My old blue notebook is very rough, with scribbled notes of routes, ongoing costs and map marked up. My daughter accompanied me. We took a flight from Kathmandu into Lhasa on Saturday 5 April 1997.
We received a warm welcome from the many Tibetans we met — a life-changing experience for me, a homecoming — the landscape, buildings and the people merging, and overnight stays with Tibetan families wherever possible. Initially I had altitude sickness, tight headaches and vomiting. So tiring at first being at Lhasa altitude so suddenly — only 3,590 metres. We adjusted after a few days and criss-crossed many passes way higher than Lhasa.
We stayed in Lhasa for 5 days visiting the Jokhang Temple many times and the Potala Palace once. In the streets and markets, meeting people, arranging the many visas required for each step of our journey, hiring a 4-wheel drive vehicle, with a Tibetan driver and also a Tibetan guide. They made our journey a wonderful experience and kept us safe across the vast snowy high plains totally devoid of markings of any sort, not even tracks of other vehicles, no signs. Only Mountain peaks. We had to take everything with us, medicine, water, snacks, gifts and prayer flags.
On Thursday 10 April we left Lhasa for Tsetang visiting Gonkar Chode monastery on the way, not far from the airport. We also visited Tradruk Monastery. Stayed in Tsetang — not a wonderful experience.
Friday 11 April we took the Landrover on a ferry across the Brahmaputra — 90 terrifying minutes, then drove through desert to visit Samye Monastery for a day before returning to Tsetang for the night. Samye is amazing, wonderful.
On Saturday 12 April we visited Chonge tombs and continued via the Luga La pass at 4,600 metres. Views of the nomadic grasslands and lakes. We stayed at Tanzik Gov. Guesthouse — best place so far. Many yaks, horses, great birds, sheep and rabbit-like animals. Saw Mawochock monastery from afar hanging on a sheer cliff face.
Owing to us not being granted access to military areas we were forced to take several roundabout routes doubling our journey so we could visit important places. The many extra hours in the vehicle were hard but worth it.
On Monday 14 April we arrived at Dowa Dzong capital of Lhodrak County. A drive up the winding pass of Gampa La at 4,794 metres. We looked down at the astoundingly turquoise Yamdrok Yutso Lake. Finally a tea stop in Nakartse. High plains, vast and empty without sign of humanity, then small villages with very friendly people. Then the high pass, the Monda La at 5,266 metres. This is high altitude. Prayer flags on piles of carved rocks at the top.
On Tuesday 15 April with visited Sekar Gutok, a military town. We continued to the 9 storeyed tower constructed by Milarepa. A place most difficult to reach — 32 km along a very deep sided gorge with rushing waters. We felt trapped in the gorge, perhaps the rushing waters would submerge us, we felt so small. This area with the famous tower is close to the Bhutan border. It feels like the end of the world. Finally a small village with lovely people and lots of children. At the tower itself we were well received. We hung prayer flags outside all around the building. Very special. This was our ultimate destination of the trip. We felt a sense of fulfilment, we felt blessed.
On Wednesday 16 April we travelled to Gyantse, a very large town where time has stood still for centuries after retracing our steps via the Monda La pass and along the side of Phuma lake, frozen over today. We turned off to Nakartse. We had a day around Gyantse visiting the great Kumbum stupa and the monastery. Next we went to Zhigatse where we visited the large and impressive monastery with many monks. A lively place. Nice place to stay.
We decided to make a 3 day detour on our road back to Kathmandu to visit Base Camp Mt. Everest on the Tibetan side. We also visited the nearby monastery. Main memory is of vastness, empty areas, only the wind breathing.
Photographs Taken During a Journey Around Tibet in 1997 © Linda Griffiths
From a showing at the Golden Buddha Centre, Totnes.