird’s eye view of the tectonic upheaval experienced in this section of the Inner Gorge. In several places tremendous geologic forces had pleated the earth’s crust and bent the river back upon itself. This aerial IKONOS image was taken from a commercial earth observation satellite on May 9, 2000, at a height of 423 miles.
Our porters were exhausted. But we still had a dangerous 3,000 foot climb back up to camp.
Having completed the “The Rainbow Traverse of the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo River” we were on an explorer’s high. We had penetrated Pemako’s fabled Inner Gorge and photographed our discovery of the “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra". A visceral sense of interconnectedness pervaded our group. We were family. Here Trashipati (far right) clicks the auto shutter release for this photo. Next to him is Gil (kneeling) then Troy with the Buddhist hunter shaman kneeling to his left. Behind Troy is Matuk with Jamyang looking over Matuk’s shoulder.
Troy gives our porters a geography lesson. (Left to Right) the Buddhist hunter shaman, Troy, Matuk and Trashipati.
It was an afternoon of camaraderie and joy as Hominid Man and Matuk laugh out loud at the other porters’ antics.
The porters were transfixed by Troy’s small book of photographs from home. Here our Buddhist hunter shaman is looking at the Kentucky State Capitol building. Our guide JamYang is on the far right.
While our Buddhist hunter shaman held the photo book, Matuk used Troy’s binoculars to see who was inside the building. Their innocence was priceless. It was an afternoon we will never forget.
We watched the fading light in the world’s deepest canyon.
We hiked the ridgeline for hours. The trail improved and we began seeing prayer flags as we neared Payu.
Slogging through the rain. This was a long day. Ken, Gil and the porters are ready for home.
Our hike along the ridge seemed to go on forever. By this time everyone was ready to go home.
The misty forests seemed surreal.
How our porters were able to negotiate this weather and terrain in cheap Chairman Mao tennis shoes and worn out socks we will never know.
Finally our long-sought hamlet of Payu.
After a long day of hiking Gil takes a rest while the others prepare for pay-day.
They liked Troy’s watch but the concept of time eluded them.
Paying our porters turned into a complicated and often times frantic process.
We were squarely back in leech country.
When the clouds lifted we could see waterfalls like sky-born ribbons cascading into the Yarlung Tsangpo.
Seeing Zachu on the other side of the canyon gave us our bearings. We had been there in 1994.
Dropping into the gorge we could see our bridge far below (bottom left of the photo) and our trail traversing up the other side. Zachu is in the saddle on the top third right of the photo with the earth slide next to it. We had a lot of climbing ahead.
Our bridge crossing of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.
Instead of thermal soaking pools, the Zachu hot springs offered only sulfur stench and yak droppings.
The hanging bridge on the Po Tsangpo River.
Back at the Leaping Rat Lodge we had a great feeling of accomplishment. Little did we know there was plenty of adventure still to come.
Believing the road was closed due to a rockfall on “Landslide Alley”, primitive loggers were cutting old growth trees and tobogganing them down for easy pick-up. Had we been a single second faster we would have been skewered.
We were greatly relieved to be released from house arrest with our 2,900 photographs miraculously intact. Some of our companions weren’t so lucky. Most importantly, we had over 300 photos of Hidden Falls documenting its long-sought existence. Here we reunited with Dawa and the porters from Ian’s and Hamid’s group. We knew several from past expeditions.
The Tibet we knew is forever gone. The four contiguous hydroelectric dams pictured above are located in the Yarlung Tsangpo’s, Upper Granite Gorge. This is the same gorge we rafted and hiked in 1994.
On October 31, 2013, the 73-mile road to Medog was opened. What took us 18 days of hiking can now be reached by vehicle in one afternoon. The city of Medog is now a bustling tourist attraction. Over 70,000 Han Chinese tourists visited Medog in 2016. Resort Hotels and restaurants are flourishing.
Through a contact Gil had with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso’s niece - Khando Chazotsang - we were able to have her share our Tibet photographs with him. Like all Tibetan Buddhists, he was fascinated by these first-hand views of Pemako – the Hidden Land of the Blossoming Lotus. Our cover letter told of handing out photographs of him and the reverence and awe the photos elicited. In this photograph he is looking at a local Lopa tribesman in the Chimdro Valley lovingly holding onto his picture. We told him that to the residents of Pemako, he will forever be their “God King”. In a follow up letter, he thanked us profusely for this unique glimpse into Tibet’s most sacred landscape and the people who live there.