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: 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: 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.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Kawakarpo Kora: the WiChu (Yuqu, 玉曲) valley

This photo was taken with my Rolleicord and Kodak Ektachrome transparency film on the penultimate day of my trek. This is the view of the descent in to the Yuqu valley from the "Gebu pass", en route to Laide, which is located up a side valley on the other side of the river. Kawakarpo (Meili Xueshan) can be seen at the head of this valley.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Looking back at the Sho-La pass from the Yunnan side, October 2014

Look carefully at the ridge line and you can see the prayer flags.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Picture of the week: Yading, back of Chanadorje

Just came across this old image from my Yading kora trip which I've never posted before. It was taken with my Leica M2 on the second day as we walked round the back of Chanadorje on the way up to the 2nd pass (or actually on it?) . This is looking back down at where we'd come from.  Nice, I think.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Kawa Karpo kora: view looking north from Gebu high camp

This is the view looking north from the hut above Gebu village on the Yuqu (wichu) river.

From the 1990s archives: Muti Konka (aka Maidi Ganga 麦地贡嘎), Sichuan

This remote mountain is located about two days hard travelling on horseback from Jiulong country, south of Kangding - near to the Yalong river canyon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Wichu (Qiqu) river valley

Just over the pass from Gebu, on the way to Laide, in Tibet. By Rolleicord.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Yufeng Si (temple) Camellia tree 1990s and now

This was taken during our ill-fated attempt to hike to Yading via Muli. Me and these kiwis got as far as Muli and halfway over to the Shouchu valley before getting bogged down and lost. And getting a logging truck back to Muli (Wachang). We visited the Yufeng Si temple near Lijiang before we set off. Keith Lyons (second right) liked the place so much he settled there and now runs his guiding agency in Lijiang.


Same tree, 20 years later. Autumn, so not in bloom.

Video of the earthquake in Kangding

Some 'vision' of the earthquake as captured by Kangding street cameras.

Friday, November 21, 2014

From the archives: Jambeyang

Taken at the three-way pass above the lakes next to Shenrezig, 2010?.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pic of the day: Deqin (Atuntze)

I tried to take this photo from the same spot where Joseph Rock took his photo in 1926 of Deqin (then known as Atuntze). His photo showed a forlorn village of just a few mud houses in a sloping valley. It was only when I climbed to the top of this hill above Deqin where the monastery used to be that I realised he had taken his photo much further away, from the curve of a track at the top of the valley. By this time it was too late in the day to get there, so I did a direct descent past a chorten, back into town. This vantage point is on the hill above the town square, reached by a twisting switchback road that passes a small valley with a waterfall. There is a more direct route straight up if you can find the obscure path that leads up there. The monastery is now being rebuilt in concrete, after having being demolished during the Cultural revolution and transposed to the other side of the valley (an unlucky spot, apparently). The site of the old monastery is now occupied by a village called Gusong.