Day 1: Arrival in Lhasa

Day 2: Sera Monastery

Day 3: Bumpari Mountain

Day 4: Urban Kora

Day 5: Drepung Monastery

Day 6: Potala Palace Kora

Day 7: Gyaphelri Mountain

Day 8: Preparations for Kailas

Day 9: Gyantse

Day 10: Tashilungpo Monastery

Day 11: Lhatse

Day 12: Saga

Day 13: Pariyang

Day 14: Darchen

Day 15: Dirapuk Monastery

Day 16: The Glacier

Day 17: Dzutrulpuk Monastery

Day 18: Lake Mansarovar

Day 19: Return to Saga

Day 20: Nyalam

Day 21: Return to Lhatse

Day 22: Lhasa 2.0


Day 3: Bumpari, the Offering Vases mountain

Now I feel ready to attempt the ascent of Bumpari (14,250 ft, 2,250 ft above Lhasa), even though my guidebook recommends at least 3 days of acclimatization. I flag down a cycle taxi and ask the driver to take me over the river: he takes me to the Potala Palace. I ask him again to take me over the river: he takes me to the Barkhor and asks me to get out. I ask him again and he takes me to the near side of the bridge but absolutely refuses to cross it, leaving me to cross on foot under the eagle eye of an armed sentry on the far side. My guidebook mentions that the bridge guards sometimes refuse passage to Westerners, but the sentry just continues to stand there, a ramrod up his back, not acknowledging my presence even though his eyes have penetrated all the way to my spine.

This soldier is the only one I see in my entire time in Lhasa, nor do I see any police other than traffic cops. If this is an armed oppression, it's an extremely subtle one.

Bumpari Peak

The peak is right above me, all bedecked with long strings of prayer flags, but seems completely inaccessible. The view is beautiful but I have spent enough time in China to know not to take a picture on a bridge under the eyes of a sentry! Following the guidebook I walk around to the other side of the peak - a mile along the main road, another mile left along a dirt road, then left up-slope across a field.

The slope faces South, it is two in the afternoon, and the sun's radiant heat is roasting me alive. I drink the liter of water I bought with me without even touching the surface of my thirst.

The Way Up Bumpari

Everything seems smooth sailing until suddenly the thin path I have been following completely vanishes. To my left rises a slope that seems too steep to climb, to my right a precipice falls away; ahead, just a random jumble of impassable buttresses. I turn back a few yards and am about to give up when I see that a young boy I saw herding yaks below me is now above me atop the cliff to my left. I offer him 30 yuan to guide me up: he jumps and slides directly down the cliff and then guides me just as directly back up it. In the States this cliff would probably be completely untravelled, since it's too steep and unstable for hikers and a little too easy (and also too unstable) for technical climbers. For the kid, of course, it's all in day's work.

My Guide

I struggle upward, hauling myself up with my hands. Every few yards I stop for a bout of agonized panting: these bouts become longer and longer the higher we climb. This six-year-old climbs at over five times my speed, but if he feels any contempt or pity for my weakness, he doesn't show it.

At the Ridge Crest (Halfway Up)

Eventually we reach the ridgeline, and the steep gully that leads up to the gap between the twin summits.

Guide Near Dead Goat

This time the scramble up is not as hard technically, but the altitude is really getting to me: I take over half an hour for the last 100 vertical feet. We see lammergyr vultures flying overhead: looking underfoot we see the corpse of a goat that has been dead for several weeks, much more attractive to the vultures than it is to us.

Gully to Summit of Bumpari

From the top we can see all of Lhasa, from the greenhouses on this side of the river to the rice-paddies(!) on the far side beneath the mountains.

Guide in Front of Twin Summits Joined by Prayer Flags

On the way down my guide is 'surfing' the path, slip- sliding the dust of the path in his gym shoes. I hobble down in his wake, exhausted, ignoring his gestures asking me to surf the hillside too: I'm too aware of the steep dropoff on the downhill side.

At the ridgeline he leaves me to tend to his yaks, and I work my way down the cliffs, apprehensive and alone. The walk back to the main road seems without end, but finally I find a little store that sells me a soft drink and I wait for a bus into town.

The driver and the bus conductress are an item. At every stop she throws herself into his lap, takes hold of his hands and wraps them around her tummy and left breast, and kisses him passionately until all the passengers have boarded. Did she misread the job description as 'bus seductress'? Somehow this violation of professional boundaries seems so much more outrageous than if they were doctor and nurse, or lawyer and client, despite all the fun they're so obviously having.

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