Tibet 2006

All images and associated pages copyrighted © by Don Chesnut, 2006

This trip was a post-meeting field trip of the 2nd International Palaeontological Congress 2006, Beijing. The trip was led by Prof. Jin Xiaochi (Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Beijing). Geologic information is available in the following publication:

Jin Xiaochi, 2006, Upper Paleozoic to Triassic successions of the Tibetan Himalayas and significant geological occurrences along the road leading to the Himalayas. The Second International Palaeontological Congress, June 17-21, 2006, Beijing, China, Post-Congress Excursion C5, June 22-28, 18 p.

See also Paul Weldon's excellent photos of this Tibetan trip.

22 June 2006, Thursday

In the morning, we celebrated Mary's birthday in our suite at Ziyuan Hotel (Beijing). I left about 6:30 with my pack and walked to the Shaoyuan Hotel to meet the bus to the airport and the other field trip participants. We boarded the bus, went to the airport and got on our plane to Lhasa. Visibility was low in Beijing due to humidity and smog. When at cruising level, we were above the dense cloud deck and could see no land. After 2.5 hours we landed at Chengdu and disembarked from the plane. We received a ticket that got us into the waiting area. After the plane was cleaned and presumably refueled, we took off on the same plane to Lhasa. It was raining in Chengdu and we couldn't see any scenery from the air. I sat next to a Chinese lady who didn't speak much English. We used my limited Chinese and the dictionary and had a bit of a fun conversation. The people on the field trip are all very nice. About 5 minutes outside of Lhasa, the cloud cover had breaks where we could see snow-covered mountains and glaciers. I took several photos. We landed in Lhasa (elevation, 3595 m), retrieved our luggage and boarded our bus for an hour-long drive to Lhasa.

We arrived at Lhasa (elev. 3595m, 11,795ft) and proceeded to the Lhasa Hotel, reputed to be the best hotel in Tibet. It was formerly the Holiday Inn. My roommate is Michael Stephenson from England, a Gondwanan palynologist. We arrived at the hotel about 5:30, cleaned up and boarded the bus again to a restaurant about half a mile away. It was a typical Chinese restaurant meal (not Tibetan) and the waitresses spoke Chinese. After dinner, we returned to the hotel. About eight of us took a walk on the sidewalk surrounding the hotel's walled compound. The sidewalk was covered by Tibetans selling all sorts of souvenirs. They said "Looky, Looky," or "Cheapy, Cheapy." They seemed very cheerful. At the end of the line of souvenir blankets, several of the hawkers were pretty aggressive, the others were OK. We noticed that some of the merchandise was faked, some items were authentic, however. I took several pictures.

     We were warned that we might develop headaches during the night, due to rapid entry at a high altitude place. I noticed that I was light-headed as soon as I left the plane and my heart was beating faster than usual. After a few minutes, the heart rate returned to normal, but the light-headedness stayed till I went to sleep. I especially noticed it when I stood up.

     When we came back to the hotel, we went into one of the hotel shops. I bought a Tibetan T-shirt and a CD of traditional Tibetan music. After I returned to the room, I got my gift bottle of Makers Mark bourbon and gave it to Dr. Jin, our field trip leader. I remembered him from the Congress in China in 1987 and he remembered my family. I also discussed my departure at the end of the trip. Everyone else is returning to Beijing in the afternoon of the 29th. I fly to Guangzhou at 11 in the morning of the 29th, so he will make arrangements for me to get to the airport early.

23 June 2006, Friday

I didn't sleep at all last night, apparently due to high altitude. Others had headaches and nausea. One lady from Beijing was so sick that she and two of her co-workers had to head back to Beijing this morning. This gave us a little later start for our field trip. We are traveling in a fleet of 4-wheel drive vehicles.

     We headed westward along the Lhasa River and the Yarlung Tsampo. It must be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. I took a lot of pictures of mountains, rivers, sand dunes and buildings. We drove to Xigatze (Shigatse) making several stops along the way, largely for resting or photo stops.

     We arrived at the Shandong Mansion Hotel in Xigatze (elevation 3,900m, 12,795ft) about 4 in the afternoon.

Several of us took a walk to the Tashilhunpo Monastery, a very famous Buddhist monastery in Tibet. The Panchen Lama lives here. I took a lot of pictures here as well.

Later, our group ate at the hotel restaurant. I went to bed around 10. I hope I sleep better tonight. Tomorrow, we have a very long drive on bad roads.

24 June 2006, Saturday

We had breakfast at 7:30 and left the hotel at 8. We took the northern route to Lhaze (not Lhasa) (elevation 4050 m) and then took Highway 318 to Nyalam. All the roads were gravel tracks or 4-wheel drive tracks. The road was under construction over the first big mountains. We went over two very high mountain passes, the first was Gyatso-La at 5,220 meters (ca 17,000 ft), and the second was La Lung-La at 5124 meters. The view from Xigatze to Nyalam was spectacular and I took a bunch of pictures with the digital camera only. We left at 8 in the morning (earlier) and arrived at the hotel at 9 PM, so it was a very rugged 13-hour trip. I'll use my film camera tomorrow. It is so unusual to see active aeolian environments directly on top of active braided streams. One usually associates dunes with deserts, not active river valleys.

     We are staying in a government operated hotel in Nyalam (elevation 3750m, 12,303ft). It doesn't have a name. We don't have running water, showers or bath. The commode has the seat detached and to flush it, we pour water from a bucket into the toilet. We have two big thermoses of hot water that we'll use for tea and brushing teeth, etc. A number of people have become sick due to the high altitude. Symptoms are dizziness, nausea, vomiting and headaches in our group. My room mate is taking oxygen now in the hotel room. He is supposed to breathe it for five minutes. People that are still feeling badly tomorrow will be taken to a lower town for most of the day.

25 June 06, Sunday

Today we had breakfast and headed back up the mountain for about 45 minutes driving time. We stopped near Yalai at a Silurian to Carboniferous section. I found Monograptus and Chondrites in the black shales. We had lunch at the outcrop.

Because we finished early, Dr. Jin said we had the option of going to the border town Zhangmu between Nepal and Tibet. Barbara Waters said that it was supposed to be very scenic (according to Lonely Planet). We all opted to do this, so we headed back to Nyalam and went on the road on the other side (south side) of the town. We promptly entered the deep gorge of the Matsang Tsampo (Matsang River) and noticed immediately that everything was much greener and there were trees and clouds in the valley. This was on the rainy side of the Himalayas and we had been on the rain-shadow side before. The drive took about 1 to 1.5 hours on a little gravel road perched along the side of the gorge. It was the most spectacular and scary ride I've had. We stopped at the border town Zhangmu (elevation 2300m, 7,546ft), almost 1500 meters lower than Nyalam. The lower elevation made a big difference for a large number of our group. I found that I could run up a steep slope without being winded. I took a lot of pictures of the gorge and some of Zhangmu. It is a truckerís town and Nepalese and Chinese truckers wait there to transfer their loads. The town was built on the steep side of the gorge and there must have been 10 to 20 switch backs in the main street. We got out and walked around.

     After driving back to Nyalam (and much higher elevations) we had a Szechuan dinner in the hotel restaurant; our hotel cook is from Szechuan. After dinner, Dr. Jin asked if any of us would like to try hot yak butter tea. About 8 of us said we would, so we walked down the street to the Kailash Hotel and went upstairs to the restaurant. I had 3 bowls of the tea and then walked back. This town is a trekkerís town and there are several trekker's hotels and even trekker outdoor shops (and trekker tour shops).

     Tomorrow, we have a change of plans. Instead of staying another night in Nyalam, we will pack, do our field work, and then head to Teng Ri (we had lunch there on our way from Xigatze to Nyalam). We can see Everest (Qomolangma) from there, supposedly. The reason for this change of plan is because the road over the high pass is only open from 7 pm to 7 am. Teng Ri is much closer to the road entrance so we will be able to get there by 7 am in the morning.


26 June 06, Monday

We got up, had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then went out in the field. We visited a Permian through Triassic section near Naxing. We found brachiopods, rugose corals, 3 kinds of crinoids in the Permian diamictites which means that the fauna was living in arctic or near arctic latitudes (actually antarctic in this case). We found a Camptocrinus stem, a round stem and a Platycrinites stem plates, all Permian. Then we drove to another site in the valley and examined Permian and Triassic sections, mostly Triassic. I found a large pectinid bivalve with both valves spread open; also a number of nice Triassic ammonites. I took pictures and then gave the specimens to researchers who were studying them. We had lunch in the field (bread, preserved vegetable, cucumber and water). I used the new Chinese knife to peel the cucumber and slice the bread.

Then we headed for Teng Ri. We went over a high pass again and finally arrived at Teng Ri about 6 pm. At 4390m (ca 14,400 ft), this is the highest elevation that we have slept. We stayed at the Snow Leopard Guest House, which is a trekker's hotel. There is no water, no heat, and no bathroom. There is a latrine outside the compound, but it is pretty foul. I'll do without. A generator is running for the time being but they will probably turn it off in a few minutes. I have a bedside candle lit for when it goes off. There are two heavy comforters for each bed and it will probably be below freezing in the night. We have to have breakfast at 6 am and hit the road by 6:30 in order to get on the pass road before 7:00 am. Otherwise, we have to stay here another day. We have a large thermos of boiled water for washing up, brushing teeth and making tea.

     We had dinner at the hotel restaurant which is like a Hobbit living room with a large wood-burning stove in the middle (very handy in the cold season). We had Chinese fare, Yak butter tea and some Lhasa beer. Sasha, the Russian in our group, brought out a bottle of Mongolian vodka and we had a series of "Nastrovia" toasts (not too much because there are 22 of us and only one bottle).

     Our Tibetan drivers and tour guide were interested in my KGS hat and the pins on it. I gave a Nova Scotia/New Zealand pin to one of the drivers, a USA pin to the tour guide and a bunch of American coins to the rest. They were very interested in them. Out driver is Nobu and the tour guide lady is Diki. She speaks Tibetan, Chinese and English. They helped me with my Tibetan phrases. "Tashi dele" means "hello;" "Kale shoo" means "goodbye" when you are the one leaving, and "Toe-chi-chi" means "thank you." Even though we are at higher elevation, my room mate, Michael, is doing better. Yesterday, he used 3 bottles of oxygen and had been sick ever since we left Xigatze at the beginning of the trip. He seems normal now.

     Tomorrow night, we should be at a nice hotel in Xigatze where we will have bathrooms and a shower. It has been several days since I've had a shower.


27 June 06, Tuesday

We were awakened at 5:30, so I lit the candle on the bed table. My roommate only got up once to use the oxygen bottle about 4:00 am. We got up and I went outside to brush my teeth. I saw that others had their electric light on, so I went back to the room, turned on our single ceiling bulb and blew out the candle. We walked in the dark to the restaurant (same one as last night) and they had the big wood-burning stove on. The room was a little smoky. I don't know if they were burning wood or dried yak dung which is the most common fuel. We had pancakes with jam and a hard-boiled egg as well as tea and instant coffee.

     We packed the SUV's in the dark and headed north. We got to a checkpoint by 8:20 and showed our passports and then entered the construction segment of the road. We really needed the 4-wheeled drives. We arrived at the highest pass and got out for a quick photo; we had already been here in our first leg of the journey. The road was difficult to traverse. It is being built largely by hand, with a few bulldozers and backhoes. Most work is by shovel and pick.

     We got to Xigatze about 4:00 pm and checked into the same hotel as before, Rikaze Shandong Mansion. I took a nice long shower. I had to shampoo three times to get out all the dirt. Then I went to the gift shop to buy a few Tibetan souvenirs. After that, we had dinner in the hotel dining room; typical Chinese dishes. I'll probably go to bed early tonight because we got up so early this morning. Tomorrow, we have breakfast at 8:30 and hit the road to Lhasa.


28 June 06, Wednesday

We slept late, to 8:00 am and went to breakfast by 8:30. We packed and left by 9:00. Our first stop (3 stops actually) was to look at a Cretaceous ophiolite sequence. The first was at a little village where several people put white ashes on our right shoulders (right on our clothes). Today is a Tibetan Buddhist holiday. One fellow came up to me and offered me the use of his bag of ashes. I pinched a finger full and dropped some to the wind and put some on his right shoulder. I took pictures of dunite cobbles (lower ophiolite), the next nearby stop was to look at pillow basalts (mid-ophiolite) and the last stop was to look at the red and gray cherts (upper ophiolite) in the distance. We saw lots of people walking with long canes with leaves and prayer flags tied to the upper part. We have not seen this before and it must be part of the festivities.

     We drove a long distance to Lhasa. We encountered lots of rock falls on the highway, some were quite large. These apparently fell during the night. I took pictures of a few of these. This road was paved and very nice.

     When we got to Lhasa, we went first to the Potala Palace and monastery. We crossed the street and took a group photograph with the monastery in the background. We won't tour the Potala till tomorrow when there is more time. I won't be able to then, because I will be at the airport.

    We drove to the Brahmaputra Grand Hotel, one of the nicest I have ever been in. We were not expecting this. I got my key and went to my room. Michael, normally my roommate, got a separate room because he is staying a few extra days. I have a room to myself, which I don't think anybody else had (I hope I wasn't a bad roommate). It's called the Brahmaputra because the Tsangpo River turns into the Brahmaputra River.

     At 6:30, we all gathered in the lobby and the drivers took us to the "Mad Yak Restaurant." Here we had a choice of Tibetan or Chinese food, buffet style. I had Tibetan, including Yak yoghurt, barley cake, Yak meat and vegetables, sheep sausage, sheep lung, Yak dumplings and other food. It was all very good. I brought my two half pints of Makers Mark bourbon, one for each big table, and we had toasts to the success of the field trip, to the scenery and the leader and his staff. Then Tibetan dancing and singing began on the stage. At the end, we all had to get on the stage and dance, hand-in-hand.

     After that, we went back to the hotel. I went to bed by 9:00 pm. I woke up about 12:30 and didn't sleep for most of the rest of the night.


29 June 06, Thursday

I got up at 6:30 and took a shower and had some tea. It rained and thundered a bit during the night. I checked out of the hotel and met some of the others in the lobby. Dr. Jin said that I had time to eat breakfast, which was included. The hotel served the nicest assortment of breakfast that we have had so far. They had fried eggs in heart shape and toast as well as cereal and luncheon meat. They also had Chinese assortments. I had some of both and two cups of coffee. Coffee had not been widely available in Tibet.

     After breakfast, Jin's PhD student and Ladislav, a Czech friend, and I got in a taxi to go to the airport one hour away. When we got to the airport, the student paid for the taxi and went into the terminal to help us get our boarding passes. Ladis is going to Chengdu and I am going to Kunming, then to Guangzhou and then Hanoi. After take off, we climbed steeply and got over the cloud bank. The cloud bank covered everything and I couldn't see any mountains. We made a stop at Diqing, also known as Shangri-La. The small waiting terminal had a lot of "Shangri La" souvenirs and T shirts. We were only here for 30 minutes and then re-boarded the same plane headed for Kunming. I arrived at Kunming and had to exit security and check in again at the check-in counter. If I had luggage, I would have to have retrieved it at every stop and check it in again. I'm glad I only have carry on. I boarded the flight to Guangzhou with about 300 other passengers. I was the only westerner. The people around me were having a good time and talking loudly. It was not Mandarin, but perhaps Cantonese. I saw some fantastic clouds on this leg of the trip. Upon landing, there was a mad rush for the door and I was trapped in my seat until the plane emptied. But, I didn't have to go to baggage claim.

     I found my way to International check-in and waited in a very long line. It was a tour of some sort with about 40 people. However, I was next in line after them. After checking in, I went to Chinese customs and filled in their customs card with nothing to declare. Then I went to Chinese Immigration and filled in another card and passed that station. Then I went through security. They X-rayed my backpack twice but didn't ask to open it. I just had dirty clothes, a toiletry kit and a few souvenirs. Then I proceeded down a very long terminal wing with lots of duty free shops.

     The rain was heavy at times and many planes were delayed. My flight to Hanoi was supposed to be at 9:20 but it was delayed till midnight. I walked around the concourse for several hours. I boarded my plane about midnight. The flight was a little bumpy at lower altitudes. We landed in a heavy downpour and had to wait on the plane for an extra half hour till it slackened a little. We then boarded a bus to the terminal. Although the rain was very heavy, it was warm and felt like taking a shower.

Next part of my trip, Vietnam

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