29 May - 18 June 2005
*Click on Pictures to Enlarge an Image
Participants: Sammie Arthur '07 Biology - Environmental Studies; Mary Ashby '05 Chemistry - Environmental Studies; Dan Berg '06 Geology - Environmental Studies; Beth Blum '06 English; Egan Brinkman '07 Sociology; Sam Caruthers-Knight '05 Geology - Environmental Studies; Jodie Gates '07 Sociology - Environmental Studies; Meghan Goss '06 Religion; Miles Johnson '07 Biology - Environmental Studies; Taylor Johnson '07 Geology; Tyler Kohlhoff '07 Studio Art; Erin McMahan '06 Politics - Environmental Studies; Brittany Peterson '06 Chemistry; Zoe Plakias '08 undeclared; Oak Rankin '05 Politics - Environmental Studies; Amy Sharp '06 Art History; Laurel Stratton '07 Geology; Meg Tuttle '05 Geology - Environmental Studies; Clare Carson Director of Academic Resources; Bob Carson Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies
Palden (from Bhutan); Lhada (from Lhasa); Tshewang (from Lhasa)
Whitman Rocks Tibet by Bob Carson
June 1: Arrival on the Roof of the World (Chengdu-Lhasa)
left Walla Walla on Saturday, 28 May, Clare and I finally landed in
Tibet at the Gongkar airport between the capital Lhasa and the third
largest city, Tsetang. With us are 18 Whitman students (4 now alums),
12 women and 6 men, of 9 different majors. We hooked up with them in
Seattle, Nerita (near Tokyo, Japan), and Bangkok. Each of the 4 flights
was, fortunately, shorter than the previous one.
June 2: Lhasa II (Jokhang and Sera)
the morning we explored the Jokhang temple, which contains a statue that
somehow has survived for 2500 years (kings, Dali Lamas, and the Chinese
invasion). Because this is an auspicious month, there are more pilgrims
than ever prostrating themselves in front of and within this huge temple.
There are 3 koras (walks, always clockwise) the pilgrims can take here:
the shortest is inside the Jokhang, the next is around the temple's perimeter
(<1 km), and the longest is all the way around Lhasa (5-hour walk).
June 3 : Lhasa III (Pabonka)
we hiked up to lower Pabonka Monastery, and looked at a holy cave in
the granite. Outside were many hoopoes, birds which make a sound like
their name, and are quite colorful. On the way farther up to upper Pabonka
Monastery, we looked down on a sky burial site. Most Tibetans have their
bodies cut into parts and their bones crushed, all to be placed where
vultures, wild dogs, etc., can feast. We saw hundreds of Himalayan
griffons perched on ridges and circling above the site.
June 4: Lhasa IV (Potala and Dungkar)
finally got to visit the Potala, probably Tibet's most famous landmark.
I wonder if it is the largest building on earth. Perched on an erosion
remnant of sedimentary rocks rising 130 m above the floodplain of the
Kyi Chu (on which Lhasa is built), the Potala is like a huge museum
because the current Dalai Lama is in exile in India. Although it is
our fourth day in Tibet, I felt the altitude climbing from the floodplain
(elevation almost 12,000') to the top of the palace.
June 5: Lhasa - Ganden
thirds of us are now (or have been) sick in one way or another - in all
but one case it is diarrhea and/or throwing up, in many cases severely.
Some cannot sleep or eat. June
6 : Lhasa - Shigatse (via Shogu La and Dongu La)
June 6 : Lhasa - Shigatse (via Shogu La and Dongu La)Today we drove up and down river valleys crossing the southern Tibetan Plateau, and reaching its southern edge where the Yarlung Tsangpo forms its border with the Himalayas, or where India meets Eurasia in the geologic sense. There was more new snow last night, which helped to emphasize surficial patterns like polygons above permafrost. It is extremely bright at 17,000' with new snow, with or without the sun. Up on the plateau the temperature was just above or below freezing, with mostly clouds. By the time we turned west on the Yarlung Tsangpo the clouds had disappeared and the temperature had climbed 30 to 40º.
June 7: Shigatse - GyantsePlate tectonics was the theme of our long morning roundtrip drive between Shigatse and Gyantse. At Shigatse the clastic sedimentary rocks were marine sediments deposited on the south edge of the passive margin of Eurasia. In contrast, at Gyantse similar sediments were deposited on the north edge of the active margin of India. Between the two continents was the Tethys Sea, underlain by oceanic crust. As the two continents collided, a piece of oceanic crust was caught in the vice. We stopped at three places to sample the oceanic crust (pillow basalts and red chert at the top, with sheeted dikes beneath) and upper mantle (serpentinite).
The claim to fame in the Pelkor Chode Monastery in Gyantse is the Gyantse Kumdum, Tibet's largest stupa (35 m high). We got good views of the stupa from the highest point within the monastery, sitting on a hillside and surrounded by a wall. In the distance we saw another fortress-like monastery. Bhutan lies to the south of Gyantse; British troops came here in 1904, on their way to Lhasa.
After a late lunch we explored the Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447. The remains of the first Dalai Lama are here. The monastery includes a 90-year-old (hollow) copper statue. The tombs of many Panchen Lamas (second only to Dalai Lamas) are within the monastery.
Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet. The Shigatse market outdoes the Lhasa Tibetan business area in terms of the passion of the sales persons, mostly women in traditional clothes. We walked through the stands of jewelry, gift items, etc. Nearby were foods, and cloth. Men played pool and craps.
Generally one can get about half of what they ask, sometimes one third if you are persistent and/or walk away. At one time I had five women tugging at me trying to get me to buy their wares. Some, including Clare, almost had to wrestle themselves away from aggressive salespersons. You hear many phrases like “cheap”, “how much”, “lowest”, “final”, “me poor”, and “look” repeatedly. I love the bargaining.
The food here is very similar at breakfast, lunch, and dinner: jasmine tea, water or coke or sprite, mixtures of meat and vegetables, rice, noodles, soup, tofu. There is no salad, and little if any bread. Dessert is apple wedges. The hotel employees are all very friendly.
June 8 : Shigatse - Sakya
Today we crossed the Yarlung Tsangpo and drove east (upvalley) along the north shore. There are many dunes along the river.
Today and two days ago and at Ganden Monastery we had a picnic lunch outside. Nomads, as Palden calls them, appear and watch you eat, knowing that they will get the leftovers, which are considerable. They take not only the food, but the trash. They love the 1.5-liter water bottles. They bring us a water bucket or some other container for our leftover rice. The cardboard and paper is good for starting fires. Two days ago they brought baby goats to show us. In general they do not want their pictures taken; but if they do, they enjoy seeing the digital photos on the screen.
After lunch we continued through road construction and finally a paved road to Shigatse, the capital of Tibet from 1268 to 1354. During this time Tibetan Buddhism spread to Mongolia, and the Monguls spared Tibet.
There are a few peaks to the south with a snow caps, and as we left the Yarlung - Tsangpo we saw many more, perhaps even one glacier. All the hills and mountains are very dry, with next to no vegetation. This contrasts sharply with the green flood plains, with many fields, often with a rock in the center. We also saw lots of cottonwood afforestation of the flood plain.
Sakya is small, and mostly modern and Chinese, except for the monastery near out hotel. There's another monastery with stupas across the valley to the north. The one we explored is notable for support pillars 1m in diameter, juniper trees brought 600 km from southeastern Tibet.
June 9 : Sakya - Rongbuk (via Dong La and Pang La)Today was a really tough day in the vehicles: long, bouncy, dusty, warm. We took a route the guides had never been before. Often the vehicles needed 4WD for loose sand. We splashed across some streams. We encountered our first bothersome tiny insects (by the millions) at an intended lunch stop by a river, but moved west.
The geology was spectacular: intensely folded clastic sedimentary rocks, plus a little limestone and gneiss. These hillsides are unraveling, and have giant alluvial fans at their bases. We drove through tens of kilometers of coppice dunes with yellow gorse-like shrubs/flowers anchoring them. And we played on textbook barchans. From two passes we had great views of the high Himalayas. All the villages have red and black stripes on gray walls. The weather continues to be beautiful.
This afternoon we entered Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (e.g., Mt. Everest national park). From the entrance one drives over Pang La (a pass about 17,000' high) for a spectacular view of high Himalaya peaks. Near Posum we traded our Toyota Land Cruisers for official tourist vans and drove upvalley, the views of Mt. Everest and nearby snowy peaks getting better and better.
I took pictures of the north side of Mt. Everest, and nearby lateral moraines, before coming into the hotel in the Rongbuk Valley. I lie on my bed looking at the north face of Mt. Everest, with clear blue sky rising above the 29,000' peak (only 13,000' above us).
June 10 : Everest I (Base Camp)Today we hiked to two caves, one very holy, about 5 km upvalley from the hotel. The caves are in a huge rockfall with giant boulders of gneiss and migmatite. We saw slicklenlines, garnets, and tourmalines. Most returned to the hotel for a late lunch, but four of us hiked to Everest Base Camp at 16,900' (another 3.5 km upvalley). There we had a light lunch in one of many tents, and checked out tomorrow's route. In the afternoon there is a very strong downvalley katabatic wind off the glaciers. After viewing Everest and Nuptse, we hiked back to the hotel.
What good fortune to have had clear weather all day. The sun hits Everest from 7am to 9pm, the light on the cliffs and snowfields changing all day. This valley has “textbook” glacial geology, with four terminal moraine complexes from just above Base Camp (below stagnant ice of the Rongbule Glacier) to below the hotel. The steep valley sides are mostly covered with colluvium - there is till and gneiss in places. The beauty leaves no doubt as to why this was the second holiest place in Tibet (after Mt. Kalish at the headwaters of Yarlung Tsangpo).
June 11 : Everest II (Camp I)
hotel employees awoke late, so our 7am breakfast was late. Horse carts
that carry driver (except going uphill) and two passengers awaited us
right at the hotel's front door. The 11 carts are blue, pulled by decorated
horses. The back seat is particularly bumpy, and in the early morning
shade, we had no sun until Base Camp. It took 1.5 hours to get the 9
km from the hotel (16,350') to the north Everest Base Camp (16,900'),
where the sun greeted us. We
had 8 hours to get back to Base Camp at 6pm, and return to the hotel
by horse cart.
June 12: Everest III (Rongbuk - Posum)This morning Oak and I climbed to the highest of the nunneries/monasteries that existed before the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese destroyed them (and paid Tibetan youth to do the same). We found lots of broken pottery. Meanwhile, five women hiked south toward the rockfall to boulder with their rock-climbing shoes.
In the afternoon seven of us (mostly geology majors) hiked north along the road past two moraine complexes, trying to figure out the glacial history of the Rongbuk Valley. About 2-3 km north of the hotel, the vans, which held everyone else, picked us up for the drive to Posum.
We knew in advance that the hotel in Posum would be sketchy. There is a ladder to the upstairs bunkrooms (holding three to ten each) and pit toilet. We liked it until the night. On top of our coughs, earaches, congestion, etc., an intruder came into the rooms twice, a dog barked all night, and smoke rose from the bar/restaurant below. Many got little sleep.
June 13: Posum - Shigatse (via Pang La and Gatso La)Today was a long day of driving including two passes about 17,000' high. The first, Pang La, we had been over before, but today the high Himalayas were mostly in the clouds. On both sides of Pang La there are dozens and dozens of switchbacks on this relatively new and good highway.
The northern pass, Maphu La, has gradual ascents from both directions. All around is tundra, with no mountains in sight. A few small snow patches decorated the rather barren landscape.
We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Chusar/Lhatso. Then we retraced our route of more than a week ago, going down the Yarlung Tsangpo, mostly on the north side of the river. The showers in the Shigatse hotel were quite welcome after almost a week near Mt. Everest.
June 14: Shigatse - Lhasa (via Karola, Yamdrok Tso and Gampa La)Our second day in a row of a very long drive was interesting and scenic. The route from Shigatse south-southeast to Gyantse was a repeat. Then the road ascended to Tibet's largest dam and long Y-shaped reservoir. Most of the route, until we crossed the Yarlung-Tsangpo was, as usual, sandstone and shale, green valleys and barren hillsides, giant alluvial fans - all the sediment headed for the Bay of Bengal.
From the reservoir the road climbed to Karo La, another almost 5000-m pass. We watched one of Tibet's most beautiful and famous mountains, Najin Kangtsang (over 23,000 feet) the whole way. The peak is clothed with icefalls; at the pass we were almost under the glaciers.
Descending eastward from the pass, we soon saw Yamdrok-Tso, one of Tibet's four holy lakes. From this huge and complexly shaped lake, pipes go north and down to the Yarlung Tsangpo for power generation. We had a lot of delays because of road construction by the Chinese army, but enjoyed driving along the lake and seeing three of the rare black-necked cranes. At the pass between the turquoise lake and the Yarlung-Tsangpo, we took pictures of each other riding yaks. After the bridge over the Yarlung Tsangpo, we took our earlier route to Lhasa and the nicest hotel yet.
Tonight the students returned to the bar of about a week ago. Again, when the band took a break, four students (Egan on drums, Tyler vocal, Taylor and a Tibetan on guitars, and in part, Miles and Taylor vocal) borrowed the instruments, microphones, and sound system. Again, the clientele went wild. The difference was that this time a TV crew had advance notice. So Whitman rocked Lhasa tonight - at the New Light Coffee and Bar. The students played/sang five songs: “Song 2”, “Lhasa Girl Jam”, “Punk Rock Jam”, “Loving on the Roof of the World”, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”.
June 15: Lhasa - Tsetang
For the third time we traveled the highway southwest from Lhasa to the Yarlung-Tsangpo. We have said goodbye to our six 4WD Land Cruiser drivers, and are in a bus, fortunately with air conditioning for this hot day. All along the Yarlung Tsangpo are spectacular climbing dunes. The flood plain has some dunes, but most impressive are the millions of mostly poplar and/or cottonwood trees that have been planted as likely the Earth's greatest afforestation project. We saw Samye Monastery across the river.
Tsetang, Tibets third largest city, is downriver from Shigatse and Lhasa. The city is modern and clean, and the hotel is fancy. After lunch the group went to two places a few kilometers south of Tsetang. This is near where five US Army Air Corps men survived a plane crash during World War II. One place was the seventh-century Trandruk Monastery, one of the oldest is Tibet. The other place was Yumbulagang, supposedly the oldest building in Tibet; it dates to when Tibet had kings, before Buddhism and the Dalai Lamas.
Gango Ri (4130m) rises 600 m above Tsetang and our hotel; the mountain is the legendary birthplace of Tibetans.
June 16: Tsethang - Samye
Today the group traveled by bus down the south side of the Yarlung Tsangpo, crossed a bridge, and went farther up the Yarlung Tsangpo on its north bank - to Samye Monastery. First they climbed Hepo Ri, a hill east of the monastery, to look down on the monastery and adjacent village. They are built on the floodplain of the Samye, valley a tributary to the Yarlung Tsangpo, and are surrounded by trees. After lunch, they toured the monastery, Tibet's oldest, having been founded between 765 and 780AD. Shaped like a mandala, it has been damaged and destroyed many times in 1200+ years.
After dinner I gave a short thank you to the guides and students. Taylor (guitar) and Miles sang a funny song they composed about Tibet and geology. Tyler played guitar and sang his song about the future of a Tibetan boy. Palden gave to Bob and Clare a small painting of the Buddha of Compassion, and to Whitman College a large wall hanging of the same Buddha.
Later the students were singing and talking in the garden. They were joined by English-speaking:
Consul General from Saudi Arabia to ChinaThey had long political discussions as the UAR Consul General bought beer for all.
June 17: Leaving the Roof of the World (Lhasa - Bangkok)
Today we leave Tibet; we go from high and dry to low and moist. We arose early, and drove west along the south shore of the Yarlung Tsangpo. I never tire of seeing the spectacular climbing dunes. At the airport we had to say goodbye to our three dear guides, with hugs and some tears.
Security confiscated Taylor's Swiss Army knife, then used it to open the Lhasa beers the students had. The students had to return the beer bottles, full or empty, before they could have their boarding passes. So, of course, the students drank the beers.
The flight to Chengdu in western China departed about 11am. Clouds prevented our viewing the Himalayas we have come to love.