Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tibet: A Spiritual Journey

The Potala Palace Monastery, Lhasa
The winter home of the Dalai Lama before he was forced to flee Tibet in 1959

Waking up to a rainy Fall day, I'm brought back to two years ago when I was preparing to leave on my Tibetan trek in search of ... the ultimate hike, discovery of a country I had long hoped to visit, a better understanding of Tibetan Buddhism, and ultimately seeing the mystical Tibet before China completely siphons away its soul.

My good friend Judy and I were fortunate to be able to see Tibet with Peter Hillary (son of climbing legend Sir Edmund), who was able to share with us his unique perspective and extensive experience of both the country and the mountains.

After weeks of intense physical training, I passed the mandatory cardiac stress test required for high altitude hiking, obtained he necessary visas, and flew off to China (where my elder son was studying in Shanghai).

My first days in the Himalayas were brutal. I had somehow naively thought that having passed the cardiac stress-test with relative ease, that somehow I was fully prepared for what I'd face in these mountains. Was I ever wrong. Crushing headaches, inability to eat or keep down food. My first night at 14,000 feet was hellishly painful, but I pulled through, just barely. The next morning I resolved to visit the legendary Potala Palace Monastery. Taking one step up at this altitude requires full application of will-power; catching my breath was my only thought as I climbed the steps of the palace.

The lessons I learned from this intensely physical and ultimately spiritual journey are the personally invaluable lessons of humility, hardship, physical pain, and Love.... The love of God, something I felt intensely in the sheer stunning vastness and overwhelming beauty of the landscape with the genuinely awe inspiring magnificence of Everest at its center.

I accomplished my personal goal of trekking to base camp, and, following tradition, I tied the white symbolic scarf with the names of all my loved ones floating in the winds of Everest.

Tibetans will walk across their country to fulfill their
lifetime pilgrimage to the Potala Monastery

Tibetan women wearing their traditional braids and robes
haggle at the Barkhor Market in Lhasa.

Drepung Monastery at the base of Mount Gephel

Debating Monks at Sera Monastery

Me at the summit of my first hike at 15K feet
Excruciatingly breathless!

Funeral Procession. The Tibetans leave their dead
on sacred rocks to be consumed by vultures.

Yandrock Lake. Note the nearly surreal colors.

Remains of a Monastery. All but a few monasteries were
destroyed during the Chinese cultural revolution of 1968

Occupied remains of the mostly destroyed NGOR Monastery
where once a thousand monks lived and worshiped before the Chinese invasion.
After our long trek up the Chakla Pass, the 5 remaining Monks offered us tea.

Another view of the ruins of Ngor Monastery

A Man and his young son along the North Road of Shuguha

Tashilumpo Monastery, Shigtase

Trekking through the Himalayas offers stunning but physically humbling vistas

"Green" agriculture

Everest viewed from Lapka at 17,000 Feet. VERY THIN AIR

Judy & I with Peter Hillary still able to break a
smile after a grueling trek to 17K Feet

4:00 AM, preparing for our last Trek. It is a mind-bending cold
at this altitude in the early morning hours.

The sign speaks for itself...

We made it


  1. I'm having trouble breathing just looking at these pictures! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not what I expected to see! I am SOOOOOO impressed with you! YOu are incredible! I can barely get out of bed in the morning.

    Gorgeous pictures - I feel like I was there. Everest- people have climbed THAT????!???

    Loved this sooooo much! Thank you!!!!

  2. the images are amazing.
    they are beautiful and tell your story well.
    the colors. the children. the monks.
    it is truly another world.

    absolutely a stunning post.
    thanks xxx

    ps where is your showroom in nyc ?

  3. Francine - it is truly difficult to know what few sentences to write to impress upon you how incredible I think you journey was. Foremost I am deeply impressed that you made this trek at all. What memories (although many grueling ones) for a life-time. The photos were striking. The one of the lake is so stunning that it looks like it was photoshopped, (although I know it was certainly not) it's so spectacular. I believe I'm at that point in life that a spiritual journey such as that is what I long for. I think of your white scarf (with your loved-ones names) blowing in the winds of Everest & can't help but get a few tears. Thank you for sharing your experience & images with us all. You have inspired me ~ X deb

  4. This is fantastic! - thank you so much for taking us along on this journey with you x

  5. What I love is all the colours they wear! beautiful post!

  6. unbelievable images. What a journey! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thank you Francine for visiting and so glad you had a good time during your visit to Malaysia. Your images of Tibet is fantastic..a place I wanted to visit for the longest time. Do stay in touch and am so glad I popped over here..Hugs/M

  8. That lake is so amazing! And the little girl with the necklace, so precious!

  9. what an incredible adventure! thank you for sharing!

  10. Francine - it was so upsetting to realize that the bad economy has hit Texas - the land of oil and gas - we are always the last to go. But, it's here for sure. I'm really slow at work and so is everyone I talk to. Sad. Come on Obama - work your magic! Ha!!!

  11. Hi, Francine, thanks so much for stopping by my blog. It's so nice to meet a fellow world traveler! I look forward to visiting with you again soon.!

  12. What a fascinating journey - I'm just amazed at how much preparation you did and what you accomplished. That's the journey of a lifetime!

  13. Francine,

    You're a woman after my own heart. I made the Journey by 4x4 with my mother from Chengdu, China into Tibet in the summer of 2006. We took 3 weeks to do it and we saw the inaugural train they opened up from Qinghai into Lhasa. I think I scared my mum to death by taking a really dangerous route we probably shouldn't have taken. My mother is a very tough and unflappable woman so when I say dangerous, oh it was dangerous. It's easier to fly into Lhasa to acclimate and then make a round of Tibet. It's so neat that you got to travel with someone like Peter who can offer a unique perspective.

    It takes an adventurous spirit to go somewhere so far and foreign and where the land is so unforgiving like Tibet. We were lucky to have a guide who was Tibetan that spoke Chinese and he gave us very interesting insight into their lives and culture.

    I dragged my mom to the Mt. Everest base camp on the Chinese side (not in Nepal) so we didn't need to do as much hiking so much as forced donkey carting. Getting yourself to basecamp on the Nepalese is a really awesome feat, I have total respect and admiration that you did that.

    There was one point where the guide asked me if I thought my mom was going to be able to make it up this steep climb on a hill we had to do and I responded that she would beat all of us up the hill. Sure enough, my mom was first one up the hill and I was panting hard from the exertion and thin air by the time I was up the hill. The guide looked at me and shook his head saying it was sad that my mom was more fit than I was.

    Here's a story about thin air...On a separate trip I took to Yunnan (gorgeous province) in China that borders Tibet from the South, I came across a beautiful mountain with a glacier on it called Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It was commercial but still gorgeous and they had a fast gondola that took tourists to the summit. At the bottom entrance of the gondola ride, there were many stalls and people selling bottles of breathing Oxygen. I looked at them and thought, "What a gimmick. I don't need that." Why would anyone need that? What I didn't realize is that the gondola takes you up to the summit (around 15,000 ft) in a matter of 10 minutes. I thought perhaps it would deposit us at the summit with no further hiking. I walked off the gondola to see a ton of winding staircases up to the observatory deck. I was like, I can do this... On about the 4th staircase up, I started wheezing and drawing breath so short that I had to stop. It literally felt like I couldn't breathe. I actually to borrow a couple puffs of breathing oxygen in one of those cans from the couple next to me. I was like, wow, this isn't a gimmick... After my visit, I came back down promptly to headaches and a tummy ache - classic symptons of altitude sickness. I actually felt foolish for not purchasing the cans of air.

    Sorry this comment ended up being so long, I look forward to more of your posts!

    Karen O.

  14. What a wonderful experience ! Your adventure and photos are brethtaking


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