When most people think of Tibet, they think of Chinese-Occupied Tibet, which the Chicoms seized in the 1950s, committing genocidal slaughter of two million Tibetans in the process.
Today, the formerly independent country of Tibet is a Tibetan Theme Park for Chinese tourists, locked down tightly by the Chinese military and secret police who control all the monasteries.
Yet, there are regions of ethnic, cultural, and geographical Tibet that China was not able to seize. One of them, you read about in February, The Kingdom of Lo, tucked away in a tiny remote corner of Nepal.
Larger than Lo is the Upper Indus River Valley. The Indus rises in the Tibetan Plateau, west of the sacred mountain of Kailas. It flows, or rather trickles, west and widens into a valley geologically unique – as it separates the Himalaya mountains on the south and the Karakoram mountains to the north.
It then narrows into a series of gorges to wrap around the western terminus of the Himalayas, Nanga Parbat (8,126m/26,660ft), and flows south all the way to the Indian Ocean – 3,180km/1,979m from source to mouth. Portrayed on the map, the Upper Indus Valley starts where it flows out of Chinese Tibet into India, and it stops with gorges at India’s border with Pakistan:
The region of the Upper Indus and surrounding side valleys is called Ladakh. It is wholly Tibetan – here you will find real Tibetan culture truly alive and thriving, replete with astoundingly spectacular Tibetan monasteries or gompas.
I took the first photo above at the Spituk gompa – the river in the foreground is the Upper Indus, and the snow-capped mountains in the distance are in Chinese Tibet. It’s near the capital of Ladakh, Leh – an endlessly fascinating caravanserai town where you’ll find everything Tibetan. Here are the ancient Leh Palace and the Leh gompa hovering high above:
The gompas are many centuries old and house stunning arrays of illuminated tankhas (sacred scrolls), wall paintings, scriptures, and gold-leaf statues in the prayer halls. A visit to Thikse gompa can be overwhelming.
As is Hemis gompa…
There are the massive statues of Alchi gompa…
Rizong gompa glued to a cliff…
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And then there’s Lamayuru, the oldest and most magical gompa of all…
Within Ladakh is an even more remote region called Zanskar – with the extraordinary Zanskar River from source to confluence with the Indus over two miles high and flowing straight through the crest of the Himalayas.
To reach Zanskar, you drive over high Himalayan passes with gigantic glaciers below…
To camp here along with Tibetan nomads and yak herds is a glorious experience…
The ultimate, however, is Running the Zanskar, the Grand Canyon of the Himalayas – one of the truly great whitewater adventures in the world.
It’s a thrill of a lifetime – but no worries, it’s safe. My son, Brandon, ran it with me when he was 10 years old. Now he’s all grown and can hardly wait to do it again.
For that’s just what we’ll be doing – exploring Indian Tibet and running the Zanskar in early August.
What we’ll see, learn, and experience is far, far more than this small glimpse in the photos above. This is Real McCoy High Adventure. If you’d like to join Brandon and me, click here at Indian Tibet, and we’ll send you the info.
Jack Wheeler is the founder of Wheeler Expeditions.
©2019 Jack Wheeler – republished with permission
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