This is the Home page for Carl Dwyer, his interests and family related material. Being a Brit based in the US this is my way to try to stay in touch with family and friends. I hope that this will replace the blog, Flickr and youTube pages completely.

Amnye Machen

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Route to Amnye Machen

Introduction

Amnye Machen is a mountain range in the Golok autonomous prefecture in Qinghai province China; or Amdo province of Tibet. everyone knows Kailash is the most important religious mountain in Tibet, but many don't know Amnye Machen, its considered the most important in Amdo and east Tibet, and is considered by most to be one of the most important in all Tibet after Kailash. Amnye Machen was thought for a long time to be higher than Everest, though its height is only 6282m Joseph Rock on seeing it for the first time said " I shouted for joy as I beheld the majestic peaks of one of the grandest mountain ranges of all Asia The Khora is a 108-120 mile pilgrimage circuit of the mountain done in a clockwise direction The Goloks are the local nomadic inhabitants, who in the past were famous for their banditry, happily the government does not allow people to have guns anymore

Day -3

Flew to Beijing via Frankfurt, my destination is almost in the middle of China, so it seems crazy to fly across China, only to have to fly half way back again, Tony, who I am doing the trip with is flying BA from London and will arrive an hour after me, luckily I am a little late and he is a little early, so I hardly have to wait at all. Its a bit of a relief to see him, we did all the organizing via phone and e-mail, so I was glad that things have started out well; we tried to get an immediate flight onto the city of Xining but no seats today, so we book seats for tomorrow and book into a hotel, a taxi into the city centre and its a chance for Tony to see the Forbidden City as its his first time in China.

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Day -2

A mix up with the hotel payment, Tony tried to pay with his credit card, but in the morning they say that was just a deposit and that he should pay the bill now, not wanting to end up paying twice, we jump a taxi (the hotel airport bus look like being late anyway) but they don't want to let us get away, they try to delay the taxi; if we only new exactly what HuaShiXia stupawas going on with this bill, the guy last night spoke good English and it all seemed clear, the girl this morning does not speak English well, and is the worst for wear after the night shift, she looks like she just wants to sleep. away we get and time is running slow to check in for our flight, a guy helps us out at the airport to check in and pay the airport tax, the queue is long for the airport tax and we would probably miss the flight if we waited, but this guy gets us the tax tickets, he charges us a few bob for his trouble but it is worth it to get through with time now to spare. it about 2 hours to Xining, Beijing had been hot with some cloud, Xining is low thick cloud and drizzle, I get a bit worried as this is the rainy season, I had but my trust in my assumptions that rainy in the mountains would not be that much, as the clouds would have so much distance to cover before reaching this distant point from the sea, I see days of rain gear wearing ahead of me, (it'll be just like walking back home) we get a hotel and go looking for Kerosene, we don't find any but we do get petrol, the ground is muddy, and the place in the NE of town in the Muslim area of Xining is filthy. we book two seat on the bus to a small town called HuaXishia by the Chinese, for the next day Huaxishia is the place that got me wanting to do this trip, I passed through about 6 or 7 years earlier, I had been told about Amnye Machen and that it was one of the most important pilgrimage mountains for Tibetans, the town is a staging post for the pilgrim circuit, and the Tibetans Goloks in town were a site, with such elaborate clothing and paraphernalia, I nicknamed the place the restaurant at the end of the Universe after Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy, as it was almost like seeing strange exotic aliens life, such was their attire, I hopped to come back some day and do the pilgrim circuit, but it took a good few years to meet up with someone else who was up for it.

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Day -1

We had not expected to see other Westerners on the trail and so we were surprised that just before the bus left two American boarded, and announced that their destination was also Amnye Machen, for us this proved a great benefit, I had dreaded the though of trying to hire Yaks with little Chinese and no Tibetan, and dreaded the though of having to carry all the gear ourselves if we failed, I was not sure that I was up to carrying gear and 9 days of food and fuel at altitude. Dasha (one of the two Americans) was studying Chinese in Chengdu and Eric was a post grad student, studying and teaching at Harvard, and his specialism was Tibetan religion, this was to prove to be like having a translator and guide with us, we initially suggested doing the circuit together because of security concerns, the Goloks (the Tibetan nomad tribe of the area) have a reputation of banditry. the bus journey took about 12 hours to reach HuaXishia and we got out of the bus and found a miserable hotel for the night, though it did have a heated platform to sleep on, as at 4,000m and change even in summer it could get cold. we had a meal in a restaurant opposite to where we were staying and some local Goloks assumed that we were in town to start the pilgrim circuit.

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Day 0

Dasha as a Chinese speaker tried to arrange a lift for us to the village of Tawo Zholma, it had a jeep track but no regular transport. I was happy to let Dasha to the arrangements, not only because I would have had to mime most of my communications but because I felt bad, with doubling our altitude the day before I had a pounding headache. A truck said yes but for 400 kuai, (£33-33) its about a 50km ride, she kept looking and found a jeep that said yes for only 200 kuai; but he was working and had to hang around for his boss to get the all clear, we hung around for hours, and eventually he gave up waiting, when it was clear our patience was wearing thin, and off we went, about 30 km into the journey we saw a wolf drinking at a river, it watched us approach and then climbed a hill when we got to close. Picas and Marmots littered the route. Dasha was good cop and Eric was bad cop in the negotiations at the village, we agreed on 50k per animal, we would have two yaks for the bags, a horse for the rivers and a horse for our yak man, he would be an additional 55k (12 kuai to the pound) 60k admission charge and 40k for the group as an environmental protection tax, this was the downside of having people who spoke the language we could not have understood, or chosen to have understood, about these dubious "taxes" and we could not have paid them, but it wasn't so much in real terms. 12 O'clock next day the animals would arrive from wherever they lived.

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Day 1

The warmth of the sun came long after its light, we had to wait for it to climb above the small cliffs behind us, only then did the frost begin to clear, and the down jackets get put away in favour of t-shirts. we had camped close to the village next to water, between the water and the village was the village garbage dump, but on our side of the stream it was reasonably clean, we went up to the village for lunch and inside the restaurant, over baozi (a little like ravioli) we talked to a French couple who had just finished the Khora (the pilgrimage circuit),woman here was our dream of being gentlemen explorers in the Victorian mould slowly ebbing, what with the Americans and now Frenchmen, they were not new to Tibet but had traveled in the area many times over many years, they had enjoyed their trip and reported only isolated half hours of rain. we returned to camp to pack as the animals were already waiting. we met our yak man for the first time, he looked young, "Has he done the Khora before" we asked, "He lives here" we were told as answer. It turned out he had done it many times. we followed the stream down to a bridge, turned to the right (East) and after crossing a bridge, followed a larger body of water up, we passed a turn off to the left and were curious as to were it led, the tops of a few buildings could be seen as well as prayer flags, it turned out that this was to Guri Gompa (temple) the only temple near the circuit. We regretted missing it, but we were to visit it at the end. we could see the snow covered tops way to the East of us, we came to a Mani wall bestowed with , Mani walls are constructed of small carved stones with inscriptions, usually "Um Mani Padme Hum", or the "Jewel in the Lotus". there was a teaching seat here too, were a leader of pilgrims will sit to instruct on the pilgrimage. from this point we could see our first pass, it turned out to be a dip between the mountain to the left and the rise of a cliff above the river to the right, it was not high, well not above were we started, and its climb was not of a great angle either, but by the time we were nearing the top I was tiring, from the top it looked glorious into a river valley and the peaks beyond, with Nomad tents and flocks of sheep and yak high above the river, we dropped down towards the river to find a camp, I wad done in and lay down and let Tony erect the tent and cook dinner, I sipped a little water and nibbled at my meal, I new I had to drink and should eat, but I had appetite for neither, my sleep that night was interrupted with a headache.

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Day 2

This day was the real climb to the real pass on the North side of the range, I did not feel bad today, although I was still plagued by a headache, it was Tony who had the problems today, so I kept just behind him, so that when he stopped I would see it and stop with him, although I was better than Tony this day, his rests were still welcomed by me, the day was one long slow climb, we passed fellow pilgrims on the route, including caravans of Yaks, some ridden, some led, and men on horseback, the path was a little down from a jeep track, but kept away from it for most of the day. the pass itself was a moraine pushed up by a glacier pushing North down towards the path but then dropping down the valley beyond down to the East. the whole of the moraine was moulded into small chortens (cairns of a religious significance) and it is traditional to take a stone here and carry it around the Khora. we dropped about 200m and set up camp, this time I did camp and let Tony rest.

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Day 3

A 'restaurant' tent was set up not long after we broke camp, fitted out with solar battery charger for power, the jeep track led down the left of the valley and the path dropped down to ford the river and follow the right side, we missed the path and followed the track, it crossed the river on a bridge and met up with the path, so we kept dry feet today, it was ab it of an anti-climax after the glaciers of yesterday, the path crossed a bluff and down to another river, doubled back for a bridge, with a tent shop, we were tempted by beers, but thought better of it and bought a couple of JianLiBaos, the Chinese sports drink. camp was by a stream breaking up into a number of channels just above a hamlet.

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Day 4

We reached the village of Chunwarra for lunch, and visited the chorten and temple in town, bought some peanuts and biscuits to supplement our food, just outside of town was an area bedecked with prayer flags, this was I believe is considered the site of an armory, and a site of a hand print in the rock is close, several hermits sat in their tents just above the road, what is interesting is the growth of the Millets style tent that they were using, we saw them for sale in Xinning, and our Yak man (Ron as we called him, RonTrale was the closest I could get to pronouncing his full name) also used one of these multi coloured tents. The route now could not avoid the jeep track, as it passed through a gorge, we eventually found a flat area of grass next to the trail above the river, but the river was glacial melt and was thick, luckily for us, Dasha and Eric walked back a little to a clear stream and brought us back some water.

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Day 5

we walked a little to a clear stream to pump water for the day. two European people walked passed, manand I got up to great them, two Austrians, shortly after them came a mini caravan of three men with about seven or eight animals, one of them spoke good English, he was the Austrians guide, they must have been doing the circuit in style. the guide said he was from Kokonor, a non Golok area to the North West, and as he had had an education I was surprised to see him dressed in full Tibetan kit, a compromise to please his clients I suppose. Our yak man was the full genuine Golok but he just had on a old pair of pants and a jacket. he stopped of to see a Lhakang (temple) and to have tea and tsampa with its caretaker, tsampa is roast barley flour, eaten by mixing it into your tea and adding a little yak butter. the caretaker had a skin problem that was probably scabies and he showed us his skin hoping to be offered a cure, but I could only guess that it was scabies, and could offer no solution even if that is what it was. we turned right (southish) after another area of prayer flags, we had had an easy day today and had probably only walked for about three hours when Ron found an area of grass that he said the animals needed, it was about 5 O'clock and so we had a slightly early end to the day, I took the opportunity to go to the river and wash myself and some clothes. almost before my eyes, the clear stretch of river clouded over, luckily we had already got some water, but we had to let Dasha and Eric have some as they had gone for a walk and returned in time for the clear water to be thick silt. The camp site was filthy with discarded rubbish of every sort from previous pilgrims.

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Day 6

we crossed a river by wading, as we followed horse riding pilgrims, this was good as it took us to a spot on the pilgrim circuit, but we watched Ron with our animals continue on the original side of the river, so later we crossed back. after climbing we saw that there was a route on both sides of the valley, but near the top we encountered a near impossible ford, I would have walked all the way down again, after seeing a group of Yaks cross and a calf almost get washed away, but some Golok kids on the other side of the river tried to direst us to where to cross, or rather to where not to cross, they began to see that there wasn't anywhere good to ford and they called in the older brother who came down on horseback with spare horses trailing, they crossed and took us across on the spare horses. we sat for a long time with the families, and thanked them and were forced to take a mountain of hard fried bread (it was good bread, but so much of it) another ford soon appeared but our benefactors helped out here too. I was asked to loan a old grandmother a walking pole, or I though it was a loan, but it turned out to be a gift. a third crossing also found us being ridden across, just in time to catch up with Eric and Dasha who had been up to their chests crossing the three rivers. Where the hell was our animals ? too bloody far in front to be of any use. we camped in a shallow gorge that was leading towards the South pass, after many a tea stop with our fellow pilgrims.

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Day 7

We crossed the South pass today, it is along soft hump of a pass with views for miles in several directions as several long wide valleys are formed from the pass, to the North are glaciers and the high mountains, the pass is 4600m, we walked for a long time today , over 10 hours wandering where Ron and the animals had gotten too, I screamed at him when we finally caught up with him, I was beginning to think of alternative ways to spend the night if we didn't catch up with him, I was not looking forward to a night below zero without tent or bag. We took water from Dasha and Eric, and left water from the river to stand, to filter in the morning after it had settled

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Day 8

Another long day, but at the start of the day I had though that it would be short. we though that this would be the last day.man On one river crossing today I got a bit cavalier, me boot/gaiter combination had worked well, with little water getting in even with several fully submersed steps, I was getting over confident, I just strode out and got deeper and deeper, then my foot slipped and the water came up to be chest, well. I fell forward so my back and pack were still out of the water, it was only one more step and I was out, but what do I do now? drenched in freezing clothes ? well not much really because with the sun it was only a minute of minor inconvenience and soon I was dry. but there was another river crossing that I left my boots on for, but this was a long wade, and I got squelchy feet, it still should not have mattered, as we only had a 5 hour day (I thought) but it was another 10 hour day and at the end my foot were hurting with feet about to erupt into a giant blister, we stopped with only and hour or so to go to Guri Gompa, but with the time of day the gompa would be locked up, so with my feet I was happy to agree to a halt for the night; just as we agreed to stop, one of the horses bolted and took the second horse with it, just then it started to rain, for the first time on the trip I had to put on my over trousers, Ron ran after the horses, but I had a feeling that they would run till they got home, but 45 minutes later Ron turned up with the horses, he looked a bit embarrassed but we greeted him like a hero.

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Day 9

A short walk to Guri Gompa and a river crossing on the back of one of the Yaks, as I got on it it bolted, and I thought it would just run straight across, but it went bit by bit, but deeper into the water forcing me to raise my feet to keep them dry, the other yak began to knock into it and I feared that we would both end in the water, but we got across. The gompa had a young reincarnated lama to whom we presented khartas (formal scarves) I was pleased that Tony had the scarves in his day pack. as we presented him the scarves we waved them over his head, "Oh no not more of these scarves" he must have thought. and then it time to bargain, we wouldn't pay for one of the horses as Ron was always to far ahead for it to be used to cross the river. then a jeep ride to a town and a hitch the next day to a city Tony went home while I spent some more time exploring the Tibetan towns

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