Newsletter 14 April 2001
The year's first flight to Lhasa lifted off the tarmac a bit late, but did not disappoint. Circling up and out of Katmandu, we had great views of the city's brick red buildings and a dozen temples. The Monkey Temple, high on a hill, was the last to disappear.
Rising above the haze, the sky turned a cobalt blue, and mountain after mountain reached upwards. All of Nepal and Tibet's 8000 meter peaks were lining the flight path: first Dhaulagiri, then Annapurna, Manaslu, Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and finally Kanchenjunga. Ama Dablam, Jannu, Melungtse, Mera and a hundred other peaks, all worth dreaming about, filled in the carpet of white and black peaks far below us.
The flight seems designed for Everest climbers. We inched up to it, along the southern side, approaching from the west. Then we began our turn north on the side of Makalu, angling north and a bit west again. The West Ridge, South Col, Kangshung Face, NNE Ridge and North Ridge were all in sight at one point or another. Conditions looked perfect. There wasn't even a plume of wind blown snow coming off the summit.
Marco, our young French snow boarder, sat just in front of me, pestering incessantly with the one question that mattered most: "Is there enough snow to ride from the summit?" I think so.
The city of a rumored 1,000,000 people, 60% Chinese, is the capital of Tibet. It sits (at 3600 meters/ 11,800 ft.) in a wide valley with tall peaks lining the sides (5000 m./16,500 ft.).Like the Tibetan plateau, Lhasa is an arid place. Despite the large river that flows through the city and valley, there is little vegetation, except in the cultivated fields.
The lure of Lhasa is the Tibetan culture. Today we visited the Potala, the traditional home of the Dalai Lamas and the administrative center of the old Tibetan nation. It is a massive building, the architecture among the most important in the East. Andy and I spent the morning doing a Kora, or pilgrimage, along with a few thousand Tibetans. We circumambulated the building, spinning the prayer wheels and stopping to hear the monks chant. I shot a few roles of film, trying to capture the faces of the Tibetans and the spirit of the Potala.
In the afternoon we visited the Sera Monastery and were witness to the "debates." Hundreds of young monks gathered in an outside courtyard, each with shaved heads and dressed in the traditional maroon robes. One monk would sit on the ground, while the other stood above him. Rocking forward on one foot and slapping his hands together, the standing monk would shout out a question. Immediately the sitting monk would calmly offer a reply. This debate is essentially a word game, in which the sitting monk proves his knowledge by offering sarcastic or obtuse answers. With the slapping and rocking and yelling, at first it seemed like one monk was beating the other: quite a contrast to the Buddhist belief in non-violence. In fact, the debates are more like a game show, in which the winner gets eternal peace, instead of a Caribbean cruise. Lhasa is rarely what is seems to be at first glance.
On April 5th, we will explore a few more of Lhasa's sites. In the afternoon, Andy, Asmuss and I will head into the market to buy the expedition's meat supply. We will need nearly 450 lbs/200 kg of Yak meat and 66 lbs/30kg of chicken. By the way, on last count we had 20,000 lbs/9218kgs of gear being shipped to base camp.
On April 6th we depart Lhasa and travel overland to Xigatse. On the 7th we will travel on to Tingri, where we will spend two nights. Early on the ninth we will leave Tingri, drive over the Panang La and descend into the Rongbuk valley. Base camp is in the upper Rongbuk, where the road ends. At this stage everyone on the trip is doing really well. We have been enjoying each other's company. The strength and diversity of this group has boosted everyone's confidence and enthusiasm.