Ngari, Tibet is a mysterious place that can grip your mind even by a thought. A picturesque view is then brought into your eyes: the beautiful clouds that can almost be reached with your hands, blue sacred lakes as pure as jade, the large expanse of snow-capped mountains and devout pilgrims. In a day full of autumn air, I invited a few friends to get on a 14-day trip of dream to experience the grandness and wonder in Tibet starting from Lhasa with a jeep for a total of 5000 kilometers.
Traveling route (elevation is indicated after the name): Lhasa (3650 M) – Gang Bala Mountain – YamdrokTso (4488 M) – Karola Glacier (5560 M) – Gyangze (3977 M) – Shigatse (3860M) – Lhatse – Tingri (4300 M) – Mount Everest Base Camp (5100 M) – Mount Xixabangma (8012 M ) – Paiku Co (4590 M) – Jipu Great Canyon – Gyirong County (2800 M ) – Gyironggou – Saga (4500 M) – Payang (4600 M) – Hor – Baga – Lake Manasarovar (4587 M ) – Lhanag-tso (4573 M) – Mount Kailasa (6638 M) – Zada (3700 M) – Guge Kingdom Ruins – Zanda – Payang – Shigatse – Nam Lake (4718 M) – Damxung Grassland – Lhasa
During this trip I have traveled to a great number of places, among which I can name more than 20 sacred mountains and lakes and tell their stories. As these cannot be told in a few words, I will introduce some distinctive and have-to-go places briefly with photos I selected.
1. Mount Everest Base Camp — Rongbuk Monastery
Rongbuk Monastery, whose full name is “Dzarongpu”, is a locally characteristic temple of Nyingma School that houses both monks and nuns. It was founded in 1899 by the Nyingmapa Lama Ngawang Tenzin Norbu. Lying at the end of Rangbuk Glacier in the north of Mount Everest at 5154 meters above sea level, 20 kilometers from the top of Mt. Everest, it’s claimed to be the world’s highest temple. Here you can enjoy dramatic views of Mount Everest — Qomolongma, the experience the nature’s spectacle in the cold wind, to appreciate towering snow-capped mountains in starry nights and moreover to witness the flag clouds floating like fire of life above Qomolangma.
2. Lake Manasarovar — Lhanag-tso — Mt. Kailash
Mt. Kailash has been a well-known holy mountain considered by Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism and Bonism — the original religion of Tibet as well as Jainism as the center of the world. In Tibetan language, Kailash means “mountain of gods” while is interpreted as “heaven of Shiva” in Sanskrit (Shiva is the supreme god of Hinduism), which leads to the birth of Bonism. Manasarovar, situated 20 kilometers southeast of Mt. Kailash and in the north of Gurla Mandhata Snow Mount, is honored as the supreme queen and worshipped as the sacred lake by Bonism, Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, making it one of the most famed lake in Asia or even the world. In sunny days, the water is spectacularly blue, the lake surface ripples and in the water there is the reflection of clouds and snowy mountains as well as obscure mountains around. It is great either combining telephoto composition with the background of snowy mountains or using telephoto composition after arriving in the meadow and getting off the car.
The top of Qiwu Monastery is a must-visit to take pictures in the morning. A large expanse of Marnyi Stones here shines with warmth in the early morning sunlight. If lucky enough, you can also have a chance to see the rare fogbow which is sometimes called “white rainbow” as it has no colors.
Lhanag-tso: it forms gorgeous crescent-shaped blue lake sitting closely beside the sacred Manasarovar that looks like the sun; the two reveal a harmonious picture of supreme beauty.
Payang is a small grassland town of typical western flavor. Outside of it there extends a vast pasture where you can see a picturesque countryside view — herds of cattle and sheep and sheer white snow. Leaving the town in the early morning, you will soon be thrilled by the scene of a curiously shaped mountain which, in Nepal, is calledMachhapuchhre. Besides, the most fascinating ones are the reflection of snow covered mountains among the water grass and mountains blanketed in gold.
4.Zanda — Guge Kingdom Ruins
Zanda Clay Forest covers hundreds of kilometers in total, and if looking afar, you will be greeted by a sheet of gold; and together with the illusionary light on the plateau, the forest looks like a fantasy world. Then in a closer look, you will find the marvelous clay forests on both sides of Xiangquan River. The natural wonders and unique cultures here are everywhere, like the splendid temples, strongly fortified blockhouses, grand pagodas, extremely luxurious ancient palaces, simple and majestic European castles, or the scene of ten thousand horses galloping and squealing with their heads upward or the meditation of religious followers.
The glorious Guge Kingdom, with a history of thousands of years, is the one closest to the heaven and was used to the home of belief. The site’s built among the miraculous clay forests and featured by the ruins that tell the fabulous cultural and artistic accomplishments and by endless historical legends.
5. Nam Lake
Nam Lake in Autumn is about nothing but imposing white-headed mountains, precipitous glaciers and fair islands — the most attractive and magnificent scenery you could ever find. Then in winter, it is silvered by early snow dramatically and completely. Beyond it there stands lofty Nyainqntanglha Mountains and small villages scatter at their foot. On the immense earth there must be a place that can rest your mind and will light up your road and expect your return no matter how far you are away and what difficulty you are going through.
Following the route of Potala Palace — Jokhang Temple — Norbulingka, you can feel the brilliant cultural heritage of the world. Lhasa is such an appealing site that everyone coming here for the second time would say “returning to Lhasa” instead of “going to Lhasa” as it is the home of their spirit. This undoubtedly is mostly attributed to the cultural heritage — three sites mentioned above. The towering Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple famous for its belief and the serene and beautiful Norbulingka have become the name cards of Lhasa with the blend of their charm.
Following the route, I finally witnessed the gold Lhasa in the early autumn, Ngari in late autumn and the holy lake wrapped by snow in winter…to feel in person the first ray of sunlight on Mount. Everest, the serenity and shock of Nam Lake with snow, the spectacle of Kailash, mysterious Guge Kingdom, the reflection of clouds on Manasarovar and endless charming scenes on the way; to see followers’ determined looks and pure smiles on their pilgrimages and to feel the monks’ peaceful minds — I have found the longing for happy life here. The glorious holy land, see you next time.
Nikon D800E, 16-35mm, 70-200mm; Manfrotto 190 tripod; Manfrotto MB MA-BP-TRV SLR Camera Backpack; British Formatt Hitech Filter; Manfrotto BeFree Travel Backpack is specially designed for photography fans with a large capacity. The design has won 2014 Reddot Design Award. It can fit a SLR camera and four lenses, a 15-inch laptop, a flash lamp, tripod and several personal items. Moreover, the firm protective fabric and the thickened interlayer can help ensure the equipment safety anytime anywhere. The Premium Italian design appearance is skillfully achieved by using fabrics of various reflectance together with carbon fiber accessories; a raincoat is also suggested.
The backpack’s right side can store the unfolded Manfrotto BeFree tripod and protect the folded one or the unfolded one can also be tied to the front. The zip on the left is for easy fetch of equipment. For this trip, I brought the Manfrotto 190 tripod that I have been using which not only helped me in shooting photography, but also benefits my plateau tour by adding appropriately weight.
Hulun Buir, located near the northern border of China, is not only rich in resources but gorgeous and miraculous. Seated in the northeast of Inner Mongolia, it covers an area of 253,000 square kilometers, equivalent to the size of Shandong Province plus Jiangsu Province. Hulun Buir has been listed as one of the 6 national scenic spots of China, in consideration of the indigenous characters of its historical sites, vast regions of grasslands, natural forests and rare wildlife, and its indigenous uniqueness. It serves as an important ecological barrier for the north border of China. In Hulun Buir, a grand spectacle was made up by lush grasslands, winds among pines of the Great Khingan, crisscrossing rivers, and star-studded lakes. With a mass of flowers, yurts and fragrant milky tea, Hulun Buir Pairie is the world’s third biggest prairie as well as China’s most beautiful one.
The reasons why Hulun Buir had a widespread reputation are as follows: firstly, it had given birth to Genghis Khan, a renowned Mongolian conqueror; secondly, the grass here is superior in quality and has found a good sale in Southeast Asia; thirdly, Hulun Buir abounds in Sanhe Horses and Sanhe cattle – draught animals that are physically imposing and strong. Besides, it’s not just home to curvaceous Mo River Spengler, Argun River, Gen River, Jiliu River, the Prairie vast as the ocean, as well as the undulating Great Khingan, but where you can pursue your ideals of life. The Hulun Buir Prairie, beautiful and richly endowed, has 3200 rivers, innumerable lakes, with primitive cultures retained in each of them. As I paced upon the Prairie, melodious long-tone folk songs and ancient legends kept ringing in my ears. Memory-images of Hulun Buir would stay with me throughout my life.
Huge bundles of hay scattered on the vast stretches of fresh green grassland in early autumn. When a balmy breeze rose up, flocks of sheep, like clouds and willow blossoms, were browsing like scattering pearls on a jade plate. All blended into a harmonious whole with distinct colour contrast. As we looked up, we could see flocks and herds chasing each other. Shepherds raised their whips and sang their songs. Cattle and sheep could be seen everywhere. It’s true that the Prairie well deserved its fame of being one of the world’s largest, pollution-free and most beautiful prairies.
As time lapsed day by day, I seemed to forget how many autumns had passed, maybe because each autumn, as fresh as yesterday, remained unchanged. My appointment with the Prairie every autumn had become something as important as oxygen in my life. Having shed its emerald skin, the Prairie in autumn became riot with colours, and kept astonishing its audiences time and again.
The natural scenery in Hulun Buir was constituted by vast expanses of grasslands and creative colours. Scaling the peak, we overlooked the world below and got some idea of the autumn atmosphere brought by a chilly autumn wind. The Mo River Spengler was winding its way. Since Mongolian yurts in dense fog seemed to be filled up with the aroma of grilled meat, our body, curled up with cold, felt the warmth in a short space.
On a chilling morning, we made the ascent of the highest peak in Mordaga. The Great Khingan, right here at my feet, curved and waved with dreamy mist around. Swept by a gentle breeze, the mist danced gracefully. If a flash of sunlight penetrated the mist and illuminated the treetop right at this moment, it would be a scene similar to the door to paradise being pushed open. I was amazed and pleasantly surprised, obsessed with the place that deserved to be called a fairyland. Fortunate enough, I had the chance to catch sight of it. What might I have been had I not taken fancy of photography!? How lucky I was! And what a pleasant surprise!
Beautiful lakes and rivers were like pearls and ribbons embedded on earth and hiding in mountains. They were waiting to be discovered and to have their most remarkable sight in autumn brought forth as the sun poked over the horizon and shone gloriously.
The land of Hulun Buir is peacefully receptive and inclusive no matter where you went. Somehow my heart was getting brighter in the face of the blue sky, white clouds and the undulating prairie. Having given a crazy vent to my feelings, I became reluctant to move any longer, feeling the sun on my skin to my heart’s content. It was exciting and cordial as if I was kissing a dolphin. For the time being with my eyes shut, I had an entirely different world at hand. There was no dense traffic, no bustling crowd, and no endless trifle on the Prairie. So I could calm down in silence, troubles away, and was brought back to reality only when there were clouds blowing past once in a while. Then I came to realize that for thousands of years, the simple characters of the Mongolian and their ability to know right from wrong were given by the Prairie that raised them.
Autumn, so to speak, is the most gorgeous season for the Prairie. Clouds in the morning, the warm sun at midday, along with the cattle and sheep on their way home… had become part of the splendid season. From the moment I set foot on the Prairie, I was held in deep affection. It attracted me to move even further. Beautiful Hulun Buir, I’ve read you in autumn!
Phase One IQ 260 digital back (35mm, 80mm, and 150mm); Gitzo OCEAN SYSTEMATIC Series 3 tripod; Manfrotto MB MP-BP-50BB Pro Backpack; and Formatt Hitech filter.
A medium format camera is generally known to be large in size. So it is particularly important to select a suitable bag for it. This BP50 camera bag features a nearly cuboid shape, with an overall black color and details ornamented with red. Its exterior dimensions are 54×28.6×21.4 cm, and its weight is 2.4 kg. This bag is mainly designed for photographers and photography fanciers. Its major feature is the superior protection capacity. A whole piece of T-shaped thermoplastic shell protective structure covers the front of the bag. It offers an effective protection against impact, and therefore allows the protection of photography gears under “the shell”. This protective structure is formed by three layers, with high-performance fabrics on the surface, multi-layered shock-absorbing cushions for the lining, and soft velvet fabrics for the inside materials. The front of the bag maintains a good shape by adopting a thermoplastic process, which plays the role of supporting even under the impact of an external force. The suspension system of the bag is also a major attraction, including an adjustable S-shaped harness, detachable load-reducing waist belt and back thick sponges.
Thick sponges are used in the back, with a depression design in the middle, making it breathable. A transverse nylon tape is provided in the middle of the back. The design of the nylon tape ends is intended for reinforcing the back. And by this nylon tape, the bag can be attached to the drawbars of a luggage bag.
During the height of summer, most regions across the 9.6-million-km2 area of China were going through a period of suffering under the fierce sun. How fascinating it would be to get away from the rat race in the city and head for the mysterious mountain full of legends in the north, to marvel at the sunrise in enshrouding mist at Tianchi and breathe the scent of flowers at night! Let alone the tasty northeastern cuisine and the local people of pristine purity! Why not set off right now with our backpacks and friends?
In order to arrive at the best time, we set out at 0:30 in the morning and took a bus to the entrance of Tianchi. Outside the window, the moon shone brightly high up in the velvet dark blue sky, dotted with an array of stars like sparkling diamonds. Intuition told me it would be a good day for us to watch the sunrise. The night was dark but not in silence at 2:30, when we began to climb the mountain and pressed on upwards, accompanied by the sound of trickling water along the way. It took about 40 minutes for us to finish climbing, a process estimated to be 90 minutes. Reaching the top of the mountain, we found the sky had somehow become bright, and the twilight was glowing in the east. The greenish water of Tianchi encircled by the dark blue mountain lay naked and open to my eyes!
A pond of lucid water before us looked clear and still, resembling a crystal or a jade in appearance. It reflected the mountain and rosy clouds and seemed like a traditional Chinese landscape painting. I had my camera fixed while enjoying the scenery, at which time a veil of light mist abruptly swirled up from the water and was blown from left to right by a gust of wind that could not be felt. It looked somewhat alike to a beauty who slowly drew down her veil after getting alert to the prying eyes. Also, it was similar to the falling curtain on the stage as performers bowed to finish a splendid performance. Blurred by the mist, the water of Tianchi fell away at intervals, hazy and fascinating.
When foggy clouds brooded over the pond, another veil of mist billowed from above and pervaded from left to right to cover the pond once again. Tianchi looked more fantastic and ethereal after veils of mist rolled in one after another to have the pond completely covered at last. As the sun rose and the dawn brightened, we put away our cameras and prepared to climb down. Not until we turned around did we find flowers spreading all over behind us. We had been hemmed in a sea of flowers without even knowing that.
Treading back down the steps over the same route, we finally saw clearly that there were glaciers by the side of the plank road. Streams of melted snow converged into a clear spring. The rippling song of the meltwater kept us company all the way, not only pleasant to the ear but also thirst quenching. On the other side of the plank road, lush meadows were peppered with occasional rocks to form a contrast of activity and inactivity with the running water. They were in different styles but together created a peculiar interest and charm.
There were very few traces of human intervention on the western slope of Changbai Mountain. Left as nature intended, it was overgrown with weeds and wild flowers. Soon we went by an iris garden that had long been known as the “Garden in the Air”. As far as we could see, bluish violet irises, looked from a distance, were alike to a wave of butterflies fluttering amidst thick growth of grass. The scent of the flowers, refreshing and soothing, was wafted along by the breeze. Then we left for Ladder River and got to know it first by the sound. We heard it roaring and found ourselves in something like Hukou Waterfall of the Yellow River before we got even closer. Contrary to all expectations, however, we had to look through vines, weeds, dead wood, moss and rocks on the beach before we could catch the hidden rivers in sight.
Cliffs stood on each side of the river bed. The river flowed slowly where the descent was less precipitous, and ran fast where the cliff was steep, sending out a great roar. The water was crystal clear and chilling, and the summer heat under the scorching sun vanished immediately as we got closer. We arrived at Jinjiang Canyon at 7:30 or so and got off the bus. Broken ridges and steep cliffs seemed to be extraordinarily precipitous at the first glance. With clusters of pinnacles in the canyon, the rockface looked similar to the edge of an axe or the point of a knife. Trees of tough vitality grew on rocks in all shapes, looked as if they were covered with branches of blossoms as the sun shone brightly on leaves. We twisted our way through the old-growth forest into sunlight and shade. The silver birch trees were dim or distinct at times, and our faces were shown against warmth or coldness.
After lunch we left the scenic region. At 14:00 pm, we arrived at Changbai County. We finally felt worn-out at the moment with no time spent in bed for a rest around the clock.
The next day, we headed for the 15 Gaps in the valley of Changbai Wangtian’e. It was 38 kilometers in length, with a minimum ground level of 450 meters and a maximum ground level of 1.1 kilometers. We arrived there late, and could take in all details of the 15 Gaps at a glance in the sun. To the left side of us, a stream was threading through rocks of the beach, and to the right side, there were cloud-kissing volcanic rocks. After only a few steps forward, we could see waterfalls pouring down from above, be they grand falls or cascades. Some watery splashes were fine and white like foggy clouds. Immersed in the water for long, most rocks, covered with moss in a variety of colours, had changed beyond recognition.
The water flows had been divided into widely different shapes when they met different shapes of rocks. Some were in fine threads, some like pearls falling into a jade plate, and some others were soft as if they were silky fabrics. Each waterfall provided us with an entirely new sensory experience. Nature is something we couldn’t imagine and might bring us happy surprises. Better yet, moss on rocks was shiny in the sun or glorified by the water, adding savor to the scenery. Not only that, all sounds of water sounded like an instrumental ensemble. Water flows gurgled and water splashes tinkled, with the addition of a few resounding birdsongs. It was an audio-visual feast. As an old saying goes, the benevolent like mountains while the intelligent like waters. With mountains dignified by waters, the landscape held people too delighted to be homesick.
This is our journey to Changbai Mountain during the summer time, busy but enriching. The lofty mountains here were seemingly intimidating, but still we could feel the tenderness once in a while. The sweat and laughter throughout the journey had been bound together into notes jumping among mountains and waters and then been written into a fair-sounding movement.
Canon 5D Mark III, 14mm prime lens, 70-200; Gitzo OCEAN SYSTEMATIC Series 3 tripod; Manfrotto MB PL-MTP-120 Pro Light Camera Backpack (for SLR camera); and Formatt Hitech filter.
Here I would like to express my great appreciation for the new camera bag of Manfrotto which is recently available on the market this June. The MB PL-MTP-120 backpack of Manfrotto belongs to the PRO Light series, which formerly are the products of the renowned professional camera bag manufacturer of Israel, Kata Bags. Manfrotto draws lessons from the bags of that series, and upgrades them. Manfrotto also keeps the original product name and that is enough to show its trust and confidence for the entire series. The design of the PRO Light series is intended to provide the users with a multi-functional storage capacity but with a relatively light weight. The bag also combines the core technology, CPS (Camera Protection System), from Manfrotto’s Professional series. In the bag, the divider employs a sandwich design in which two 3D wavy cushions are wrapped on a reinforcing divider, to strengthen the buffer effect.
This bag is similar to the classic MiniBee bag in terms of appearance, but with a lighter weight. It is excellent for use during a trip. A full frame camera body plus two lenses, the filter system, battery and shutter release cord, water bottle, tripod and the like can be put in the bag. The bag also carries on the good suspension system. It is a nice choice for amateur photographers who need to travel on foot for some time. The bag is of a moderate size, suitable for both man and woman, and with an attractive feature of fashionable and stylish look.