Why ‘Forbidden south Tibet’?
Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and turmoil in Lhasa, permits for foreigners to enter east and south Tibet have become increasingly difficult to obtain - besides, control and inspection of foreigners has become tighter and stricter. In 2014, our first application to enter was turned down, but we could manage to get a permit to travel through restricted areas of south Tibet just one day before flying to Bayizhen (capital of Nyainchi Prefecture) from Chengdu. Police and Public Security Bureau first inspected our permit documents at Chengdu airport and then Nyainchi airport. On an average we were checked at least three to four times each day. Even with permits, it is prohibited to enter areas off the main roads. Finding detours to avoid check posts became key to explore areas of our objectives. We met no foreigners during our travel.
The permit documents that are required are :
Although the situation was uncertain and our move was limited due to strict control over foreigners, we conducted our expedition to our satisfaction thanks to our capable and reliable Tibetan guide, Awang.
We had perfect weather and blue skies throughout except at the Goikarla Ryugu range.
October 14 : South of Nang Xian (Peak Bobonng (6152 m) south of Yarlung Tsangpo).
October 16 : Yalaxianbo (6635 m) and access to south toward McMahon Line.
Historical Samye monastery, Zetang
Yalaxianbo main peak 6635 m (left), South I 6495 m, II 6542 m W face
October 17 : Tarlha Ri (6777 m) and peaks close to Bhutan border.
October 20 : Puma Yumco, Kulha Kangri massif, Gangkar Puensum and further west.
October 24 : Nyainqentanglha West and Nam Tso.
Our original expedition plan was first to explore the unfrequented Goikarla Ryugu range which has several veiled peaks over 6000 m and extending some 250 km from near Lhasa to Bayizhen of Nyinchi Prefecture in between the Sichuan-Tibet Highway (north) and the Yarlung Tsangpo main stream (south). We used a Toyota Land-cruiser without camping, and horse caravans. The result, however, was poor. 6000 m peaks did not come into sight since complex valleys and ridges hindered views.
Our second objective was to approach as closely as possible the McMahon Line in south Tibet. However, as mentioned, there was another problem - strict and frequent checks and controls by the Public Security Bureau and Police. All counties adjacent to borders with Bhutan and India are totally closed to foreigners. We, nevertheless, had some success owing to our capable Tibetan guide, who managed to carefully detour check posts. A compete profile of the east face of Tarlha Ri massif and peaks ranging south to the Bhutan border and every side of a holy mountain, Yalaxianbo massif, were unveiled and could be photographed.
Kanggardo Rize (Kangto) 7060 m S face on McMahon Line (Harish Kapadia)
Qungmo Kangri 7048 m E face west end of Nyainqentanglha West
Tongshangjiabu 7202 m and Teri Kang 7126 m (left behind, Bhutan side) N face seen beyond Puma Yumco
Nyegi Kangsang (Tui Kangri) 6983 m S face on McMahon Line (Harish Kapadia)
(from left) Pk 6215 m, only top of Chomo II 6733 m behind, Chomo I 6980 m S face on McMahon Line (Harish Kapadia)
(from Left) Karejiang Main 7221 m, Kulha Kangri East 7381 m, Central 7418 m, Main 7538 m N face and Puma Yumco 5000 m
Kulha Kangri 7538 m & glacier in the headwaters of Zhanwozhougou (Jiro Komori)
Blue sheep in Nyainqentanglha West
Gangkhar Puensum 7570 m (left, highest unclimbed peak in the world), Liangkang Kangri 7534 m (right) N face seen beyond Puma Yamco
Gangkhar Puensum 7570 m S face (Jiro Komori)
Noijingkangsang 7191 m W face and Lake Yamdork Tso south of Lhasa
(from left) Golden Dragon 6614 m, Chorten Garpo 6415 m, Chaggar Kangri 6432 m S face, Nyainqentanglha West (Bruce Normand)
Nyainqentanglha 7162 m N and Nam Co
We reached a ‘heaven lake’, Puma Yumco (5000 m), which is now closed to foreigners. A grand panorama of Kulha Kangri (7538 m) massif and mountains ranging to the southwest on the Bhutan border overwhelmingly inspired us. The north face of the world highest unclimbed peak, Gangkar Puesum (7570 m), was glimpsed to the south. The panoramic view found a forbidden mountain, Tongshangjiabu (7207 m), far west on the Bhutan border.
We also made a two-day excursion to Nyainqentanglha West, one day to Qungmo Kangri (7048 m) and one day to the north bank of a holy lake ‘Nam Tso’ (4718 m).The snow-covered northern side was breathtakingly beautiful.
Period : 11 October (Bayizhen, Nyinchi Prefecture) – 25 October 2014 (Lhasa)
Members : Tom Nakamura (79), Tsuyoshi Nagai (82), Tadao Shintani (70)
Driving distance : 4500 km
Route of expedition : As per route map 2014
(from left) Xialala Kang 6682 m, Tarlha Ri 6777 m, 6542 m E face
Lake Chigu Tso and 6000 m peaks E face of Xoijiag Qeri massif
An account of a journey through the remote and restricted south Tibet.
With the advent of GIS, satellite images and other advanced cartographic applications, it seems the world is growing smaller by the minute. But long-time alpinist contributor Tamotsu Nakamura—though he began his explorations after the Golden Age of Mountaineering ended—begs to differ.
“Some convince themselves that veiled mountains in the greater ranges are an experience of the past,” Nakamura says. “But Tibet has an incredibly vast and complex topography that holds countless unclimbed summits, and beckons a lifetime’s search. The many peaks there will remain enigmas for generations.” Nakamura is now 81 years old (born in 1934 in Tokyo). After living and working around the world in Pakistan, Mexico, New Zealand and Hong Kong, he made 37 expeditions to the borderlands from 1990 to 2014. Now Nakamura is Honorary Member of HC, AC, AAC, JAC and NZAC, and Fellow of RGS.
Note : All photos except otherwise mentioned are by Tom Nakamura.