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.