Tibet, June 2005

 

sunset mt everest

Participants: Sammie Arthur '07 Biology - Environmental Studies; Mary Ashby '05 Chemistry - Environmental Studies; Dan Berg '06 Geology - Environmental Studies; Beth Blum '06 English; Egan Brinkman '07 Sociology; Sam Caruthers-Knight '05 Geology - Environmental Studies; Jodie Gates '07 Sociology - Environmental Studies; Meghan Goss '06 Religion; Miles Johnson '07 Biology - Environmental Studies; Taylor Johnson '07 Geology; Tyler Kohlhoff '07 Studio Art; Erin McMahan '06 Politics - Environmental Studies; Brittany Peterson '06 Chemistry; Zoe Plakias '08 undeclared; Oak Rankin '05 Politics - Environmental Studies; Amy Sharp '06 Art History; Laurel Stratton '07 Geology; Meg Tuttle '05 Geology - Environmental Studies; Clare Carson Director of Academic Resources; Bob Carson Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies

Guides: Palden (from Bhutan); Lhada (from Lhasa); Tshewang (from Lhasa) 

 


Whitman Rocks Tibet by Bob Carson

June 1Arrival on the Roof of the World (Chengdu-Lhasa)

Having left Walla Walla on Saturday, 28 May, Clare and I finally landed in Tibet at the Gongkar airport between the capital Lhasa and the third largest city, Tsetang. With us are 18 Whitman students (4 now alums), 12 women and 6 men, of 9 different majors. We hooked up with them in Seattle, Nerita (near Tokyo, Japan), and Bangkok. Each of the 4 flights was, fortunately, shorter than the previous one.

pandas

We all overnighted in Bangkok, Thailand, and Chengdu, western China. The only significant event between Washington and Tibet was visiting giant and red pandas in Chengdu. Through the clouds below our last flight we glimpsed the snowy Himalayan peaks. 
At the airport we were greeted by Palden and Lhada, two of our three guides. They placed a white prayer scarf around each of our necks. Palden, our lead guide, is from Bhutan and speaks many languages; Lhada is a Tibetan from Lhasa. Later we met our third guide, Tse Wang, also a Tibetan.

guides

 
Our journey by bus from the Gongkar airport to Lhasa was along the Yarlung Tsangpo and Kyi Chu (rivers). They are very wide, with many channels and huge sand bars. Only part of the floodplain is available for agriculture and tree planting. The strong winds blow sand high (>1000') up into the mountains, making spectacular climbing dunes. We witnessed a sand storm across the valley. 

climbing dunes


The rocks are clastic sedimentary rocks (India), granite (under volcanic arc), and limestone (Tethys Sea and/or Eurasia and/or Lhasa block). The Gangdisc Granite is part of a volcanic-plutonic complex related to India being subducted beneath the Llasa block, which joined Eurasia before India did.
Tibet and Lhasa have been and continue to be overrun by Chinese. But there is a Tibetan part of Lhasa, and that's where we walked today. Traffic has been blocked from a shopping area around the Jokhang.

ihasavender

There are hundreds of shops and booths, where for sale are jewelry, religious items, cloth, etc. Beth Blum and I bargained for a purse, turquoise, prayer bowls, and a bell. The sales ladies started high, and in each case, with as much as a half hour of polite bickering, we got prices cut in half or a little more. It was fun, and there were plenty of smiles.

ihasa beggar


I took off after a woman who was begging while guide Palden was talking. She was dressed in traditional Tibetan garb and carried a prayer wheel. I offered her 1 yuan (12¢) for a photo. She noisily demanded more, and a small crowd encircled us. I showed empty pockets, pretending I had no more money. Finally, she let me take a picture, but then again demanded more money. I was a little nervous, but the Tibetans seemed interested, not angry. The woman pulled at my shirt, looking for a money belt. I lifted my shirt, revealing a hairy tummy. She shrieked and ran off, while the others laughed. 
There are one or two large loud dogs beside our hotel, just beneath our windows. They bark on and off 24 hours a day. I could hear them even with earplugs. I did not get much sleep tonight, but I have not been sleeping well since Walla Walla. I'm very surprised that Clare and I each have a little high-altitude sickness at 11,975' - shortness of breath, headaches. We were OK at almost the same elevation in the Andes in both 2000 and 2002. Then we were not taking diamox, which are to help with acclimatization. It may partly be the sun and aridity.

 

June 2Lhasa II (Jokhang and Sera)

jokhang temple

In the morning we explored the Jokhang temple, which contains a statue that somehow has survived for 2500 years (kings, Dali Lamas, and the Chinese invasion). Because this is an auspicious month, there are more pilgrims than ever prostrating themselves in front of and within this huge temple. There are 3 koras (walks, always clockwise) the pilgrims can take here: the shortest is inside the Jokhang, the next is around the temple's perimeter (

students jokhang


The Jokhang is the most revered religious structure in Tibet. It dates from the seventh century, but most had to be rebuilt after the twentieth century Cultural Revolution. It shares many features in common with other Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries:

 


1) many side chapels 
2) many, many “statues” of Buddhas, high lamas 
3) many yak butter and wheat flour figures 
4) millions of bills, mostly small and Chinese, as offerings from pilgrims and other visitors

The afternoon was spent at Sera Monastery just north of Lhasa; it was once home for 5000 monks. For me, this was the most interesting monastery of the trip for two reasons: (1) it includes a huge print shop (hand printing with wooden blocks) and library; and (2) we got to hear monks debate and then chant. About 400 monks debated (mostly in pairs, with a lot of hand gestures) and then chanted (including some solo throat singing). After touring the inside of the monastery, we did a kora (walked around the perimeter, including climbing a little way up the granite slope behind the monastery). 
The religious devotion of Buddhists must be greater than that of any other faith. Some walk (or even prostrate themselves) for days to go to a temple. They give lots of money in temples and monasteries (support for monks and nuns). They pray a lot, with prayer flags, prayers on small pieces of paper scattered from high places, prayer bowls, and prayer wheels, carried while they walk. 

June 3 Lhasa III (Pabonka)

pabonka monastery
hoopoe

Today we hiked up to lower Pabonka Monastery, and looked at a holy cave in the granite. Outside were many hoopoes, birds which make a sound like their name, and are quite colorful. On the way farther up to upper Pabonka Monastery, we looked down on a sky burial site. Most Tibetans have their bodies cut into parts and their bones crushed, all to be placed where vultures, wild dogs, etc., can feast. We saw hundreds of

Himalayan griffons perched on ridges and circling above the site. 

Past the second monastery we crossed a gorge and climbed up to a cave in the granite cliff where two nuns live. There is a small spring, but they must carry food and fuel wood up. Also they have a solar cooler. 

griffon

In the late afternoon we visited a carpet factory. Tibetan carpets are thick, dense, and beautiful. We watched them being woven, then went into the showroom. Most students bought as least one carpet - the variety of size and design is great. The less regular the design, the more expensive, so a 1-m2 carpet price ranged from $100 to $400. Palden bought a large carpet for his wife and 7-month-old daughter - it has a dragon and a crane. We bought a mandala carpet and 3 small carpets. Adjacent is a Chinese gift shop, which has old hand-stitched “paintings” in the $4000 price range. 

 

June 4Lhasa IV (Potala and Dungkar)

potala

We finally got to visit the Potala, probably Tibet's most famous landmark. I wonder if it is the largest building on earth. Perched on an erosion remnant of sedimentary rocks rising 130 m above the floodplain of the Kyi Chu (on which Lhasa is built), the Potala is like a huge museum because the current Dalai Lama is in exile in India. Although it is our fourth day in Tibet, I felt the altitude climbing from the floodplain (elevation almost 12,000') to the top of the palace. 
In the center of the Potala is the red palace, a religious portion with many chapels and a large meeting hall; it includes a stupa for Dalai Lama V (he is “buried” there) containing 3721 kg of gold (about $50 million). At one end of the Potala is the white palace, the living quarters of the Dalai Lama (we were able to go into four of his rooms, including where political meetings were held). The other end of the Potala, also painted white, was the home of exactly 175 monks. 

pabonka monastery

Massive vertical high cliffs and towers of limestone at Dungkar provided shade at the top of today's hike, which turned out to be a geology-biology field trip. Below we looked past a quarry (occasional blasts) up the Kyi Chu valley to the Potala and another erosion remnant. To the south were the highway, with a Chinese army convoy, the southwest end of Lhasa with buildings and trees, the wide braided river, climbing dunes, and mountains with a few tiny snow patches. In the distance was what we were unsure was a rainstorm or a dust storm. These cliffs have wildflowers, mammals, and birds, and dry caverns. The guides caught a pika. We lingered, looked, and talked before descending through giant boulders to the bus. 
This evening we had dinner at a restaurant which included a cultural show after dessert. We heard traditional Tibetan music and watched women and men dance, with many changes of costume. 

 

June 5Lhasa - Ganden

prayer flags

Two thirds of us are now (or have been) sick in one way or another - in all but one case it is diarrhea and/or throwing up, in many cases severely. Some cannot sleep or eat. 
We drove 40 km northeast from Lhasa up the Kyi Chu valley. The last part of the route is a dirt road with many switchbacks. At one turn dozens of Himalayan griffons (vultures) feasted on a dead yak. From the high Ganden Monastery we saw that new snow fell above 4500 m last night. 

kyichu river

Today's hike, for those who made it, was our favorite. The geology is fascinating, and the wildflowers varied. We discovered an explosive volcanic complex, weakly metamorphosed: greenstone dikes, tuff breccia with fiamme. We ascended a ridge the long way, then followed the little peaks with thousands, perhaps millions of prayer flags; and descended to Ganden Monastery. It was nice not to have to share the monastery with hordes of pilgrims and tourists. The views of and from the monastery are spectacular, down to the wide braided Kyi Chu, and over to snowy mountains. 

 

ganden

Ganden Monastery was founded in 1409. It is being rebuilt after complete destruction by artillery fire not only in 1959 but also in 1966. 

 

June 6 Lhasa - Shigatse (via Shogu La and Dongu La)

Today we drove up and down river valleys crossing the southern Tibetan Plateau, and reaching its southern edge where the Yarlung Tsangpo forms its border with the Himalayas, or where India meets Eurasia in the geologic sense. There was more new snow last night, which helped to emphasize surficial patterns like polygons

polygons
new snow

above permafrost. It is extremely bright at 17,000' with new snow, with or without the sun. Up on the plateau the temperature was just above or below freezing, with mostly clouds. By the time we turned west on the Yarlung Tsangpo the clouds had disappeared and the temperature had climbed 30 to 40º. 
There are yaks everywhere! The nomadic herders have dark colored rectangular tents with sloping roofs and sides. They tend goats and sheep as well as yaks. 

In contrast, down on the wide flood plain there are dunes, irrigation ditches, agricultural plots, and afforestation to reduce erosion, sequester carbon, or whatever. 
A lot of students are still sick; all could not make it to dinner. The nine-hour Land Cruiser ride, mostly on bumpy roads did not help, nor did altitudes as high as 17,000'. The six Tibetan drivers are very nice, and quite sympathetic to the students' illnesses. Clare and I were in the lead vehicle with guide Lhada.

yaks

June 7Shigatse - Gyantse

Plate tectonics was the theme of our long morning roundtrip drive between Shigatse and Gyantse. At Shigatse the clastic sedimentary rocks were marine sediments deposited on the south edge of the passive margin of Eurasia. In contrast, at Gyantse similar sediments were deposited on the north edge of the active margin of India. Between the two continents was the Tethys Sea, underlain by oceanic crust. As the two continents collided, a piece of oceanic crust was caught in the vice. We stopped at three places to sample the oceanic crust (pillow basalts and red chert at the top, with sheeted dikes beneath) and upper mantle (serpentinite). 

sheeted dikes

The claim to fame in the Pelkor Chode Monastery in Gyantse is the Gyantse Kumdum, Tibet's largest stupa (35 m high). We got good views of the stupa from the highest point within the monastery, sitting on a hillside and surrounded by a wall. In the distance we saw another fortress-like monastery. Bhutan lies to the south of Gyantse; British troops came here in 1904, on their way to Lhasa.

gyantse

After a late lunch we explored the Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447. The remains of the first Dalai Lama are here. The monastery includes a 90-year-old (hollow) copper statue. The tombs of many Panchen Lamas (second only to Dalai Lamas) are within the monastery. 
Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet. The Shigatse market outdoes the Lhasa Tibetan business area in terms of the passion of the sales persons, mostly women in traditional clothes. We walked through the stands of jewelry, gift items, etc. Nearby were foods, and cloth. Men played pool and craps. 

shigatse market

Generally one can get about half of what they ask, sometimes one thirdif you are persistent and/or walk away. At one time I had five women tugging at me trying to get me to buy their wares. Some, including Clare, almost had to wrestle themselves away from aggressive salespersons. You hear many phrases like “cheap”, “how much”, “lowest”, “final”, “me poor”, and “look” repeatedly. I love the bargaining. 
The food here is very similar at breakfast, lunch, and dinner: jasmine tea, water or coke or sprite, mixtures of meat and vegetables, rice, noodles, soup, tofu. There is no salad, and little if any bread. Dessert is apple wedges. The hotel employees are all very friendly. 

June 8 Shigatse - Sakya

mud cracks 2

mud cracks 3
mud cracks 1

Today we crossed the Yarlung Tsangpo and drove east (upvalley) along the north shore. There are many dunes along the river. 
Today and two days ago and at Ganden Monastery we had a picnic lunch outside. Nomads, as Palden calls them, appear and watch you eat, knowing that they will get the leftovers, which are considerable. They take not only the food, but the trash. They love the 1.5-liter water bottles. They bring us a water bucket or some other container for

our leftover rice. The cardboard and paper is good for starting fires. Two days ago they brought baby goats to show us. In general they do not want their pictures taken; but if they do, they enjoy seeing the digital photos on the screen. 
After lunch we continued through road construction and finally a paved road to Shigatse, the capital of Tibet from 1268 to 1354. During this time Tibetan Buddhism spread to Mongolia, and the Monguls spared Tibet. 

goat

There are a few peaks to the south with a snow caps, and as we left the Yarlung - Tsangpo we saw many more, perhaps even one glacier. All the hills and mountains are very dry, with next to no vegetation. This contrasts sharply with the green flood plains, with many fields, often with a rock in the center. We also saw lots of cottonwood afforestation of the flood plain. 

sakya

coppice dunes


Sakya is small, and mostly modern and Chinese, except for the monastery near out hotel. There's another monastery with stupas across the valley to the north. The one we explored is notable for support pillars 1m in diameter, juniper trees brought 600 km from southeastern Tibet. 

 

June 9 Sakya - Rongbuk (via Dong La and Pang La)

Today was a really tough day in the vehicles: long, bouncy, dusty, warm. We took a route the guides had never been before.

stupas

Often the vehicles needed 4WD for loose sand. We splashed across some streams. We encountered our first bothersome tiny insects (by the millions) at an intended lunch stop by a river, but moved west. 
The geology was spectacular: intensely folded clastic sedimentary rocks, plus a little limestone and gneiss. These hillsides are unraveling, and have giant alluvial fans at their bases. We drove through tens of kilometers of coppice dunes with yellow gorse-likeshrubs/flowers anchoring them. And we played on textbook barchans.

barchans   barchans 2

From two passes we had great views of the high Himalayas. All the villages have red and black stripes on gray walls. The weather continues to be beautiful. 
This afternoon we entered Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (e.g., Mt. Everest national park). From the entrance one drives over Pang La (a pass about 17,000' high) for a spectacular view of high Himalaya peaks. Near Posum we traded our Toyota Land Cruisers for official tourist vans and drove upvalley, the views of Mt. Everest and nearby snowy peaks getting better and better.

rongbuk

 

pangla

I took pictures of the north side of Mt. Everest, and nearby lateral moraines, before coming into the hotel in the Rongbuk Valley. I lie on my bed looking at the north face of Mt. Everest, with clear blue sky rising above the 29,000' peak (only 13,000' above us). 

June 10 Everest I (Base Camp)

rockfall

Today we hiked to two caves, one very holy, about 5 km upvalley from the hotel. The caves are in a huge rockfall with giant boulders of gneiss and migmatite. We saw slicklenlines, garnets, and tourmalines. Most returned to the hotel for a late lunch, but four of us hiked to Everest Base Camp at 16,900' (another 3.5 km upvalley). There we had a light lunch in one of many tents, and checked out tomorrow's route. In the afternoon there is a very

base camp

strong downvalley katabatic wind off the glaciers. After viewing Everest and Nuptse, we hiked back to the hotel. 
What good fortune to have had clear weather all day. The sun hits Everest from 7am to 9pm, the light on the cliffs and snowfields changing all day. This valley has “textbook” glacial geology, with four terminal moraine complexes from just above Base Camp (below stagnant ice of the Rongbule Glacier) to below the hotel.

sunset mt everest

The steep valley sides are mostly covered with colluvium - there is till and gneiss in places. The beauty leaves no doubt as to why this was the second holiest place in Tibet (after Mt. Kalish at the headwaters of Yarlung Tsangpo). 

June 11 Everest II (Camp I)

horse carts

The hotel employees awoke late, so our 7am breakfast was late. Horse carts that carry driver (except going uphill) and two passengers awaited us right at the hotel's front door. The 11 carts are blue, pulled by decorated horses. The back seat is particularly bumpy, and in the early morning shade, we had no sun until Base Camp. It took 1.5 hours to get the 9 km from the hotel (16,350') to the north Everest Base Camp (16,900'), where the sun greeted us.

stream crossing

rl moraine

We had 8 hours to get back to Base Camp at 6pm, and return to the hotel by horse cart. 
Of course, the view of the Rongbuk Valley and Mt. Everest and surrounding Himalayan peaks and glaciers is spectacular - all day! From Base Camp we hiked across a relatively flat outwash plain, but had to cross two channels of a fast stream that is a tributary to the Rongbuk River. The guides threw huge rocks into the water, and held our hand to make the crossing easier. I was a little too sure of myself - my foot slipped off an ice-coated rock and I fell - fortunately I was not injured and only got one sock a little wet.

Mornings generally have a gentle upvalley wind, and afternoons a very strong downvalley wind. With a bright sun, or gentle ascent, and a little wind, we quickly removed most of the clothes we had worn on the chilly horse cart ride (for me it had been 3 layers downand 5 layers up). The subfreezing night temperatures rise to 50º or 60ºF during the day. 

stagnantice

For about 5 km we ascended from 17,000' to 17,500' on a gentle gradient. The route is used by dozens of Himalayan expeditions trying to climb Mt. Everest from the north. Even yaks can carry loads from Base Camp to Camp I, which is at the foot of the East Rongbuk Glacier. This gradual ascent is mostly between the right lateral moraine of the Rongbuk Glacier and the east valley side, but here and there the route goes up onto the moraine for a view of the stagnant glacier. Above Everest Base Camp is the terminal moraine (Little Ice Age, or younger?) of the Rongbuk Glacier; upvalley there are two lateral moraines, between which is stagnant ice, mostly debris covered. Foliated ice shows in places, and there are many green meltwater kettle lakes. Far upvalley one can see the highly crevassed active ice of the Rongbuk Glacier. 
The farther upvalley we go, the more of the high Himalayan peaks we see including Nuptse and Kalapatar. Most have much more ice on their sides than does steeper Mt. Everest. At noon the wind shifted from upvalley to downvalley, and we reached the point where the East Rongbuk River disappears under the stagnant Rongbuk Glacier. This became our lunch stop, with a great view down onto the Rongbuk Glacier, and across to its left lateral moraine, and upvalley to the glory of steep icy peaks reaching two miles above us. 
One option was crossing the East Rongbuk River (potentially dangerous) and continuing up the east side of the Rongbuk Valley, but (1) we would not have gained much elevation; and (2) the view would not have changed much. So we made a steep ascent up the north side of the east Rongbuk Valley, gaining 400' in about a kilometer. The view down on and across the Rongbuk Valley got better and better as we ascended. The route became nearly level at about 17,900'. We split at about 17,950: most continued upvalley to Camp I 

6hikers

and the terminus of the East Rongbuk Glacier. Six of us climbed north up the steep valley side to get above 18,000', I climbed higher to get a good view of the East Rongbuk Glacier and see striations on the bedrock walls of the glacial trough. 
Compared with the Rongbuk Glacier, the East Rongbuk Glacier has smaller moraines and only a short stretch of stagnant ice below the crevassed active ice. Some of the students touched the stagnant ice above Camp I. Most of the valley sides in this area are mantled with drift (some lodgment till with pinnacles) and alluvial fans and talus cones. What little bedrock shows is mostly gneiss, granite, and migmatite, generally mafic (black) higher up and felsic (light-colored) nearer the valley floor. The top of Mt. Everest is sedimentary rock; the glaciers bring mudstone with cephalopod fossils down the valley. 

6hikers

Our turn around time was 2:30pm. Despite being quite tired, many with headaches,descent was faster and easier than ascent. We retraced our ascent route exactly. The wind was quite strong in places. The warm day dramatically increased the discharge of the Rongbuk River and its tributaries. At the north Base Camp we got on the bumpy horse carts to return to the hotel by 6:30pm, tired, but in great spirits.

 

June 12Everest III (Rongbuk - Posum)

door 2 everest

This morning Oak and I climbed to the highest of the nunneries/monasteries that existed before the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese destroyed them (and paid Tibetan youth to do the same). We found lots of broken pottery. Meanwhile, five women hiked south toward the rockfall to boulder with their rock-climbing shoes. 
In the afternoon seven of us (mostly geology majors) hiked north along the road past two moraine complexes, trying to figure out the glacial history of the Rongbuk Valley. About 2-3 km north of the hotel, the vans, which held everyone else, picked us up for the drive to Posum. 
We knew in advance that the hotel in Posum would be sketchy. There is a ladder to the upstairs bunkrooms (holding three to ten each) and pit toilet. We liked it until the night. On top of our coughs, earaches, congestion, etc., an intruder came into the rooms twice, a dog barked all night, and smoke rose from the bar/restaurant below. Many got little sleep. 

June 13Posum - Shigatse (via Pang La and Gatso La)

Today was a long day of driving including two passes about 17,000' high. The first, Pang La, we had been over before, but today the high Himalayas were mostly in the clouds. On both sides of Pang La there are dozens and dozens of switchbacks on this relatively new and good highway. 

maphula

The northern pass, Maphu La, has gradual ascents from both directions. All around is tundra, with no mountains in sight. A few small snow patches decorated the rather barren landscape.
We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Chusar/Lhatso. Then we retraced our route of more than a week ago, going down the Yarlung Tsangpo, mostly on the north side of the river. The showers in the Shigatse hotel were quite welcome after almost a week near Mt. Everest. 

June 14Shigatse - Lhasa (via Karola, Yamdrok Tso and Gampa La)

monastery

Our second day in a row of a very long drive was interesting and scenic. The route from Shigatse south-southeast to Gyantse was a repeat. Then the road ascended to Tibet's largest dam and long Y-shaped reservoir. Most of the route, until we crossed the Yarlung-Tsangpo was, as usual, sandstone and shale, green valleys and barren hillsides, giant alluvial fans - all the sediment headed for the Bay of Bengal.

najin

From the reservoir the road climbed to Karo La, another almost 5000-m pass. We watched one of Tibet's most beautiful and famous mountains, Najin Kangtsang (over 23,000 feet) the whole way. The peak is clothed with icefalls; at the pass we were almost under the glaciers. 
Descending eastward from the pass, we soon saw Yamdrok-Tso, one of Tibet's four holy lakes. From this huge and complexly shaped lake, pipes go north and down to the Yarlung Tsangpo for power generation. We had a lot of delays because of road construction by the Chinese army, but enjoyed driving along the lake and seeing three of the rare black-necked cranes. At the pass between the turquoise lake and the Yarlung-Tsangpo, we took pictures of each other riding yaks. After the bridge over the Yarlung Tsangpo, we took our earlier route to Lhasa and the nicest hotel yet.

 

bobyak

Tonight the students returned to the bar of about a week ago. Again, when the band took a break, four students (Egan on drums, Tyler vocal, Taylor and a Tibetan on guitars, and in part, Miles and Taylor vocal) borrowed the instruments, microphones, and sound system. Again, the clientele went wild. The difference was that this time a TV crew had advance notice. So Whitman rocked Lhasa tonight - at the New Light Coffee and Bar. The students played/sang five songs: “Song 2”, “Lhasa Girl Jam”, “Punk Rock Jam”, “Loving on the Roof of the World”, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”. 

June 15Lhasa - Tsetang

rockband

For the third time we traveled the highway southwest from Lhasa to the Yarlung-Tsangpo. We have said goodbye to our six 4WD Land Cruiser drivers, and

dunes

are in a bus, fortunately with air conditioning for this hot day. All along the Yarlung Tsangpo are spectacular climbing dunes. The flood plain has some dunes, but most impressive are the millions of mostly poplar and/or cottonwood trees that have been planted as likely the Earth's greatest afforestation project. We saw Samye Monastery across the river. 
Tsetang, Tibets third largest city, is downriver from Shigatse and Lhasa. The city is modern and clean, and the hotel is fancy. After lunch the group went to two places a few kilometers south of Tsetang. This is near where five US Army Air Corps men survived a plane crash during World War II. One place was the seventh-century Trandruk Monastery, one of the oldest is Tibet. The other place was Yumbulagang, supposedly the oldest building in Tibet; it dates to when Tibet had kings, before Buddhism and the Dalai Lamas. 
Gango Ri (4130m) rises 600 m above Tsetang and our hotel; the mountain is the legendary birthplace of Tibetans. 

June 16Tsethang - Samye

samye

Today the group traveled by bus down the south side of the Yarlung Tsangpo, crossed a bridge, and went farther up the Yarlung Tsangpo on its north bank - to Samye Monastery. First they climbed Hepo Ri, a hill east of the monastery, to look down on the monastery and adjacent village. They are built on the floodplain of the Samye, valley a tributary to the Yarlung Tsangpo, and are surrounded by trees. After lunch, they toured the monastery, Tibet's oldest, having been founded between 765 and 780AD. Shaped like a 

buddha

mandala, it has been damaged and destroyed many times in 1200+ years. 
After dinner I gave a short thank you to the guides and students. Taylor (guitar) and Miles sang a funny song they composed about Tibet and geology. Tyler played guitar and sang his song about the future of a Tibetan boy. Palden gave to Bob and Clare a small painting of the Buddha of Compassion, and to Whitman College a large wall hanging of the same Buddha. 
Later the students were singing and talking in the garden. They were joined by English-speaking:

Consul General from Saudi Arabia to China 
Consul General from United Arab Emirates to China 
Second Secretary Consular Dept., Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Peoples Republic of China

They had long political discussions as the UAR Consul General bought beer for all. 

June 17Leaving the Roof of the World (Lhasa - Bangkok)
airport

Today we leave Tibet; we go from high and dry to low and moist. We arose early, and drove west along the south shore of the Yarlung Tsangpo. I never tire of seeing the spectacular climbing dunes. At the airport we had to say goodbye to our three dear guides, with hugs and some tears. 
Security confiscated Taylor's Swiss Army knife, then used it to open the Lhasa beers the students had. The students had to return

sunset mt everest

the beer bottles, full or empty, before they could have their boarding passes. So, of course, the students drank the beers. 
The flight to Chengdu in western China departed about 11am. Clouds prevented our viewing the Himalayas we have come to love.