Permit Problems in East Tibet, What Went Wrong

Publication Year: 2005.

Permit problems in East Tibet, what went wrong. Everyone asks me, “What happened regarding the permits to East Tibet in the fall of 2004?” According to the Chinese authorities, permits to visit unopened areas and climb in Nyainqentanglha East were suddenly cancelled because several Westerners had entered unopened areas and attempted to climb mountains without official permits.

Mr. Dou Changshen of the Tibet Mountaineering Association (TMA) explained the situation to me in Lhasa as follows: 1. Two Germans and two Americans entered Tsangpo Great Bend and crossed Doshong-La to the southeast. This was reported to the public security police by local people. For this illegal activity a travel agent that had taken care of the foreigners was fined US$5,000 and ordered to suspend their business activity for five years. 2. Two British climbers ascended peaks in an unopened area. 3. A Swiss mountain guide, Gabriel Voide, ascended Jieqinnalagabu (Namla Karpo) east of Lake Basong (photo: AAJ 2003, p. 134). This is the first ascent of the most famous and prominent peak in the region. A Kathmandu-based travel agent arranged for his travel. 4. An agent in Lhasa used by a Kathmandu-based travel agent for Mick Fowler’s party intended to let their client climb the Matterhorn of Tibet— Kajaqiao [photo: AAJ 2003, p. 134]—with no permit. Finally the agent asked Mr. Dou of TMA to help in obtaining a permit for Fowler’s party, but this request was rejected.

These cases stiffened the Lhasa authorities’ attitude and resulted in prohibiting foreigners from entering unopened areas and from climbing the mountains in East Tibet. Sean Waters’ New Zealand team’s application to climb Birutaso (6,691m) and Chuchepo (6,550m) in the Lawa valley east of Punkar was rejected, and my own Autumn Plan of 2004 was turned down, too. The New Zealand team changed their objective and headed to the satellite peaks of Minya Konka in Sichuan [see report in China section of this Journal].

Mr. Dou mentioned, however, that this measure would last only about five months, and the ban would be lifted in winter 2005 (this appears to have taken place). It was hinted that my plan to visit Yigong Tsangpo and beyond would surely be given a permit in 2005. But, frankly speaking, there is always difficulty in communication with the Chinese since their information is insufficient in most cases.

As our Autumn Plan of 2004 (marching up Yigong Tsangpo from Tongmai to Niwu and beyond to the north crossing Shargung-la) was not allowed, I negotiated with the TMA and finally could enter the unexplored Bena valley east of Lake Basong. But my time was limited to only one week. So, after Bena valley we trekked along the Old Peking-Lhasa road from Gyamda. In mid-October we moved to Yunnan via Chengdu. The objective was to retrace French missionaries’ trails and visit Catholic churches. We crossed Se La, a pass at 4,140m on the Mekong-Salween Divide with four days in a horse caravan from east to west; on the way we unveiled a little-known mountain in remotest Yunnan, which F. Kingdon-Ward and Joseph Rock had called “Kenichunpu.” The members of our elderly party were my colleague Tsuyoshi Nagai (72) and myself (69). After Yunnan I continued alone with a trip to Sichuan, where I went to the Mt. Siguniang area and visited a valley of beautiful historical stone towers in Dangba County of the Da Du River basin. [Details of these explorations can be found in the Japanese Alpine News, Vol. 6, May 2005.]

Tamotsu Nakamura, Editor, Japanese Alpine News