Kham Photo Diary – Part 3

Neighborhood yak, Dege old town

Dege – Day 5

It’s my 3rd day in town, and I’ve kept my hotel room for 3 nights as a relaxing vacation treat for myself.

Last night I ventured into a new restaurant for dinner, and ended up with a huge steaming bowl of broth with some tought pieces of meat on the bone and big hunks of starchy vegetable. It was tasty. There was a table of 3 men near me, of whom 2 were monks. A young Tibetan man came into the restaurant begging for money; no one gave him any. He stood and stared at the 3 men until they invited him to partake of their dinner; they had mountains of food. After the young man had stuffed himself, he turned and gave me a captivating smile.

I rose early today, intending to hire a car to take me to Palpung Monastery, 3 hours away by rough mountain road. I couldn’t find anyone to check me out of the hotel (I needed to reclaim my 100-yuan key deposit). Because of this delay, purely by chance I met a group of people in the lobby who had just been to Palpung. They strongly advised me to change my plans. If I hire a car to take me there, I’ll never get back; it’s very remote with no back-and-forth traffic. On foot it’s at least 2 days, and very strenuous. Best to do as they did, and hire a Land Rover for the whole day at a price that’s exhorbitant for a single person. I am mildly let down, but I take it in stride. Next time for sure.

I’m working on building up my high-altitude energy: later that morning I left Dege by a country road and walked east [?] toward the mountains. I only stopped when the road was blocked by a gate. Why? What could be “sensitive” about this place? I stopped to rest, snacking on the bread, nuts, and dried fruit I’d brought along. When the sun showed itself, I took pictures of the wildflowers in a hilltop field.

The nearby babbling mountain brook actually functioned as a sanitary canal. Further downstream, the outhouse for the monastery was perched directly over the water. All the water in Kham is, in fact, thus polluted; the river beneath my hotel window was the receptacle for all of the product of the public toilet across the way.

The long and winding road….I head out of town on a hike.

…and more mountain scenery

Mani stones along the roadside

Flowers and…well, more flowers.


I returned to town, and spent the afternoon exploring the Derge Gonchen Monastery and the hillside Old Town. The monastery walls, and those of surrounding houses, are painted in the distinctive grayish-purple of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, accented with vertical red and white stripes. Today I’m lucky: the main prayer hall of the monastery is unlocked, and I am led around a clockwise circuit of the interior, admiring colossal gilded statues and wall paintings. The monastery was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and is slowly being rebuilt.

I have purchased a pair of khaki color cargo pants, which I will wear for the rest of my trip. I also buy a lovely cotton shirt, made in Nepal. Prices here are incredibly cheap. The town also seems to have many native craftsmen, including silversmiths. Other than that, most “Tibetan” souvenir items originate in Chinese factories.

For my final night’s meal in Dege, I visit a clean-looking restaurant on the main drag. I point to a pork dish on my vocabulary page, and I imagine that the waitress shakes her head “no.” She then shows me a menu, and I point to another pork dish. Surprise! I end up with TWO pork dishes, a huge mound of grated potatoes, and rice. The Foreigner stuffs himself.

Tomorrow morning I take a 7:30 am bus to Ganzi, retracing my travel route in the opposite direction.

Entrance to the main hall of Derge Gonchen (Gonchen means “large monastery”). The monastery, founded in 1448, gave its name to the town. This building is actually new.


A hanging dead animal, a fairly common sight in Tibetan Buddhist temples

Buddhist cat

The entrance to another monastery near the Gonchen – my guidebook map just says “Temple.

Inside the monastery courtyard – a profound sense of peace


Inside the small shrine room of a monastery on the hill, a cluttered junk shop meets Pee Wee’s Playhouse. This room has it all: cheap kitschy figurines, statues, cast-offs, ornate cabinets, personal offerings, candles, and gaudy hanging lamps with strings of plastic jewels. I HAD to have a photo.

One of many skulls decorating a pile of mani stones

A final view of Dege, from a hillside walk on my last day


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