Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The long awaited Deqin-Gongshan road (Lancang-Nujiang, 德贡公路)


UPDATE: Since writing this article I've come across an announcement that the road will officially open on December 30 2017 - so I assume it will be an all weather route!

On my last trip to Deqin in Yunnan in October 2016, I made a side trip down the Mekong (Lancang) to try check out the new road crossing the mountains from the Mekong to the Nujiang valley. This road has been under construction for about five years. It is being built as a short cut alternative to the only other way in to the Nujiang valley, via the Dali-Liuku route, which means a 1000km drive from places such as Deqin and Zhongdian.

The rough highway shows up on some maps and on Google Earth as linking the start of the Kawakarpo trek - at Yongzhi and Chalitong - crossing the Biluoshan mountain range and eventually descending to the Nujiang via Dimaluo. The road looks completed on the 2015 Google Earth images, but when I arrived in Chaliding in October 2016 I found that none of the Tibetans there willing to take me over by motorbike. Even in the dry and relatively mild autumn season they said the road was impassable - blocked by rocks and deep mud. Obviously still not finished. There were no buses or any other vehicles crossing between the two canyons, though some road construction trucks were occasionally going up that way (but they wouldn't take me).


I've been keeping an eye out online to see if there have been any developments, but little has appeared until now. If you search for the term 德贡公路 (De-Gong Gonglu, ie Deqin-Gongshan Highway) you'll find a few adventurers have tried to get through in 2017 and not made it. But they talk of others who have made it through by 4WD or motorbike. There's even one story of 41 construction workers getting trapped up there in the snow of February 2017 and having to be rescued when their supplies ran out.

I'd love to try do this route by mountain bike.

Anyway, here's one guy who tried on a motorbike and found the road blocked by huge rockfalls. 


Thursday, August 17, 2017

The other Doker La - the China-India-Bhutan flashpoint on the Doklam plateau


I've noticed a few visitors to this blog have been searching for the term "Doka La" - which in Chinese has the same characters (Duokela Yakou 多克拉口)as the Doker La pass between NW Yunnan and Tibet (that I have written so much about as part of the Kawa Karpo Kora).

I presume my new visitors are looking the more newsworthy Doka La, which is a strategic pass between India and Bhutan, near the disputed tri-border Doklam plateau area with Bhutan. This region is the site of the current military face-off between the PLA and the Indian Army over a road that the Chinese have built across disputed territory. I have taken a look on Google Earth, and with the help of this blog by "Rohitvats" I have tried to compile a map based on Google Earth 3D images.

The Doka La seems to be the forward base for the Indian army on a pass that crosses into a corner of western Bhutan near the Chumbi valley. This valley extends into the Tibetan region of Yadong, which is a finger of China-administered territory jutting south into Bhutan. According to the current borders, the Tibetan-Bhutan border is at a place called Senche La. On Google earth you can see a zig zag road leading up to this pass from the Chumbi valley, from a large PLA barracks.

However Google Earth also shows that someone - presumably the Chinese - has built a road across this remote sliver of plateau in Bhutan all the way to the India border post. And China has recently published a new map showing what it claims to be the 'real' border between Bhutan and China - pushing he current border several km further south into Bhutan. Interestingly, the new Chinese map claims pretty much all of the remote Chumbi valley and all the high ridges above it.

Looking south, from the Chinese side, at the China-claimed part of Bhutan (red)
 This makes plenty of sense from a military/strategic point of view, as it allows China to consolidate its position overlooking India and Bhutan, and securing its current precarious "chicken's neck" sliver of territory in the Chumbi valley. As you can see from the map, China currently controls only the west side of the valley, and thus the access road runs right along the border with Bhutan, which is literally a stone's throw away on the other side of the Cho river. And Bhutan's defence is managed by the Indian army.

Not surprising that the PLA is seeking to secure its flanks in this highly sensitive area. In recent weeks the PLA have been very aggressively protesting Indian Army presence in what they claim is Chinese territory. This assertiveness has percolated through to the outside world, with overseas Chinese staging demonstrations over China's claims to the territory. Xinhua has even released a bizarre racist video that disparages Indians for their presence in the tri-border area.

There some good historical background on the Nathu La trade route and the Yatung region here. Well, to make things a bit clearer, here are a few images of the 'other' Doka La. Current borders are marked in yellow, China's new border claim is in red, and the disputed Chinese built road through Bhutan is purple.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Shuola Pass, Tibet (Kawa Karpo Kora)


No updates for a while so here's a video of me reaching the Shola pass last October ... as a comparison, here's a video of Canadian photographer Ryan Pyle reaching the same spot at roughly the same time of year.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Joseph Rock: about this site

This blog site is a compilation of my trek diaries and photos compiled from various visits to China and Tibet retracing the plant-hunting travels of Joseph Rock since 1992.

Joseph Rock made seven major botanical expeditions in the Southwest China/Tibet borderlands in the 1920s and 1930s. Over the 20 years I have gone back and revisited the routes he took. Some are (or were) relatively unchanged, others have been transformed by development. I took a few pictures with my old Leica and Rolleiflex cameras (I didn't adopt digital cameras until 2007 and even then continued to prefer film).

If you want to find out more about these trips, check out the index on the right hand side of the page. I have provided links to the various blog entries I made at the time.

These include the destinations:
These are the major sections, but this website also covers a lot of other miscellanea relating to Joseph Rock and other explorers of the region, such as Frank Kingdon Ward. It also covers nearby areas such as Dali (I have the best photos of the Cangshan peaks), Lijiang, Kangding and Chengdu, with pictures showing how they have changed over the years.

Unfortunately I haven't had time to arrange any of this in any sensible order. My advice is either to browse by year or do a search for your keyword in the box at the top left.

I won't be doing much updating of this site as I have pretty much covered all the areas Rock visited.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Shuola Pass 说拉垭口 Yunnan-Tibet border

From my October 2016 trip going from Meili Shi, Yunnan into Tibet (and back)




Sunday, February 12, 2017

On the Tibet-Yunnan border: the Sho-La

Took this in autumn 2016 with my Leica (35 Summicron). Just developed the photos.

This is my guide, doing a bit of praying on the pass. As you can see, the weather wasn't great.