Saturday, September 28, 2013

Random photo: Muli in the green days of summer

This picture was taken with my old Leica M3 and colour print film, now both sadly departed.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Random photo: 冲古寺 temple interior, Yading

The ornate interior of the Chonggu Si monastery (冲古寺), Yading

Random photo: Chonggu monastery, Yading

This is where I'll be starting my Yading outer kora trek from in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Trekking partner(s)? Yading, October

 I'm planning on going back to do the Big Kora at Yading again in early October. Three peaks (Chanadorje, Jambeyang and Shenrezig), seven passes (or is that eight?), spectacular alpine scenery, very remote, and mostly at altitudes of 3000-4000m. After whizzing round on our first 'blind' trip (we did it in four exhausting days), I'm planning to do it in easier stages this time, taking around seven to eight days in all. Will give me chance to savour the experience and use the knowledge learned on the first trip to avoid those silly mistakes and misplaced fears. Doing it in autumn should be interesting after our bleak and freezing experiences in May - warmer colours and more people about, perhaps, as this is supposed to be the time when the local Tibetans do their pilgrimages - so the pilgrim shelters may be operating. If you're interested in joining me, I'm looking at arriving in Chengdu around the 10th October (after the rush of Golden Week). Trip should take two weeks max. If you want to read about our last trip to do the outer kora, here's the long version and here's the short version. Contact: mutikonka[AT] or @mpwoodhead on Twitter

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Random photo: Crossing the Doker La pass from Yunnan to Tibet

I think I posted this photo before but this as a recent higher res re-scan of the original 35mm slide. We have just crossed the Doker La and I am looking back (terrified) as we descend the steep and precarious switchback trail descending into Tibet. These guys are some strangers who are presumably doing the pilgrimage around the Kawakarpo Kora circuit.If you look closely you can see a rope running diagnonally from the pass at top right to bottom left. This is put there to assist pilgrims in descending when the pass is snow and ice bound. To descend by the path at such times would be suicidal.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Random photo: Shenrezig, here I come

In a couple of weeks I hope to be taking off to Yading, and will do the full outer circuit of the three mountains Chanadorje, Jambeyang and Shenrezig. Here's one I took of Shenrezig on our last trip three years ago.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

October trek, Plan B - by mule to Minya Konka

Back in 1995 or thereabouts I took off from Kangding on a four-day trek to the Konka Gompa, the little monastery near the glacier emanating from Gongga Shan. It was a pretty remote spot back then - no bike track over the Tsemi La. I went in October and as you can see the weather was pretty cold. I hired a guide in Laoyulin and he took me on horseback to the monastery via the Djesi La pass and Yulongxi valley before crossing the Tsemi La. A very interesting trip and one that I hope to repeat next month if I have the time after doing the circuit of the Yading three peaks.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Random photo: Nujiang kids

These were the Nu minority kids we saw at Dimaluo while staying there on Christmas Day. Little scamps, especially the one on the left with his Chrstmas fir tree decorations.

Friday, September 13, 2013

From the archives: Joseph Rock and the king of Muli

This is Rock with Chote Chaba, the lama king of Muli. Not sure who the other European is, but it may be William E. Simpson, a missionary who acted as Rock's translator for a brief period. They parted ways when Rock found him to be too much of a do-gooder.

Random photo: hiking in the snow near Yubeng, 2002

After my failed attempt to cross the Doker-La in April 2002, we visited the Tibetan mountain hamlet of lower Yubeng, where we spent three frustrating days waiting in a wooden shack for the weather to clear. It didn’t. It rained incessantly and fog blocked out any views of the surrounding mountains. We had nothing to do except sit round a fire that gave off little heat and hope tomorrow would bring better weather.
When the third morning dawned grey and wet, we tried to  beat the encroaching cabin fever by hiking through the deep snow to see a sacred waterfall and a ‘magic lake’. It proved to be a miserable hard slog with slushy boots and we saw very little. Yubeng didn’t feel like Shangri La. 

Lesson learnt: don't visit this region in early spring - wait until May!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From the archives: Joseph Rock near his home at Nguluko, Lijiang

Joseph Rock chose to live outside the town of Lijiang. Presumably he wanted solitude in order to devote himself to his botanical efforts and scholarship. What an amazing setting, beneath the great Jade Dragon Mountain! I presume he lived in a fairly modest courtyard house in the Naxi style. The building pictured here looks a little more rustic and presumably belongs to a farming family - the walls are made of packed earth (as they still are in many Naxi villages. It bears little resemblance the the stone- walled courtyard house that is now touted as his former residence.

As you can see, building styles hadn't changed much when I first visited the area in 1990:

Random photo: worshipping an effigy of the moutain Kawakarpo

It was at the Fei Lai Si monastery just outside Deqin that we got a glimpse of the “peerless peak” of Miyetzimu (Meili) that Rock described so rapturously as “the most glorious peak my eyes were ever privileged to see. No wonder Tibetans stand in awe and worship it. It is like a castle of a dream, an ice palace of a fairy tale, or an enormous mausoleum with gigantic steps and buttresses all crowned by a majestic dome of ice tapering into an ethereal spire merging into a pale blue sky.”
By 2002 the viewing area for the mountain had become a tourist trap, with hawkers selling joss sticks and other offerings to be made at one of the many shrines. The tourist route also included a visit to the Minyong glacier that lies beneath Meili Xue Shan.
Instead, we opted to travel the same route back down into the depths of the Mekong canyon, but turned left at the river to visit the hamlet of Yubeng. At the junction of the road near the Mekong we stopped at a small Buddhist chapel, called the ‘Jungle Temple’. Inside, there were effigies of Buddhist deities, but also evidence to confirm Rock’s observation that the local people also worship the mountain itself as a deity.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Random photo: Nujiang river

Random photo: Mundon village, Yalong canyon

Joseph Rock passed through Mundon (now known as Mongdong)on his way to Minya Konka (Gongga Shan) from his base in Lijiang. It took him 'five terrible days' to cross the canyon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Random photos: Christianity and Buddhism in Kangding

A missal on a pew at the Catholic church in Kangding. Meanwhile, across the street ...

Bells and chanting texts at the Anjue Si Buddhist temple in the centre of Kangding

Monday, September 09, 2013

Random photo: doing the circuit of the three peaks at Yading

This was taken on day 3 - crossing the fifth pass on over Yetchetsura valley towards the lake Russo Tso. Contrary to appearances this was one of the easiest sections - compared to the 'hell' of the cliffs!

Random photo: Christmas celebrations at Baihanluo 白汉洛 Catholic church, Nujiang, Yunnan.

Baihanluo (formerly known as Peihanlo and Bahang) is a former French Catholic mission station in the valley of the Nu river (Nujiang or Salween) in NW Yunnan, China. The local people are Nu minority and a few Tibetans, and most are devout Catholics. At Christmas 2008 they were celebrating by drinking corn liquor (shuijiu), dancing and singing.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Random photo: Catholic church interior, Baihanluo

This was taken at Christmas, hence the Nativity scene display. Joseph Rock passed through Baihanluo but said little about the local church.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Random photo: on the Kawa Karpo pilgrimage trail

This is the scene inside one of the many wayside shelters for pilgrim doing the Kawa Karpo (Meili Xueshan) kora. The full circuit takes about 8-10 days, so these shelters are a great help in providing somewhere to sleep and some basic food and drink. The facilities are basic: what you see is what you get. Straw on the floor for a bed, and a cauldron of boiling water with which to make noodles or tsampa.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Random photo: Yi woman, Wujiao

[From the account of my first trip to Muli:]
These were the ‘Lesser’ Cool Mountains (Liang Shan) and the Yi (or ‘Lolo’ as Rock knew them) were a wild, poor people who tilled a barren yellow soil.
“They are very backward. They do not wash,” the Han Chinese in Lijiang had said about them.
Even the Naxi compared themselves favourably with the Yi. “We Nakhi are the best educated of China’s minorities. Unlike some minorities we have a strong culture,” they said, referring to the Yi.
In the countryside around towns such like Ninglang, the Yi were literally dirt poor. Their dwellings had changed little since Rock wrote of them: “The houses of these primitive people are of rough pine hoards, tied together with cane, and the roofs weighted down with rocks.”
I got a chance to see a few Yi women at close quarters when some of them squeezed their way onto our bus. They smelled of the farmyard, and had freckled, weather-beaten faces and wore grubby, unwashed traditional dress, little changed since Rock described them:
“The Lolo women wear skirts decorated with old fashioned flounces, reaching almost to the ground, and short jackets. Hats, with broad, flopping brims, resembling the heads of antediluvian ichthyosaurs, usually cover their wild unkempt heads.”
The Yi women I encountered looked almost European - they had round eyes, aquiline noses and they spoke to each other in weird high-pitched, coo-ing voices. They were the some of poorest people I saw in China. And it was easy to believe that until forty years ago, they had been a slave society, despised by the Chinese and bestowed with the derogatory name ‘Lolo’, (‘wog’).
The Yi were divided into a noble ‘black’ Yi branch and the low caste ‘white’ Yi, most of whom were effectively serfs. And the Yi in this area had originally been outcasts from the main Yi area north of Lijiang, and thus were doubly wretched. Liberation had brought them freedom from slavery, but little else in the way of development.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Random photo: Yading

I like this picture of Milk Lake (Niunai Hai) taken from the ridge above, as I descended back towards Chonggu monastery on the last day of our kora. I took it with the Rolleiflex 3.5F and with Ektachrome slide film. I was on a bit of a high on this last afternoon, as it was the end of the trek and I thought I was home and hosed and over the worst by this point. The great weather probably helped. However, I was to come crashing back down to earth as I descended to Lurong and found it was taking a LOT longer than I expected. A couple of hours later I was still dragging my feet along, and thoroughly fed up, just wanting for it to be over. Oh how I enjoyed that bowl of instant noodles when I finally made it back to the horse hire hut!

Random photo: Radja monastery

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Random photo: Ragya monastery 拉加寺, Qinghai

Ragya monastery in the morning, below the huge crags.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Random photo: candles at Ragya (Lajia) monastery, Qinghai

Ragya is a small monastery under a cliff on the banks of the Yellow River. Rock used this as a base and staging post for his abortive attempt to reach Amnye Machen  range. When I visited in May 2012 it was an active and friendly monastery. I was able to wander around during the morning devotions and take a few pictures with my Rolleiflex and Leica film cameras.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Random photo: The king of Muli, 1927

From my Muli chapter: 
"The 36-year old Muli king was known as Chote Chaba, - or ‘Hsiang tzu Cheng Cha Pa’ in Chinese. He was a heavy, rotund man with weak muscles - “as he neither exercises nor works”. And yet his manner was “dignified and kind, his laugh gentle and his gestures graceful. The king’s residence, known as the ‘Churah’ was where Rock had taken his portrait photographs of the king using his cumbersome Eastman Kodak box camera mounted on a tripod. The Muli king sat on his throne, posing in his most ceremonial robes, covered with ornate blankets and surrounded by the best furniture and carpets in the palace (and with his three King Charles spaniels shooed away at the last moment).
 In return for taking the portraits, the king rewarded Rock with some bolts of cloth and a rosary bead bracelet that had been wrapped around the king’s left wrist"


A picture taken on my second visit to Muli in 1996

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Pianma pass, Yunnan-Burma border 片马丫口

After visiting Bingzhongluo in the Nujiang valley we took a side trip over to the Burmese border near Liuku (much further south). This involved taking a private van over the epic dirt road that rises up to almost 4000 metres from the Nujiang. Here is a picture of the actual pass. During WW2, Allied cargo planes doing The Hump route from India to Kunming would fly over this section of the Gaoligong mountains and the pass itself was occupied by a Japanese outpost. Some of the structures in this photo may be the Japanese fortifications. The pass is often closed in winter, and as you can see even here it is snowy despite Liuku below being almost subtropical. Pianma itself is a dull frontier post that has little to linger for except a reconstructed C47 plane and a "Resist The British Imperialists" monument (the Brits tried to claim the Burmese border all the way up to the ridge of the Gaoliging mountains but here Chinese territory actually extends down into the western side of the mountains).

Random photo: getting there is half the journey

This blog has focused on the travels in the footsteps of Joseph Rock in the remote parts of Yunnan and Sichuan. However, to get there usually involves a few days travel from the more populated parts of China. Here's my son Paul in the restaurant care of the sleeper train from Guilin to Kunming, prior to our last trip to Deqin and the Doker La. Photo by Roleiflex 3.5F and Ektachrome.

Random photo: the support crew

On many of my trips to Yunnan and Sichuan I have been supported by my wife's family, who live in Guilin. I typically start in Guilin and take a train to Kunming or fly to Chengdu. I just want to say a big thank you to them all for making our trips possible - even if they don't understand why we travel to such remote and 'dull' areas of China!