An endless landscape.
And an endless road past endless mountains.
The endlessness turns into a barren emptiness.
A lone horseman crosses the plain against a snow-capped peak in the background.
Two figures standing in the middle of this endless landscape.
A nomad shepherd with his goats in the vast emptiness.
The long dusty road marked by a row of telephone poles stretching across the landscape.
A silent emptiness.
The bare, rocky landscape turns into a grassy plain and eventually gives way to a sandy dessert.
The wind shifting the sand across the endless landscape.
And always, the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas lined across the horizon.

Potala Palace

Built between 1645 and 1694, this nine-storey structure was started by the Fifth Dalai Lama and has been the home to each successive Dalai Lama until 1959. It was also the seat of the Tibetan Government and housed chapels, cells , schools for religious training and tombs for the Dalai Lamas.


The Jokhang

The Jokhang is the most revered religious structure in Tibet and is located in the heart of the Tibetan quarter in Lhasa.

Drepung Monastery

Above: Drepung is located 8km west of Lhasa. Founded in 1416, it was once the world's largest monasteries, with up to 10,000 monks. About 600 monks currently live here.

Sera Monastery

Above: Sera is located 5km north of Lhasa. Founded in 1419, it once housed 5000 monks, but now only several hundered live here. Below: Debating practice is held in the courtyard in the afternoons.

Tashilhunpo Monastery
Tashilhunpo was founded1447 and is located in Shigatse, 250km south-west of Lhasa, along the Friendship Highway. The First Dalai Lama is enshrined here. At the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Tashilhunpo became the seat of the Panchen Lamas (spiritual and temporal leaders who were second only to the Dalai Lamas).

Tholing Monastery

The monastery is located in Zanda, the gateway to the Guge Kingdom, about 1500km west of Lhasa.

Saga Dawa Festival

Tarboche, at the base of Mt Kailash:This annual festival marks the enlightenment of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha). Pilgrims from Tibet, India, Nepal and around the world gather on the full moon day of the fourth Tibetan month (May or June) to drink,eat and watch the flagpole being replaced (manually) every year.

New prayer flags, carrying prayers and pilgrims' names, are attached to the flagpole.

Kang Rinpoche (Mt Kailash)

Precious Jewel of Snow: Navel of the world and home of the gods, the 6714m mountain has long been worshipped by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains of India and Bonpos (Tibet's ancient Bon religion). Four of the subcontinent's great rivers originate here - the Karnali, which feeds into the Ganges, the Indus, the Sutlej and the Brahmaputra.

Kailash kora

Day 1: Setting off on the 52km, 3-day kora (clockwise pilgrimage circuit) around the base of Mt Kailash.

Campsite: Overnight at Dira-puk (4800m), at the end of the first 20km section of the kora - after 5 hours and a pounding headache.

Day 2: An 8am start for the 18km trek and the most difficult section of the kora (arriving at camp at 6.30pm).

Above: The north face of Kailash, set against a clear, blue sky. A few days earlier, we had heard reports that the snow was knee-deep and there was zero visibility of the mountain due to the cloud cover.

The slow, difficult uphill trudge through snow and ice, heading for Drolma La, the highest point of the kora ..... my steps had slowed down to mantra-pace …… Om Mani Padme Hum. My guide Kunchok was my hand-holder up to the pass and down the other side, as the ice was quite slippery. On the way down from the pass, a little Tibetan boy was slip-sliding behind me, so I offered to be his hand-holder, and the three of us made our way down to snow-free terrain and level footing again.
Above and below: Several hours later, at the high pass of Drolma La at 5630m.

Day 3: The final 14km section was a leisurely walk back to Darchen, the starting point of the kora.

The people

From left: Pemba, my driver Pu-Pu, Tsurim and my guide Kunchok, during a pit-stop.

Lunch at a family's home, somewhere between Tingri and Saga, along a dirt road.

Above: At the Saga Dawa festival - a Tibetan man sits among the crowd of pilgrims.

A picnic lunch at Tarboche during the Saga Dawa gestival.

Get thee to a nunnery

The highlight of my brief stay in Lhasa was a self-planned visit to a nunnery late one afternoon, where I spent a pleasant and entertaining hour.
As I stood against the wall of the main chapel listening to the prayers, one of the nuns motioned me over and moved across so I could sit on the cushion with the chanting nuns. Given the great language barrier, we all smiled & nodded at each other.
Then one of the nuns took my Lonely Planet Tibet guidebook which I was holding in my hands and started to look through it.
When she found the various photos of Tibet, such as monasteries and Buddha images, she showed some of the other nuns, so the book did the rounds of several nuns (who at the time were chanting prayers).
The nun sitting next to me found the "useful expressions" section at the back ofthe book and started reading out some of the place names with me, while I read the English versions.
After some time I headed out into the courtyard and popped in to some of the other rooms and then went and sat on a bench outside, enjoying the sunshine.
Two men (a weather-beaten father & his son, probably in his 20s) were sitting on the bench next to mine - they had very distinctive features and braided hair with red thread through it.
And they kept staring at me.
At one point I offered them my Tibet guidebook as I had been reading it and they werelooking at it. I gave it to the father and he passed it to his son and then a nun came overand took it from the son, went and sat with two other nuns and started looking through the book.
After a while the first nun went into the kitchen and showed it to another, older nun. While I was having a piece of hard, sweet cheese which the nun offered me, she then went upstairs somewhere and showed it to some other nuns.
So while my book was doing the rounds, I sat outside again with one of the nuns who spoke some English and had a bit of a conversation (where are you from, how many nuns live here etc).
Eventually my book was returned to me and so, after a wonderful hour at the nunnery, I took my leave and, wondering back through the narrows streets, headed back to my hotel room.

Guge Kingdom

On the road to Tsaparang and the Guge Kingdom in western Tibet, through a barren landscape and canyons.

The 9th century ruins are carved into the steep sides of a ridge, with cave dwellings, monastic buildings and a palace at the top of the ridge. The Guge Kingdom was on an important stop on the trade route between India and Tibet and supported several thousand people by the 10th century. It has been falling into ruin since the 17th century.

The Summer Palace complex at the top of the hill.

Above and below: Looking out towards the eroded valleys around the site.

The long, dusty road

Ten days of bone-rattling, spine-jolting driving along bumpy and dusty dirt roads out to western Tibet, covering a 3000km return road trip to some of the most barren and desolate landscapes in the country. Above: The first day of our bumpy ride ... leaving the Friendship Highway for a dusty detour to Gyantse, then Shigatse.

Above: Leaving Mt Kailash and heading westwards.

Above: Another slowly-winding single-lane dirt road over a high pass, then down again over to the other side.

Above: After leaving Thithapuri hot springs, we make our way up a winding dirt road over the Lunggar La pass (5160m) before descending into Tsada and the bare, empty landscape towards Tsaparang and the Guge Kingdom.

High passes

Above: The Kamba La (4794m) on the old road between Lhasa and Gyantse, with prayer flags marking the summit. The peak of Mt Nojin Kangtsang (7191m) can be seen in the distance.

Above: Tropu La (4950m), on the way to Lhatse, 150km south-west of Shigatse along the Friendship Highway.

Above: Mayun La (5216m) on the way to Lake Manasarovar and Mt Kailash.

Stunning lakes

Above: Yamdrok-tso (4488m), looking down from the summit of the Kamba La. The lake is a coiling body of water shaped like a scorpion and is one of the four holy lakes of Tibet.

Above and below: Far in the distance, past the sand dunes, a stunningly blue lake appears - Peiku-tso (4591m), along the bumpy dirt road between Tingri and Saga.

Above: Mapham Yum-tso or Lake Manasarovar (4560m), the Victorious Lake, is the most venerated of Tibet's lakes.

Mani stones

Stones and rocks engraved with Buddhist texts and prayers along the Kailash kora, the most common being the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.