March 14 – April 4
Our group was among the first into China after Mao. Before cars. Or hotels.
We gained entry under the auspices of the Canadian Mountaineering Association as American groups were not yet permitted access. With two physicians and a public health administrator in our group, they allowed us in to discuss Western medicine. On a hospital visit in Beijing they proudly showed us CT scanners from America which they said were used to treat tuberculosis. A tour of their Eastern medical facility revealed ground deer horns and snake eyes as their more typical cures.
After Beijing, we went to Xian, Chengdu & Shanghai and to the autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia & Tibet. We traveled by old Russian propeller planes and in each venue we had our own group motor “van”. Accommodations in the cities were guest houses with the luxury of indoor toilets, requisite pea-green chairs with doilies on the back and covered tea cups.
In Tibet, an old military barracks at the foot of the Potala Palace in Lhasa served as our digs with only outdoor ditches and bedside pitchers for our needs. In Mongolia, our communal Yert had a heating stove and pillows on boards for sleeping. Outside trenches were again our bathrooms.
We had a Chinese government “minder” for all of the trip. We bribed Mr. Ma with romance novels which he craved when we wanted to see places purported to be “too far away”. We had an additional minder in each city and region who gave local customs and tours.
After three weeks of yak, rancid yak butter, mystery meats, lambs freshly killed with blood dripping along the steps of our dining building in Mongolia, crispy duck and lots of river fish, so happy to land in Hong Kong for a burger and fries at the Mandarin Hotel overlooking the Star Ferry.
Margaret & John Spencer Churchill Guest of New Canaan & Fishers Island. In their 70’s, they hiked higher and farther than the rest of us. Also enjoyed cocktails every evening from their leather-bound travel bar. Funny. Naughty. Energetic. Died within days of each other in 1997.
Dr. Fletcher McDowell, a New York neurologist & his wife Electra Bostwick McDowell of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont; brought teen daughters and a schoolmate.
Gil McDowell, Fletcher’s older brother. Administrator and colleague of Gary’s at Metropolitan Hospital. Gil was single and recruited Gary to go on this pioneering venture. He seemed dismayed when Gary announced that Carol was coming along.
Sam Blyth & Elizabeth B. thirty-something contemporaries. He our Canadian tour company owner. She a young friend of the McDowell’s. Exotic romance ensued on the overnight train to Huohut.
Carol & Gary. Living together in the West Village. Got engaged after this trip. It was a true test. Gary gambay’d mao tai, a pure alcoholic fuel, and told strange stories of Yeti’s to the group at night.
Gary & Margaret bonded the most
~ GARY’S FABULOUS PHOTOS ~
Red scarf Mao kids
Street scenes all looked the same
Beijing Xian Chengdu Shanghai
Bicycles A few vans Some buses No cars
Diapers not necessary
Will this kid stop crying?
Park outside Beijing
Entrance to the Great Wall
Farm up the mountain road
View down to the Valley
Soot in Huohut
We all slept in this yert
Musical performance for our group
Carol the Polaroid lady
They all thought it was magic
Gary’s great portraiture of the children
Taken from our van in Lhasa
More of Gary’s Tibetan portraits
Two steps and kow tow to Buddha
Where is Dalai Lama?
Mountain mothers very afraid of us
Who are these people?
Flying over the Himalayas
With Ms. Ma one of our local guides