Sunday, December 19, 2004
Yes, an exclusive. Nobody has ever published a photo of Mt Mutikonka (麦地贡嘎) before. That's because I was only the second person to ever see it [the first went on a rainy day in 1929 - not good enough for photos]
A 19,000 foot high mountain on the edge of the Yalong canyon in Sichuan, China, Mutikonka is the sacred yak spirit mountain to the local Pumi Tibetans. The lake is called ChangHaizi and is reputed to contain a Loch Ness style monster.
I sent a copy of this pic to the National Geographic but they weren't interested. So you can enjoy it here instead.
For the full story see the post below
Saturday, December 18, 2004
This is the same place as seen below. Compare the two buildings - they are similar but I suspect the lamasery has been rebuilt along the same lines. The old monastery was reportedly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt as seen below in 1980.
According to Rock it houses the fresco of the mountain god Dorje Lodro. Altitude 13,300 feet. The head monk at the time can be seen in the black and white picture further down this blog.
It's also interesting to note the position of the glacier in the valley behind the monastery - it doesn't seem to have receded much despite global warming
This is the Gongga Gompa, the tiny lamasery perched above a glacier at the foot of the 7556m high Minya Konka or Gongga Shan.
Absolutely beautiful spot - and with great views of the mountain when it is clear - apparently. According to Joseph Rock it is cut off for about 3 months of the year by snows on the Tsemi La.
It can be reached from Kangding in a three day horse trek via Lao Yulin, overnight near Djesi La, the overnight at Yulongxi and via the Tsemi La. Try it!
Additional info [added 25/3/2005, from Tibetan Footprint guide by Gyurme Dorje]: The Gonga Gompa is a monastery of the Karma Kagyu school, with 20 monks [although I saw only three or four in residence]. The assembly hall contains images of White Tara, and Marpa flanked by Milarepa and Gampopa, and the present incumbent lama the Sixth Gangkar Rinpoche, who is currently studying in Bir near Dharamsala, India.
[The top picture was taken by my trekking companion, kiwi Keith Lyons]
Friday, December 17, 2004
Here is a picture of the man himself, dressed in Tibetan clothing. He is often portrayed as a bad tempered and imperious man, but that is not the impression I have gained from talking to people who have met him. On the contrary, they say he was a dignified, scholarly man who simply preferred his own company to that of others.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
This is typical of the beautiful scenery between Kangding and Jiulong. When the road branches south from the main Tibet-Sichuan highway at Xinduqiao [新都桥]it enters this serene valley populated by Minya Tibetans. There are many traditional Tibetan houses and watchtowers.
This was taken somewhere south of Shade [沙的].
This is the Chengzi valley, which runs to the west of Minya Konka (Gongga Shan) between Yulongxi and the Chiprin La (Pass).
It used to be the main travel route connecting Kangding with Yunnan but has now been supeceded by the Jiulong-Kangding road.
Some of the watchtowers are still standing [see above].
These two very nice Mosuo ladies were at the Renjom Gompa near Yongning [永宁] in 2003, when I passed through on the way to Muli [木里]. The gompa is a tiny monastery just down a gorge along the river from Wujiao [屋脚]. There were two monks there as well. It was a beautiful spot, in an idyllic setting set below the Mount Gibboh pass. Will post some pics later.
Compare this picture to the one below taken 72 years earlier.
This is the beautiful sight that awaits you if you walk up the valley from Kangding via Lao Yuling [老榆林] towards the Djesi Pass [加则拉] and Gongga Shan. I must warn you though that it's a day and a bit to get here and you have to overnight in a yak herder's tent.
I've no idea how high it is.
This is the fork in the trail, where turning right [as we have done here] takes you up over the Djesi pass and down to the Yulongxi [玉龙西] valley and ultimately over the next pass (Tsemi La, 次梅山口) to the Gongga Gompa monastery [贡嘎寺].
Plan B is to take the left route - the notch you can see to the left of the mountain, which takes you on a more direct route to the monastery [serious climbers only].
Sunday, December 12, 2004
This is a bit of a cheat. I put it up to compare fur hats with the pic below. Namu is a very modern Tibetan girl - a med student in Chengdu, and only a nomad as far as her mobile phone will allow her to roam.
She got dressed up specially for these pics in Jiulong.
[And that's not her baby either, I should add ...]
Compare this photo with the one below. This is the Nanwu Si monastery in Kangding - surely the same as the Dorjedra monastery described by Joseph Rock below.
If you look closely you can see it is either the same building with some slight modifications, or an exact replica/rebuild.
And while it looks to be set in an idyllic location, this monastery is now set back from a busy road just down from the local Nissan dealership and hidden from view by an ugly and insensitively sited high-rise army barracks.
The photograph is taken from the doorway where there is now a backpackers restaurant and hostel called Sally's Cafe. Actually, I think this view is also history because when I looked in during 2004 the whole place was closed for renovation and it looked like this facade had been completely demolished to be made even more grand.
I visited the Yading National Park in Sichuan in spring of 2002. Despite being May we had cold snowy weather - at least the sky was clear!
This picture was taken from Luorong pasture, which has now become a popular camping spot for Chinese visitors. For many years people had tried to reach these peaks from Muli, which involved a difficult hike over the Shuiluo rover canyon and over the mountain pass via Garu.
Now it's all much easier as the Chinese have built a road in from the north, via Litang and Daocheng. The "bandit monastery" of Chonggu Si, once the shelter for a bunch of violent thieves, is now the visitor centre, with a tent hotel run by their succesors.
This is one of the three holy peaks of Konkaling - the range known then as Konka Risumgonba. It was visited and circumabulated by Joseph Rock in the late 1920s in the face of opposition from the local bandits. According to Rock, there was a small temple situated at the base of these three peaks, which housed a band of robbers who were also monks! hence his title: "Holy Mountain of the Outlaws".
Anyone who ventured within the realm of these forbidden mountains would be robbed shot dead by Trashi and his gang - "the scum of the outlaws" as Rock described them when he came face to face with them on his expedition. Rock survived the enounter because he had sought safe passage from the Muli king, who was the one person these rogues would respect.
I will post pictures of the other two mountains - Shenrezig and Chanadorje, when I have time.
Half way between Yongning and Muli there is a small Mosuo/Pumi village called Wujiao. I stayed the night there before tacklling the Gibboh pass, and got to meet a few of the friendly locals. One of them was this Yi woman, who posed in her finest clothes, after a lot of persuading by me and the village chief. Compare her outfit with those of Yi women seen by Joseph Rock 75 years earlier:
Saturday, December 11, 2004
This picture was taken from the same position as the one below. It shows how Muli monastery looked when I paid my first visit there in the spring of 1994. All of the original buildings have been destroyed, and the wall knocked down. The main temple had been rebuilt, as had the head lama's residence that had originally been at the top of the town. Some of the old ruins were still visible at this time. The locals said the monastery town had been knocked down in the 1950s - well before the Cultural Revolution, when the monks resisted communist power. The buidling s were systematically taken apart and used to build a new town across the valley, now called Wachang. The name Muli was also taken and used to describe the county town of Bowa, some 100km further down the Litang valley.
When I visited in 1994, there were about 40 novice monks, mostly local Pumi kids.
This is the old "lama town" of Muli in Sichuan. In the late 1920s it was still a semi independent kingdom, ruled by a despotic lama king. There were almost a thousand yellow hat monks living in this town at the time, in a monsatery complex situated in a side valley above the Litang river. Joseph Rock paid several visits to Muli, where he befriended the king. He used Muli as a base for further expeditions to places like Daocheng-Yading (稻成-亚丁, Konkaling) and the mountain of Gongga Shan (贡嘎山 Minya Konka)
This is Zago Tsering's cousin with an old matchlock rifle from the early 20th century. They were used for hunting and you would need to be a good shot because if you missed it would be at least a couple of minutes before you got the next shot loaded!
This was taken in Shantian, the Pumi village in the Yangwe Kong valley, some70km west of Jiulong
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
This is Yongning monastery - the Zhamei Si [扎美寺] - in Yunnan province, as seen by Joseph Rock in 1926. He passed through here quite a lot on his way to Muli and became good friends with the Yongning, chief, one of the few Chinese he ever considered "civilised".
The monastery is about 20km north of the now popular Lugu Lake and on the outskirts of the small town of the Mosuo market town of Yongning.
I like comparing this photograph with the one above. This is Yongning monastery [Zhamei Si, 扎美寺] as it looked on my visit of summer 2003. The main temple has been rebuilt but if you look carefully the smaller building in front is the original.
There were very few monks in residence, although the catetakers told me there were usually 30 or so novices.
It took me some time to find the spot where Rock had taken his picture from - it was the corner of a hill, just near the road.
A pass of about 4000 metres between Jiulong [九龙]and the Yangwe Kong valley.
This was another mountain pass that Rock had crossed with great difficulty:
"We had already been informed at Deon Gomba, a tiny monastery recently looted by the Konkaling bandits, that the Druderon although not high, was snowed in and hence impassable. With an exhausted caravan it seemed hopeless."
The following morning when I looked out of my tent and beheld our camp almost buried and our animals shivering in the cold, I really feared for the shelterless men who had stayed behind with the exhausted mules. I also feared for the two of our soldiers who had braved the pass the evening before. They were to go to [Jiulong] to bring us yaks, which could plough a trail through the deep snow and help us across. The snowstorm continued for a short time; then the sun appeared. This was the last day of April, 1929.
In 2004, we were lucky to have clear weather and a car with a good driver.
Monday, December 06, 2004
These two Tibetan pilgrims were collecting money on the streets of Kangding in October 2004. They had made the traditional pilgrimage to Lhasa by prostrating themselves at every step and drawing themselves up again - hence the knee pads and clog gloves. Look for the grey callus on the forehead of the man on the left, the result of him touching his head on the ground (kow-towing) at every step.
It usually takes two-thre years to complete this pilgrimage.
By the way I gave then 10 kuai!
Friday, December 03, 2004
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
This is how the botanist Joseph Rock described this area in 1929:
Through Mile High Cliffs The Yalung River Winds Its Tortuous Way
In the course of unnumbered centuries this great stream in western China has cut a gorge through thousands of feet of earth and rock. Its waters finally mingle of those of the Yangtze to complete their journey to the sea. This section of the Yalung gorge is to the northwest of Mutirong, in Muli territory.