Saturday, August 8, 2009

Yarlung Tsampo River

The Yarlung Tsampo River is the highest major river in the world. It begins in western Tibet and runs east through the South Tibet Valley which is on the north edge of the Himalayas. The river begins at the western end of this valley at an altitude of 14,764 feet. The valley is 746 miles long. At the eastern end it is at an altitude of 9842 feet. At the eastern end the river makes a sharp bend to the south and flows through the Himalayas in the deepest canyon in the world. Emerging from the Himalayas in India, where it is known as the Brahmaputra, it flows into the sea near the outlet to the Ganges. This canyon is little known and little explored. It is one of the wildest places on earth. A few years ago an expert kayaker from the University of Utah was killed in this canyon. He was part of a National Geographic expedition which did not complete their exploration. I believe that there has been only one party complete an exploration of the gorge.

This valley with the Yarlung Tsampo River is the cradle of Tibetan civilization. This is where the first people who came to Tibet settled; it is where the first monastery was established and where the first king built the first castle. It is also the area where Buddhism first took hold.

Virtually all the arable land in Tibet is in this valley. As you can see the valley is narrow and does not provide much space for crops. As a result the diet is quite different from many third world countries. Meat is plentiful while fruit and veggies are expensive as most must be imported.

The river and valley are quite beautiful. When we were there the weather was beautiful and the river generally very blue. We were told by our Tibetan guide that the preferred method of burial was to have your body placed in the river.This could only be done for the "worthy", however, whatever that means.

We crossed the river by ferry to get to the Samye monastery, the oldest and first monastery in Tibet. There is an alleged road from Lhasa to Samye which few people use as it is rough and takes most of a day to traverse 70 miles or less. Tibetans and tourists alike use the ferry.

The ferry boats are flat bottomed wooden boats propelled by a 2 cycle engine driving a fan belt to a propeller mechanism. The river at this point is wide with numerous sand bars which have to be gone around. As a result the ferry ride takes about a 1 and 1/2 hours.

Coming back the ferry was chock a block with Tibetans packing kids, boxes and baskets.

We gave a little boy an apple which he was delighted with. We never felt unsafe; it was kind of cool to be using the same transportation as the locals.

To see more photos visit my website here


  1. What is that mobile-like object on top of the rock?

  2. Prayer flags, which are placed to adorn tops of rocks, mountains, homes, virtually any promontory by the faithful Buddist.
    Traversing this river was a gentle, calming experience. Excellent pictures and description of the experience.