Tibet 1986 and Beyond

Tibetan travel & study

Derge to Drolma Lhakhang Trek E. Tibet 1, སྡེ་དགེ་-སྒྲོལ་མ་ལྷ་ཁང་ ཁམས་

Following are a few pictures of the trek Frank and I took through east Tibet in the spring/summer 1986. It now lies partially in Sichuan and the rest in Tibet Autonomous Region, divided by the Yangtze River. We basically followed the river from Derge Parkhang, one of the very few remaining print works in Tibet, to a somewhat obscure temple and town to the north and slightly west. The first blog post shows a detail of the area.

I had researched the area while in India the winter before but we really did not know for sure what was entailed. We departed Derge with some camping equipment, a US airforce map, and modest language skills although Frank’s Chinese was pretty good. We crossed the Yangtze twice (yak skin and wooden boats), traversed three passes (two just short of 18,000 feet), and constant conflicting directions from the local residents we met along the way. About 20 days later, we arrived in Drolma Lhakhang, a very unusual temple in that all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism shared the place. The Karmapa even had a residence there (completely destroyed).

Around four days into the trek. 1986

Frank and I are still pretty strong and relaxed as we walked up river and went over only one low pass out of Derge. The Yangtze is in the background. The valley is at around 10,000 feet.

First ascent to tall pass. Bonpo holy mountain. 1986

We arrived at the little farming village on the way up to our first big pass. We were told that the holy mountain had a Bonpo monastery on the other side. Bon is the pre-Buddhist ingenious religion. We walked most of a day to visit.

Frank and I also asked directions to Drolma Lhakhang to everyone we saw in the village. This yielded three sets of completely conflicting routes. The consensus narrowed it down to two, go right – one pass and two crossings of the Yangtze or go right – two big passes and one crossing. Ended up being the latter. The priest/monk kind of tipped the scale for that decision.

Bonpo Monk. 1986

This gentleman was kind enough to take us to the monastery.

View from Zhe Zhe Gompa ཞེ་ཞེ་དགོན་པ 1986

This is the view we were rewarded with for the nearly day long hike around and up the mountain, well try to imagine the picture without me in it. The monastery was destroyed and in the process of restoration. This was one of the most remote places visited yet it was affected by the cultural revolution.

Ma Kho

Ma Kho རྨ་ཁོ་ Pass house (lakhang ལ་ཁང་, quite different than a Lhakhang ལྷ་ཁང་, a house near a pass as opposed to a chapel).

Ma Kho was basically a pile of dung, literally. It was a huge pile. This “pass house” sits at over 16,000 feet, probably higher. It is just below our first big pass, just short of 18,000 feet. At the end of a day of up hill climbing, this spot looked pretty inviting. We spent the night and received a hot meal (yak butter tea, better than it sounds) before setting over the Chur la (¿ཆུར་ལ་?) pass early in the morning.

Below are some pictures of the spectacular scenery from Ma Kho to the Chur La.

Frank and Yak below Chur La. 1986

Frank is not herding yak, just seems we are going the same direction.

Just below the Chur La, a little over 17,000 feet. 1986

This amphitheater is just below the pass; it is amazing. At this point, the air is so scarce, we take 20 steps and rest. We did not have the foresight to get a horse to carry our 30 pound packs. The spring just below the pass is the source of the water. One could call it a tepid spring as it was not that warm.

It got a bit tricky here as we were not sure if the pass was to the left or the right. At this altitude, one really does not want uncertainty.

Looking down from the Chor La. 1986

The Chor La is somewhere between 17,500 and 18,000 feet. We are not that much lower than the peaks. We did not daudle to admire our accomplishments. Getting down the other side was the focus.

Asking Directions

We saw a merchant coming the opposite direction and asked directions (note Yak herd in background). We figured he would have an accurate description of the trail ahead. I would ask questions in Tibetan, he would answer in Chinese, Frank would translate to English then we would start again with the next question in Tibetan. This worked as the dialects changed quickly. The word for hello seemed to be different every other valley.

The trek is not done yet. More to come.


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