Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Gyantse Dzong (Gyantse Fortress) perches atop a stony outcropping just outside the town of Gyantse in southern Tibet

For nearly 800 years, the walls of Gyantse Dzong (Gyantse Fortress) have scrabbled down a barren outcropping of stone just outside the town of Gyantse. Built as the seat of government for this county in southern Tibet, it originally held the office of the county magistrate, a scripture hall, Buddhist worship hall, and sundry storehouses. Over the ensuing centuries the complex was expanded, taking on the role of fortress to protect the important trading center of Gyantse against invaders. Indeed, Gyantse Dzong withstood all attacks until 1904, when the British invaded Tibet.

In Gyantse, the British Army encountered unimaginable resistance. Armed with only miniature cannon balls, for nearly three months fierce Tibetan fighters held off forces equipped with far superior machine guns and ten-pound cannons. Gyantse Dzong finally fell after heavy artillery hit a gunpowder magazine. The resultant explosion blew a large hole Read More

Sunset at Mount Everest Base Camp in Tibet

From the moment I booked my Overland Tibet Tour, I worried how I would handle the high altitude of the Tibetan Plateau. I begin to suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) the moment I reach an altitude of 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). I become nauseous, my stomach feels like it is flipping upside down, my head starts throbbing incessantly, and I gasp for breath. Not usually willing to take prescription drugs unless absolutely necessary, I decided to take the advice of my tour operator and get a prescription for Diamox, a drug used to treat AMS. Unfortunately, I had an adverse reaction to the drug. It made me so dizzy I was bouncing off walls and every inch of my skin felt like it was vibrating. Rather than try to tolerate the side effects, I decided to see if I could tough it out without Diamox.

Fortunately, I had done extensive research prior to choosing a tour company. Many firms that offer this overland journey are Nepali-owned resellers located in Kathmandu. Since the Chinese government only allows Chinese companies to conduct these tours, Nepal-based companies must Read More

Women in traditional Tibetan clothing at Sakya Monastery in Tibet

The women pictured above are arriving at Sakya Monastery in the small village of Sakya, Tibet. As is customary, they wear their hair in long braids, which are sometimes coiled around the head like a crown. All of the women are wearing traditional Tibetan clothing, which consists of a long, loose-fitting woolen robe called a chuba, layered over a wool or raw silk blouse. The traditional striped aprons, cinched at the waist, indicate that they are married. Each woman then personalizes her outfit with an ornate belt and jewelry.

It is no surprise that Tibetan women regularly visit their local monasteries. Tibetan Buddhism is intricately interwoven into everyday life in Tibet. Prayer flags flap in the breezes above every Tibetan home. No Tibetan dwelling would be complete without an altar, where Read More

They lunged, red robes flying and prayer beads swinging. They clapped hands loudly in the faces of their partners. Forefingers shook in front of noses and voices were raised. This sea of red-robed monks were gathered in a courtyard of Sera Monastery for a daily ritual known as the Tibetan monastic debate.

They worked in pairs, one standing and the other seated on the ground. The standing monk hurled a question at his seated partner, challenging him to dig deep into Buddhist philosophy for an answer. At times the seated monks, unable to produce satisfactory answers, seemed frustrated or even angry. Certainly, they were arguing, and some looked more than a little unhappy. I was flabbergasted! This was very un-monk-like behavior.

Buddhist monks debating the philosophy of Buddhism at Sera Monastery in Lhasa,Tibet

Tibetan monastic debate at Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet

The tradition of the Tibetan monastic debate can be traced back to the Historical Buddha, whom we know as Shakyamuni. In the beginning, the Buddha taught only those who were interested in his doctrine of non-attachment. He shied away from criticism of other belief systems. In latter years, however, Read More

They lunge, swing their prayer beads, and clap their hands loudly, all startling techniques used by Buddhist monks during a Tibetan monastic debate. #Tibet #Himalaya #BuddhistMonks #Buddhism

Barbara Weibel taking photo of Mount Everest at Geu La Pass in Tibet China

I take great pride in saying that I have personally taken almost every photo that is featured in this blog. Though it’s uncommon for me to include the work of another photographer, I’m making a rare exception in this case, with good reason. During my recent tour of Tibet, I had the great good fortune to travel with Jeff Overs, a BBC News stills photographer. For years, Jeff has taken still shots of world leaders, news events, and gorgeous landscapes around the world. Though he is semi-retired, he continues to provide material for the BBC stills library.

Imagine my surprise when Jeff sent me this shot he captured of me snapping Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks at the 16,568-foot high Geu La Pass. Read More

One of my most indelible memories from India is of cows wandering the streets with impunity, protected by their holy status. Likewise, in Pokhara, Nepal, I was alarmed the first time I shared a sidewalk with a herd of buffalo. But humans are an adaptable species. After many visits to India and Nepal, freely wandering cows and buffalo seemed commonplace to me. In fact, I thought such cultural differences no longer had an ability to surprise me. Until I came face-to-face with unique species of Tibetan animals on a recent overland journey through the high Tibetan plateau.

It began on the drive from Lhasa airport to the city center. Just as we reached the outskirts, a herd of shaggy black beasts sauntered in front of my car and stopped traffic on the highway. “What are they?” I squealed. “Those are just yaks,” my driver replied. I scrambled for my camera but couldn’t get to it in time. However I soon learned that this wouldn’t be my last opportunity to see yaks.

Yaks at Tibet's Yamdrok Lake wear embroidered decorations and are saddled with bright woven carpets

Yaks at Tibet’s Yamdrok Lake wear embroidered decorations and bright woven carpet saddles

Perhaps more than any other Tibetan animals, yaks define the culture of Tibet. Products from yaks are used to feed, clothe, and provide shelter typical Tibetan families. Their skulls and horns are carved into combs and pipes. Coarse hair from their backs is woven into tents that block out the chill winds of the high plateau. The finer hair found lower on the yak’s body is woven into Read More

Himalaya Journey provided an excellent tour, including sightings of a variety of Tibetan animals that are indigenous to the high plateau.