Chomolungma (Everest) north face from Rongbuk Glacier


More than half of my ‘passionate travellers’ could not take photographs because they made their journeys before photography had been invented. And although Alexandra David-Neel could have taken pictures in 1924 when she crossed the Tibetan Plateau on her quest to enter the forbidden city of Lhasa, she was a fugitive disguised as an arjopa, a beggar pilgrim: it would have been too great a risk to be seen with a camera. Early cameras were not the neat, compact devices they are today. They were bulky, heavy and mounted on tripods for the long exposures required.

Happily, on the different occasions I travelled in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India I was not a fugitive. And I lugged two cameras, three lenses and a tripod through 16,000 ft passes, and along the Rongbuk (Rongpu) Glacier at an altitude of 20,000 ft on the approach to the north face of Chomolungma – “Goddess Mother of the World” – Mount Everest.

 Having made that effort I can now share with you a few of my own photographs of the region. As in my previous photo-essay on Africa, with a few exceptions I have chosen sights and scenes that have remained substantially unchanged since my ‘passionate travellers’ walked that way decades or even centuries ago.

Crossing the Tibetan Plateau south towards the Shishipangma Range.
A quiet corner in the small town of Shegar.
Dokpas, farmers, loading fodder for their livestock on a farm near Ganden.
A tough climb to a centuries-old ruined monastery at Shegar.
Making butter for sudja: black tea with rancid butter – the most refreshing drink at high altitudes.
Nothing to beat the warm glow of a Tibetan kitchen when you come in cold and tired.
On a grander scale, the 1000-room Potala Palace in Lhasa, the seat of the Dalai Lama, dating from 1645.
Child monks learning their lessons from traditional narrow strips of Tibetan script.
A doorway into Sera monastery.
A humbler devotion: woman with prayer-wheel.
Back on the track and the chance sighting of a group of mouflon, mountain sheep, in Rongbuk Valley, approaching the north face of Chomolungma (Mount Everest).
An ice wall in Rongbuk Valley is as far as we walked.
16,000 ft Yallila pass in Bhutan.

“The prayer flag cracks out its mantras in a staccato chant – half worn away with its piety, its role to calm the unpredictable spirits of the earth.” [Journey in Bhutan]

When Tibetans reach the summit of a pass, they shout in exaltation, “Lha gyalo, de tamche pham!” – “the gods are victorious, the demons are defeated.”

And beyond the peaks and summits are hidden high valleys like the gardens of the gods.

Autumn leaves in Bhutan’s high valleys.
The gods in Bhutan favour high places. Taktsang Monastery, called The Tiger’s Nest, was built on top of a 1000 metre sheer cliff in the 17th century. The ledge where Padmasambava, on a flying tiger, landed in the 8th century to bring Buddhism from India. There is another temple, the Temple of Heaven, on top of the rock outcrop.
Trekking in Nepal one is rarely far from habitation. Entering Naudanda village.


Preparing reeds for the endless task of roof repairs.


And bicycle repairs, where you can also get a haircut.
But the traditional place for a shave and trim is the Temple of Shiva in Kathmandu.
Then we are back in the mountains with the Annapurna range in morning sun.
And on the eastern fringes of Central Asia, Bokhara in Uzbekistan, where ibn Fadlan, one of my passionate travellers, waited in vain for his travelling companion unaware that he had been taken captive. [Samanid’s Tomb, 10th century].
An Uzbek house that seems to arise out of the rock and sand of its surroundings.
Chachma Ajub (‘Job’s Well’), 12th century mausoleum built over a sacred spring in Bhokara.


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Trish Nicholson is the author of Passionate Travellers: Around the World on 21 Incredible Journeys in History

You might also enjoy her other travel books:

Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon

Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals

Note to subscribers: A warm welcome back. A technical glitch separated us for a few months, but it is great to have you back with me again. If you missed my last few posts, you can catch up with them in the list of Recent Posts. I think you would enjoy the not-too-serious offerings on leeches, fleas and bedbugs as travelling companions.

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Photo-Essay: Central Asia
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