In eastern Tibet the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau falls away towards the valleys of three of Asia’s great – and roughly parallel – rivers, most notably the Brahmaputra, which Tibetans know as the Yarlung Tsangpo. The region known as Kham is so little visited by modern-day travellers that the 350-page Lonely Planet Guide to Tibet devotes less than 18 pages to it.
The Tea Horse Road is an historic caravan trade route from Yunnan in southwest China, westwards through the mountains of eastern Tibet. Chinese traders carried brick tea; Tibetans brought mountain ponies. In modern times this route had been closed to foreigners, but recent reports indicated that the prohibition had been lifted.
Our departure by road from Shangri-La, Yunnan Province, was thwarted at the last minute by the unexpected denial of the last of six separate permits. Later, word came that the highway had been cut off anyway, by landslides.
However, the breathtaking aerial views of snow-capped Himalayan ranges, glaciers and gorges from the China Eastern Airlines flight northwest to Lhasa, went some way towards easing this disappointment.
Subsequently a road journey from Lhasa out along on Highway 318 enabled us to follow the mighty, ever-changing Yarlung Tsangpo upstream, sometimes through precipitous gorges, other times sprawling across a broad valley: the historic and cultural heartland of Tibet. We paused to admire deciduous forests wearing their autumnal finery; to look out across conifers dusted with snow; to wander amongst gilded Buddha effigies as red-robed monks chanted in Samye, Tibet’s most ancient monastery. Tibetans struggle to preserve their culture and religion, but have not yet lost the battle.
Here are some more images