Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Yading Big Kora: lesson learned from my second circuit

I've just come back from Yading, where I did a 7 day circuit of Chanadorje, Jambeyang and Shenrezig. I originally intended to do this solo but had the good fortune to link up with Qin Rey and his colleagues from CCTV-9, who accompanied me on the trip so they could make a documentary about the kora - and its links with Joseph Rock's plant hunting expeditions. The documentary is part of a 3-part series on the Gongga Shan and surrounding area, due to air in 2017. Their assistance was invaluable - it made it so much easier to gain access to the Yading National Park (now a whopping 300 yuan entry fee) and also to hire porters etc.
The trek was great - we took 7 days to do the full circuit, and I will write a full track report in due course. However, it was marred by rain on almost every day - something I should have anticipated given that the 'monsoon' season starts in early June. So here are  a few lessons from the trek on what worked and what didn't.

#1 Don't go in the rainy season (June- end August)

My previous trip was in May 2010 and this was marred by ice and snow on the passes. It seems there is a very narrow window of opportunity to get clear weather in spring, but before the rainy season kicks in in early June. Lesson: go in Sept-Nov (but not Golden Week around 1 Oct).

#2 Take Diamox for altitude sickness

With average altitudes in the region of 4000m (and some of the passes at around 5000m), the big kora comes with a certain risk of altitude sickness. On my first two trips I suffered from the usual headaches, lethargy and lack of sleep, combined with dry throat and raging thirst at night. I also struggled to walk up very gentle slopes - and thought I would die of heart failure with any prolonged exertion. This time round, I started Diamox (acetazolamide) two days before departure and it made a world of difference. It basically allowed me to function as if I were at sea level - I allowed three days acclimatisation, and suffered no altitude sickness at all - and felt that hiking up the steepest pass (Yaka La, 4700m) was much like walking up Malham Cove in Yorkshire. My fellow trekkers had very bad altitude sickness, so I felt pretty smug about my performance enhancing drug results.

#3 Goretex rain jackets don't work - take a poncho

I thought I'd given my rain gear a pretty thorough testing in Sydney's heaviest downpours for years. I was wrong.  I found that my eVent rainproof jacket only stayed waterproof for the first day of rain (despite being recently re-proofed at great expense). After that it 'wetted out' and let in some water. My shirt was damp around the shoulders and arms. (I found the best solution was to wear my merino thermals as base layer, which though wet still kept me feeling warm and dry-ish. Everyone else on the hike had the same water leakage problems with their breathable rain jackets. We were saved by some cheap PVC ponchos. These were inelegant but kept us (and our packs) dry without making us feel clammy and sweaty - obviously because their is plenty of ventilation! My Patagonia soft shell trousers worked well at repelling rain and mud for a few hours, but also became saturated eventually (but to be fair they dried out very quickly). The best performers in the wet were my Scarpa Delta GTX boots, which kept my feet dry and warm despite being subject to a week of continual rain, stream bashing and ankle-deep sucking mud.
Lesson learnt - have waterproof bags for everything in your bag, especially your sleeping bag. (The waterproof iPhone cover also probably saved my phone from drowning).

#4 Don't rely on dehydrated meals for a week.

On most of my previous treks I have used the expensive ($11 a pop) Back Country Cuisine dehydrated meals for my dinners. These may be OK for a day or two, but I soon became sick of them - most seem to consist of tasteless meat, soggy rice or noodles, and loads of sweetcorn (which I detest). I found that pot noodles (fangbian mian in Chinese) were much more palatable and seemed to fill the gaps when combined with a bit of mashed potato and some beef jerky. And a lot cheaper too. For lunch I found myself very satisfied with Vitawheat and a mix of Babybel and Laughing Cow cheeses that I'd picked up in the supermarket - they didn't seem to go off over the week. I also learned that fun-size Snickers bars may be OK for energy - but it's impossible to walk and chew at altitude. A much better boost for getting up those 'up' bits was a pack of Werther's Originals (a bit like Murray Mints from the UK). Suck it and see.

#5 If you want to get ahead get a hat

The rapidly changing weather meant that I started the day with a fleece hat for warmth, switched this for a broad-brimmed, vented sunhat once I started walking in the glare, but then inevitably swapped this for a (polyester, quick drying) baseball cap to fit under my rainhood for the rainy periods.

#6 Other indispensable items: 

Sunscreen, teabags, spare torch batteries, Chinese Nescafe sachets, a bit of dubbin to re-proof the boots, some photos of family to show locals, photocopies of Google map 3D views of route (went down really well with local guides and helped route planning). A sponge ( for moping up water from tent floor after putting it up in the rain). Kindle, Thermarest, Swiss Army Knife, Iodine tablets, a waterproof head torch, some mementoes (baloons for kids), cheap sunnies (don't mind if lost or broken). Lucky batik scarf (acts as emergency towel, camera lens cleaner, eyemask, bandana and smoke filter).

#7 Don't forget to breathe

I find that breathing in and out helps me to get through the day, especially on high altitude treks. It may sound obvious, but at heights of 4000m or more there isn't as much oxygen in the air - and I used to find myself doing step counting to try achieve a manageable walking pace without becoming a gasping cripple. I now realise I was doing it the wrong way round. I now rely on my Advanced, Patent Pending 'Breathe-Like-An-Old-Geezer' method for going up hills when more than 4km higher than sea level. This involves breathing in and out slowly, a bit like Neil Armstrong on the moon. I set the walking pace according to my breathing rate, not the other way round. I find that this way I start out with a ridiculously slow pace, but this soon builds up a steady rhythm that allows me to keep plodding on for an hour or so while the 'hares' are having rest stops every five minutes.

In my next post: Why my Nemo Hornet tent surprised me. Why you shouldn't pitch your tent in a wind tunnel or potential river. And where you can get camping gas (butane/propane) supplies in Daocheng. Plus: why walking poles are for wankers.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Some things I've learnt from my Yading trek preparations

It absolutely poured down this weekend in Sydney (and the rest of the Australian east coast). Something like 300mm of rain. While most people stayed home and watched the TV reports of the floods, I was out giving my gear the ultimate waterproofing test. I was glad I did because I found that my usual MacPac rainjacket was not very breathable and hence I ended up really wet anyway from sweat. This might be because it has lost its built in waterproofing (DWR according to the jargon). I tried to fix this with some NikWax spray, but it didn't seem to make much difference when I tried it the next day. So I will instead opt for my more daggy REI jacket, which seem to be more breathable - maybe due to the eVent fabric.

Having said that, even the REI jacket was still damp inside after a couple of hours plodding round in the rain. I made the classic rookie mistake of wearing cotton as my base layer (a usually comfortable T-shirt) - it got wet and stayed sopping wet. After a bit of reading I learned that a merino or polypro base layer was the way to go - so I picked one up at Mountain Designs and what a difference it made! I was able to stroll around in the rain, slightly damp from the rainjacket but still feeling warm and comfortable.

The rain also taught me that I needed to get some new boots. My trusty old Kathmandu ones soaked up water like sponges and I was squelching around feeling very miserable. My previous treks over the Dokerla and to Yading etc had all been in mostly dry conditions, so I hadn't noticed how porous my footwear was after prolonged rain. Anyhow, those wet and soggy feet sent me down to Paddy Pallin where I picked up some Scarpa Deltas, which proved to be most waterproof in the rain.

To build up my knees in preparation for the trek I have been hiking up and down the steep street that I live on - this has also taught me how to adjust the  straps & belt of my Macpac Cascade pack. I have also learned that I need to have a hat with some ventilation - the usual closed hat gets too sweaty.
So I am now pretty much prepared - one last minute purchase may be a pair of softshell pants so that I don't have to take a spare pair of overtrousers.

For food, I'm planning to survive on muesli/milk powder/coffee for brekkie; VitaWheat and salami/cheese for lunch; dehydrated meals plus some mash spuds and bagel toast for dinner. Snacks will be mostly Snickers bars (though I still call them Marathons, betraying my 1970s British upbringing.)

The only other essential piece of kit is a bottle of Diamox. I only realised at the last minute that I will be flying in to the highest airport in the world this weekend - Daocheng-Yading airport is billed as being at 4400m! Must be on the plateau, because Daocheng town is listed as being 3750m. Hence the Diamox for high altitude.

The only blot on the planning front has been the loss of my film supplies through the incompetence of Australia Post. I'd bought 10 rolls of 120 film for my Rolleiflex via eBay - but the delivery never arrived. Well it did, according to Australia Post but they must have left it on the step because I never saw it. I am now weighing up whether to take the Rolleiflex with just 9 rolls of 12-exposure colour transparency  film - or to take my 35mm backup camera, a battered Bessa R2 (with Leica Summicron 35mm lens), for which I have 12 rolls of 36 exposure film.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Nemo Hornet 1P Tent Review

I have been looking for a lightweight tent to do the Yading outer kora next month (I gave away my last crappy solo tent to a guy at Qiunatong on the Nujiang last year, when I urgently needed to lighten the load to get across the border illicitly into Tibet on the back of a motorbike).
For this trip I had in mind an MSR NX Solo 1-person tent. I already have an MSR 3-person Hubba tent and it's great quality. However, at around $770 retail the Solo ain't cheap. I almost managed to bag one on Gumtree for about $450, but someone else beat me to it.
While browsing at Paddy Pallin  I saw they had an alternative - the Nemo Hornet 1P. It seemed ridiculously lightweight - 910g, which is like a feather even compared to the Solo (which is only about 1.2kg).
Again, quite pricey at $580 when new, but I saw one on sale on Gumtree for $400 and snapped it up. I bought it from a Canadian cyclist who had only used it once and didn't need it. And bonus - he threw in a free footprint worth $60.

Well, I tried the tent out this weekend as a prelude to using it on the kora. I took it to The Basin at Pittwater to give it a gentle introduction to the great outdoors. The tent is pretty easy and self explanatory to put up - a Y pole that plugs into round slots, so that it is pretty much freestanding. However my main first impression is just how thin the tent material is - it feels almost paper thin. Apparently the Nemo Hornet is only 7 denier (whatever that means) fabric. It certainly feels flimsy and I wouldn't want to give it any rough treatment or hard wear and tear. A couple of times I panicked when caught the fabric while trying to do up the zip - and very carefully picked it apart, worried that it might rip.

The other thing that doesn't inspire confidence with the Nemo are the plastic hooks that connect the inner tent to the pole - they look fragile, but I haven't tested them out in a strong wind. Thirdly, the fly doesn't go all the way down to the ground - it has a kind of mankini effect, leaving exposed inner tent, where the groundsheet is extended about a foot above ground. I suppose in theory if you had anything less than horizontal rain you should be OK - but it doesn't look reassuring. Overall, I would be a bit worried about using this tent in prolonged gusty conditions.

When pitched, the tent seems solid and appears quite stable. There is capacity for an additional three guy lines to really anchor it. I'm taking the extra pegs, but hope I don't have to use them.
I had the campsite pretty much to myself and turned in at 10pm to give the tent it's first try out. The Nemo has enough space for one tall person to sit up with just enough head room. It's not a bivvy bag - but it's not a mansion either. When lying down there's just about enough space around your head for a few personal effects, and that's about it. Forget about bringing your pack inside unless you use it as a pillow, sideways. I managed to drag my Macpac Cascade into the vestibule between the fly and inner tent mesh - but it was a squeeze and had to put my pack on its side.
Once in the tent it was comfortable and very airy - as you would expect given that much of the inner is just mesh. That makes it OK for a cool Australian night, but not sure I'd be be taking this anywhere too icy.

I slept OK in the tent, it was warm and well ventilated in temperatures that went down to about five degrees - and there was no condensation inside the tent itself. However the fly got completely soaked with dew overnight and didn't seem at all water repellant - good job it wasn't touching the sides. The other thing I really noticed again was how gossamer thin the groundsheet is - you really need to have the footprint, especially if you are camping on anything vaguely sharp such as rocks, stones or twigs.

So my overall impression on this baby test is that the Nemo Hornet 1P is neat, well designed ultralight tent. It's amazingly lightweight and that's why I have chosen it. I'm taking a chance with it on the kora, but only because I know there are stone shelters at strategic points along the way that I can use for emergency shelter should the need arise. I'll let you know how it fares under those conditions once I'm through.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Yading Big Kora - planning on making a detour

On my forthcoming trip to Yading in June I hope to do a little detour on the final sections. Thanks to the wonders of Google Earth 3D I have discovered this side valley with some alpine lakes that looks like it's worth exploring. So on the final stretch, instead of the usual route heading over the  7th Pass and returning to Chonggu monastery (in blue) I'm planning a little side trip (in red). Of course it's easy to make plans on Google Earth and find that in real life on the ground it is not so do-able. I found this out to my discomfort when i tried descending alone from the Balagong pass above Dimaluo in Yunnan two years ago. Looks straightforward on Google Earth but the reality was very thick bush, followed by a series of farmsteads each guarded by a rabid Tibetan mastiff!
But anyway I shall give it a go. Nothing to lose in trying.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Starting to train for the Yading Big Kora ...

I am trying to improve my fitness for the forthcoming Yading kora, by doing a few preparatory treks and testing my knackered knees with some climbing of the fire exit stairs in my 14-storey office (complete with 10kg weighted backpack).

One of my main concerns for the kora is acclimatisation to the 3000-4000m altitude, especially as I have only two weeks in total, and little spare time to get used to the altitude.

The other worry is how I will carry enough food for six-seven days travel - it looks like my pack is going to be pretty heavy to start with. I'll be relying on my usual diet of salami/crackers with a dehydrated dinner supplemented with some mash potato. One possible solution is to arrange for a food stash to be left at the three way pass (day five). This can be reached from Luorong, via the two lakes, and I may even do this myself as a way of acclimatising.

And my other great fear is dogs: anyone who has walked in remote Tibetan areas will know what I mean. The dogs kept by yak herders and farmers are vicious, aggressive beasts. We didn't encounter any on our last trek, but that was because we didn't stay in any settlements. My concern is that if I go off track or there are new 'camps' up high then I may run into dogs. Eek.

For these reasons I will be looking to get a guide at Yading. Easier said than done, if last time is anything to go by. And even if i do find a guide, I'm also wondering what he/she will do for shelter. I'm planning to stay at the stone huts along the way, where possible - but they are very bleak shelters with no warmth other than the fire you can build if there' any wood to be had. I'm taking mt Nemo Hornet 1 person tent, which is incredibly light - but barely big enough for one.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Yading Big Kora preparations

I'm due to be landing in Daocheng around the 12th of June, flying in from Chengdu. This is a first for me as I've usually taken the bus in via Kangding and Litang. But with limited time, I'm hoping I will not be too much affected by the sudden arrival at altitude.
My other concern is finding a guide to help me round the mountain. I don't actually need a guide - I know the way pretty well by now ... but to help my carry my gear and provide protection. I hope I can find somebody good - not like the clowns we hired last time, who didn't know the way beyond the second day and didn't bring tents or sleeping bags. It's hard to find guides in May/June because it's the caterpillar fungus collecting season. The locals can make more money from chongcao than from guiding. Maybe I will just have to go it alone - which is a bit of an ask at my age. Ah well, we shall see.
It's been five years since my last trip and I hope there haven't been too many other ugly developments around the Yading site. Last time I was shocked to find that an eyesore of a concrete  road had been laid all the way up tranquil Luorong pasture to accomodate the electric golf buggy-style tourist transport carriers. With a bit of luck there still won't be any of the hordes beyond the 5000 first pass.
The picture above shows the stone 'bothy' above Luorong at the beginning of the ascent  to the first pass. This is intended to be my first night's stay.

UPDATE: I corrected this post to show that I'll be trekking in June, not July. The rainy season starts in mid June - by July it will be overcast and wet at Yading - not good for trekking.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Yading Big Kora - trekking in June 2016

They say you should never go back, but after a bit of thought I've decided to revisit Yading and do the outer kora of the three peaks again. I did it in 2010 (as you can see at this blog entry with photos) but I've always wanted to go back and 'do it properly'. The reason being is that on my first circuit we did it in a rushed way, taking five days to do what should have taken seven or eight. Part of the problem was that we were trekking blind, into unknown territory without decent maps and thus reliant on local guides to show us the way. They insisted on haring round the circuit - and they didn't even know the way too well themselves. We had some great weather but were too knackered and worried about minor hassles (such as our guides not having brought any shelter and having to sit round a fire all night on the mountainside)  to really make the most of the trek. This time around I'm going to take it 'easy' (relatively speaking) and go more slowly. This time I have the advantage of knowing the way and knowing the problems and the unknowns .. so I can focus on what I want to do, at my own pace. I also have the advantage of much better mapping via Google Earth, which now provides ridiculously detailed topographical info for the whole circuit. On our previous circuit we had only vague outlines of the mountains to guide us.

So my plan is to hike around the three peaks in mid June. I'm going to do the full seven passes over about eight days, so this will mean carrying a lot of gear to be self sufficient (there are no villages or shops en route, it's all up in the mountains). That means a tent, cooking gear and food for seven days. I hope to hire some local guides to carry my pack - if I can find them. May-June is the season when locals go fossicking for chongtsao fungus - a lucrative herbal remedy, and most of them are not willing to give up a week of their time to carry backs round the hills for 300 yuan a day. I'm not that fit, but I still reckon I can get my pack over the passes if need be and if I take it slow.

So if you're in the Sichuan area in June and are up to the challenge, let me know at: beijingweek-at -gmail.com

Here's my itinerary:

Day 1. Yading village-Chonggu monastery, ascend to below the First Pass, where there is a crude stone shelter in a hollow. Great views of Shenrezig.
Day 2. Shelter - First Pass - Chanadorje glacier.
The slog up to the first and highest pass is across some bleak rocks. The descent is equally bleak at first, but grand scenery. There is a small 'village' of temporary shelters at the bottom of the valley where Tibetans camp to pick the fungus worm chongtsao. From here you descend into a steep forested valley and turn 90 degrees left to hike up to a magnificent open space with awesome views of the south face of Chandorje, where there are great spots to camp.
Day 3. Over the Second Pass into a steep valley around the back of Chanadorje that leads up to a daunting rock wall. This is not as bad as it looks can be scrambled up to cross the Third Pass, known as Yaka. Best to camp before crossing the pass as the next day is a long one.
Day 4. Over the Third Pass and descend round the back of Jambeyang, over a scree slope and to the edge of yet another sunken valley, where you turn into a spectacular ampitheatre below the south west face and glaciers of Jambeyang. Good camping spot.
Day 5. Tough day, following the 'cliff walk' beneath the rock face to reach a shoulder that marks the Fourth Pass, where you turn north. Up a rocky bleak valley in the shadow of Jambeyang, many alpine lakes, then cross a small pass to descend to a grassy clearing where you can camp at 'Rock's rock' - a massive cube of rock where explorer Joseph Rock once camped.
Day 6. A gentle ascent to the Fifth Pass, where you gain views of Shenrezig, and descend steeply to Snake Lake. Can camp on the shore or ascend to the Sixth Pass, below Shenrezig - this is where many day trekkers walk up to from Chonggu monastery so you are back on the beaten track. Descend to tarn and shelter.
Day 7. Final day, on the route of the mini-kora, descend through woods round the back of Shenrezig and then up to the Seventh Pass. Long descent to Chonggu monastery.

[Might do a detour to some alpine lakes at this point to make it an eight day trip]

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Chanadorje 夏诺多吉 Yading

This is the rarely seen south face of Chanadorje, Yading, with glacier field.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Muli kid

In the kitchen at Muli monastery, about 15 years ago. Taken with the cloudy lens on my old Leica M3 film camera.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dali Cangshan

Here's one I took on the summit ridge above Dali with my Rolleiflex around October/Nov 2012:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Yading - should I go back?

Seriously thinking of going back to do the Yading outer kora again next year (May-June). What do you think? Should I go?

Chanadorje by Rolleiflex/Ektachrome:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Using Google Earth to track [over] development in Yunnan and Sichuan

I've long suspected that there has been a lot of development in the the areas I have revisited in the footsteps of Joseph Rock - but it's always been hard to put a finger on exactly what has changed. Recently I have been browsing some of my former trekking locations using Google Earth's archive feature - this allows you to switch between satellite views from different years.  You can see the changes in the split picture above.

This is just one example of the huge changes in Yunnan: compare the Fei Lai Si viewing area outside Deqin in the decade between 2002 and 2012. I first visited the place in the late 1990s - or was it early noughties:

As the top photo shows, there was already a little viewing area at Fei Lai Si and  line of specially erected stupas from where the Meili Xueshan/ Kawakarpo could be viewed. There wasn't much else there - a couple of shops selling tourist trinkets and a noodle shop, if I remember rightly.

Fast forward to 2012 and Fei Lai Si had grown into a small town with scored of shops, restaurants bars and guesthouses - plus several rather grand hotels. The viewing area had been massively expanded and there was a big wall around it - with a ticket office now charging 70Y admission:

There's quite a few other examples of this kind of massive development. It's sad that some beautiful and quiet places have become over-run with tourists and spoiled by development - but that's the way of the world, I guess. This used to be a quiet road down a forested hillside - now it is lined with bars, shops and hotels:

More Google Earth then-and-now comparisons: Kangding

Yulin, near Kangding, 2002 (top) and 2014 (below)

When I did the trek to Gongga Shan (Minya Konka) in about 1996 the starting point was small village outside of Kangding called Yulin. It was just a few farm buildings along a dirt track about 5km out of town, in a narrow valley. I found a friendly local Tibetan called GerLer who was willing to guide me on the four day round trip to the Konka Gompa monastery.

Yulin was a quiet place with just a few Tibetan stone buildings and some strips of arable land next to a river rushing down from the Minya Konka range. There was a hot spring which had a baths built into a small brick building. That was about it. You can read about my adventures here.

I tried to find the village of Yulin again about three years ago but it had been completely overbuilt with what is now the New Town area of Kangding. It had literally been obliterated. In its place was an array of concrete civic buildings such as Law Courts and local administration buildings, in the usual Chinese government megalomaniac style. You can see in the top photo from Google Earth how the development has spread right up the valley, over what used to be rustic farmland and grazing land.

There was also a huge triple block of 12 storey  condominiums. you can see them in the Google Earth pic, but they don't look as tall on that as they are in real life. The Tibetan farmhouses and fields of old Yulin has just been swept away under roads and concrete. I didn't stick around and I didn't take any photos of the New Yulin. It was ugly.

I'll leave you with a picture of Yulin (looking back towards Kangding) from 1996, before the bulldozers moved in:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cangshan Dali

No updates for a few months, I know. I've been in Heilongjiang - opposite end of the country from Rock's territory. Here's a picture of the horse pool from the mountains above Dali.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jambeyang and Chanadorje 夏诺多吉 : by Rolleiflex (Kodak Ektachrome)

Not sure if I've posted this before but here it is: a great picture of the two mountains Jambeyang (left) and Chanadorje. Taken in late may on the third day of the kora around the three Yading peaks. It's taken from the 'cliff walk' just before crossing the high shoulder pass and heading up the Yetchesura valley. It is looking back at the way we have just come, on the right you can see the valley leading down from the Yaka pass and Chanadorje.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A treasure trove of reading material on Kham and western China

If you are like me and love reading the accounts of explorers in SW China and Tibet I have a nice little resource for your perusal - a whole load of online books by some of the notable names in this field. I'm talking about the likes of Frank Kingdon Ward, Sven Hedin, Ernest Henry Wilson and Eric Teichman. Scans of these old book have been uploaded by someone in India as part of a much wider website on the Himalayas: pahar.in. They are to be found in the Tibet section in that link. I have spent many weekends browsing second hand bookshops looking for many of these books, and now they are all there for the downloading. It takes all the fun out of it really!
I would recommend the book by Nakamura, which has a brief account of th Kawa karpo kora that he did when it was still an unexplored route in 1996 - and some excellent photos (see above).
Well, to accompany this discovery I will also include a photo taken with my Rolleiflex camera on my most recent trip into Tibet - this picture taken from Aben/Abing village (the north end) overlooking an eastern tributary of the Nujiang. It looks a lot wilder than I remember. Enjoy.

Monday, June 08, 2015

P-40 fighter, Kunming, 1944

I haven't posted in a while because i don;t have much to report. Since my last trip to Yunnan in October I have updated a chapter in my e-book about Joseph Rock's expeditions, which is still in the process of being edited by the guys at Camphor Press.
So in the meantime I will post some beautiful colour pictures of wartime Kunming, taken in 1944 for a US air force guy called H. Allen Larsen. He has published many more in a book called China in the Eyes of the Flying Tigers - I bought it at the Flying Tigers Museum in Kunming.
The photos give an impression of what the city would have been like in Rock's time.

Kunming 1944

Photo by H. Allen Larsen

Kunming 1944

Photo by H. Allen Larsen

Kunming canals, 1944

Interesting to see how the canals  - and the centre of Kunming - have changed so much in the last 80 years!.
Photo by H. Allen Larsen

Kunming street scene, 1944

Photo by H. Allen Larsen

Kunming 1944

Photo by H. Allen Larsen - from the book China in the Eyes of the Flying Tigers

Yunnan, 1944

Photo by H. Allen Larsen

Kunming kid, 1944

Photo by H. Allen Larsen

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Doker La pass - then and now (1924 and 2102)

Here's Joseph Rock's picture taken from the Doker La pass looking down the Tibetan side (ie to the west). The pass marks the border between Yunnan and Tibet, and is part of the famous Kawakarpo Kora that circuits the holy mountain of Kawakarpo (Meili Xueshan). I did the kora in 2012 with my two sons, one of whom can be seen in the picture doing the steep descent.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Then and now: Jambeyang, 1927 and 2012

The back of Jambeyang (South east face) as seen on the big kora round the three peaks of Yading.

Then and now: Choni monastery, Gansu

The old Buddhist monastery at Choni, now known as Zhuoni, in Gansu, where Rock wintered before going on his expedition to Amnye Machen.

Mount Chiburongi, near Gongga Shan

This is what you see on the second day walking up from Kangding en route to Gongga Shan

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Bahang, Salween valley: 1926 and 2006

The old French missionary church as Bahang is still there. Now it is run by a local priest and the village is called Baihanluo. The local Nu people still drink corn liquor, as described by Joseph Rock. It is no longer such an isolated outpost. Trekkers pass through the village en route to cross the Sila pass to the Mekong. Other visitors drop in from the Nujiang valley by care. And this year a major road will open up connecting the Mekong and Nujiang valleys - it will travel just below Baihanluo.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Radja monastery then-and-now

Radja monastery 1927 and 2011

Joseph Rock visited Radja monastery (also spelt Ragya) in Qinghai in 1926/7. He only intended to use it as a stepping off point to get to Amnye Machen but the stupid bugger tried to go up the Yellow river canyons instead of the nice easy route round the hills to the south. Easy to say that with hindsight, I suppose. Anyway, Rock floundered around in the Yellow river canyons for a week or so before giving up. The only view he got of Amnye Machen was through a telescope from about 70 miles away. You can see the whole new town of Lajia that has sprung up along the riverbank since his visit.

Radja monastery then-and-now

Radja monastery 1927 and 2011 Here's a nice comparison pic of the monastery at Radja (Lajia in Chinese), Qinghai. It sits on the banks of the Yellow river beneath some crazy red cliffs. In this picture it seems like it hasn't changed much, but actually there is quite a large 'new town' to the left of the picture where in Rock's time there were just a couple of houses. I found it to be a very friendly place, probably on account of they don't get many visitors.

Yading then and now - Rock's rock

Yading (Sichuan) then and now - 1928 and 2008

This is the then-and-now picture of Rock's rock" - a big boulder embedded in some pasture round the back of Jambeyang. If you do the Yading "Big" Kora you will come across this on the fourth or fifth day (two days from the end of the trek). It's actually only a day's walk from the Five Colours lake/Milk Lake area that most Chinese tourists visit at Yading - but that would mean walking anti-clockwise round the kora and the local Tibetans would not like that.
Joseph Rock described it as a huge lump of schist that had broken off from Jambeyang. It sits in a flat clearing after trekking up the boulders and slabs of the bleak Yetchesura  valley. Nice place to stop for a cuppa or even camp.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Muli monastery - then and now

When I first visited Muli monastery in the mid 90s it was a very remote and unspoilt place. I had to hike over the mountains from Yongning, and it took me two very tough days to get there (I was fit enough and stupid enough to do it solo in those days). I had no proper maps other than Joseph Rock's sketches, and yet I made it in one piece. The huge monastery complex housing thousands of monks that was photographed by Rock was gone, and only a single temple hall had been rebuilt. The setting was still quite spectacular, and I enjoyed my stay there, even though it did have a bit of a tragic and abandoned air about it. I have not been back since, but the recent Google Earth images suggest that more monastery buildings have been rebuilt and there is now a flashy road to the monastery, replacing the primitive gravel track that existed in 1995. There's not much reason to go to Muli - it's a fairly unremarkable monastery in a  dead-end valley. Perhaps that's why it has remained a relatively unspoiled place. You can read about my trip here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Yongning then and now

Here's a picture of the Zhamei Si monastery at Yongning, just north of Lugu lake. When I visited in the 1990s the monastery had been rebuilt after being destroyed. Most  of the buildings that Rock photographed were gone, but if you look carefully in the picture you can see one of the main temple halls had still survived. I took this picture from the top of a nearby hill that I had climbed out of curiosity - it was only when I later looked at my photo that I realised it had been taken from the same place as Rock's - great minds think alike! This photo was taken en route to Muli monastery, you can read about that trip here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Konka Gompa then and now

When I went there in 1991, the monastery at Gonga Shan hadn't changed much since Joseph Rock visited it in the late 1920s. The monastery had been destroyed in the Cultural Revolution but had been rebuilt in much the same style and in the same spot. These days (2014) there has been a lot more work done on the Gompa and it looks a bit more flash.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Yading then and now #2

The photo on the left was taken by Joseph Rock in the late 1920s. It shows a Tibetan shrine in the cliffs beneath Mt Chanadorje on a very remote section of the kora (circuit) around the three sacred Konkaling mountains. We stumbled across the same shrine on about the third day of doing the kora in 2011. It is truly in a very remote location, below one of the most difficult pass crossings. It used to be a resting place for Tibetan pilgrims doing the 5-6 day circuit of the mountains. As you can see some of the shrines have been destroyed but others rebuilt in a more haphazard way.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yading then and now

I'm trying to get a full account published of all my journeys in Rock's footsteps. I have a manuscript that is being edited with a view to online publication as an e-book and available through sources such as Amazon. It would be nice to include some then-and-now photos to compare how the Tibetan borderlands have changed since Rock's visits in 1927. Here's one example:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ragya monastery then and now

Here are pictures taken by Joseph Rock in 1926 and my own follow-up taken in 2012, of the Ragya (Lajia) monastery in Qinghai, on the banks of the Yellow river. As you can see - not much has changed.

The Mekong, just south of Deqin

This is the view of the river on the road down from Deqin to Cizhong, taken in October 2014. There used to be a very crude and dangerous unsurfaced road cut into the hillside. This has now been replaced with a new two-lane highway, complete with bridges and tunnels. Odd, because there is very little traffic on this road, which eventually goes all the way south to Weixi. Perhaps it will get busier when the short cut to the Nujiang over the Gaoliging mountains is completed.