Pincher Martin's Bibliothèquewebbie -- Sunday, January 29, 2012 -- 01:39:17 AM
Reviews and commentary on all things related to books. Extended discussions on political, social, and cultural topics sparked by a review of a book are also welcome.This thread is tagged:
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Got it recently, it's now in my reading queue.
Going back to the high altitude settlements thing....the reason Cochran is including the Ethiopian Highlands must be that it's actually a sizable plateau at a respectable elevation
The omission of Central Asia had bothered you because its mountain ranges are the highest in the world. And I'd also been bothered by his omission of the Caucasus, because, while those mountains are not nearly as high as those in Asia, they are still known for their mountain dwellers. But then it occurred to me, a big mountain range doesn't necessarily a big plateau make.
If your mountains afford thousands of nooks and crannies into which are filled lower-elevation valleys, then that's where people prefer to settle. There's more food, there's better soil, and you want to be in as oxygen-rich an environment as possible.
But a plateau is a relatively flat, sizeable piece of land at high elevation, like the Andean Altiplano and the Tibetan Plateau. By definition you don't have valleys alternating with higher grounds.
Tibet is the highest plateau in the world, as well as the biggest in the world. It's massive -- like the size of Western Europe. The second highest in the world is supposed to be in Pakistan but it's tiny in area. The Andean Altiplano is less elevated but, I assume, the second largest.
The Ethiopian highlands take up half the country, which makes it probably several times larger than the Colorado Plateau. So a lot of people must live in the Ethiopian highlands, even if the elevation itself is not Himalayan. But I would take a wild guess that the average elevation of permanent settlements there is greater than in the Pamirs or the Caucasus or Karakorum, if only because the latter are abundant in valleys.
You're probably right about it being easily available in China. That's something I'll keep in mind the next time I consider traveling in the higher elevations. I might schedule a quick visit to a doctor in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Shanghai before setting off for the mountains.
Insert standard disclaimer/warning about doing mickey-mouse shit with your hematopoietic/cardiac systems here. And pharmacologically, asian/Indian stuff of suspicious provenance is notoriously dangerous; US companies see it all the time. Seriously, for your health, I'd advise just taking the elevation gradually. The hypoxia will naturally stimulate production of your own HIF proteins & erythropoietin. If 3 days wasn't enough before, give it 4-6 next time. Biologically there's a 48-72hr lag time between increased erythropoietin levels (in response to elevation) and a resultant increase in hematocrit, so 3 days' transition is cutting it a little close.
Another reason to acclimate rather than medicate is that the hypoxia has substantial effects on cellular metabolism that aren't addressed by EPO but contribute greatly to making you feel like crap. So it's a metabolic as well as anemia issue.
And yeah, above 10-12K ft is where it pretty reliably sucks unless you're acclimated. Deeply jealous of your asiatic adventures, BTW.
Acclimatisation is highly unpredictable. You're not assured of it, and you're not assured of it in a timely manner. In 1999 I travelled the Karakorum Highway, the highest paved road in the world, which connects Pakistan and China starting from near-sea-level to above 15,000 feet at the highest international border control in the world. From 10,000 feet I stopped every 1000 feet or so and spent the day at that elevation. In fact over several days I walked the 20 miles (?) to the border zone precisely to avoid going from 12,000 to 15,000 ft quickly by vehicle. (Though regulation required you to travel the no-man's-land by bus or car.) Yet I was still half dead for the few hours spent at 15,000 feet, with a ringing headache, as though there were repeated shockwaves inside my head.
True, but I wondered about the potential for little islands of evolutionary change among non-Tibetan peoples.
I'm also unfamiliar with the ethnogeography of the entire Tibetan plateau. To what degree, as one moves west to Ladakh (and beyond) and north to the Kunlun mountains, are there small groups of non-Tibetan people who can lay claim to thousands of years of continuous residence at the higher elevations?
As long as one finds a distinct population group that has been living at a higher altitude for many thousands of years, I presume some kind of evolutionary adaptation would have to be made.
I'm sure there must be a few "little islands of evolutionary change" in the Pamirs / Karakorum / Hindu Kush, but (1) probably research hasn't gone much beyond the three major regions mentioned by Cochran ; and (2) I suspect, on the whole they tend NOT to exist, for the very reasons I mentioned earlier : people prefer to live at lower elevations if they can, and where there are valleys people settle in them.
In some ways Tibetans illustrate both principles : biological adaptation to high altitude, and the preference for lower elevations. (More below.)
Non-Han, non-Tibetan ethnic groups in the Tibetan plateau are either fairly late arrivals, or for the most part very closely related cousins of Tibetans speaking the Tibetic family of languages.
The distribution of the Tibetic language family suggests to me, either the plateau itself was a place people settled because the best lands lower down were already taken, or Tibetic speakers have been coming down from the plateau for a long time and settling in the more valley-rich mountain ranges to the west and south. Probably both are true.
Tibetic speakers are spread out across northern(most) Pakistan, the Himalayan belt of India, Nepal and Bhutan. And I'm NOT counting the ethnic Tibetans in exile since 1949.
In fact the western-most Tibetic speakers are the Baltis of Pakistan, who along with another group in Indian Ladakh are the only Muslim speakers of Tibetic. (The ones in India are reputedly even Shia. )
Of course historical Tibet is larger than the plateau. All the PRC provinces adjacent to the official ZAR still contain Tibetan populations, as well as related minorities speaking Tibetic, as well as lots of Han Chinese who, I imagine, must be descended from assimilated Tibetans.
( The research on adaptation to high altitude that Cochran mentions, also suggested Tibetans diverged from Han Chinese only 3000-6000 years ago. Don't know if that estimate will hold up in the future. )
This place, where the aforementioned Baltis live, is within spitting distance from K2, yet the town's elevation is only 7500 or 8000 ft. -- just a little higher than Mexico City.
Valleys like this are the reason why so many anomalies are found in the region : Muslim Tibetans ; Ismailis (followers of the Aga Khan, persecuted in most places) ; the last remaining shamanistic pagans in the Muslim world ; and one of Eurasia's three language isolates (Burushaski, the others being Ainu and Basque).
That's either a beautiful place or a great photo.
Are you certain the town in that photo is only 8,000 feet above sea level? The surrounding mountains are so bare. Even at their base, they are almost completely nude of any vegetation. Of course it could be a geological feature I'm unaware of, but those mountains remind me of the lunar-like landscape I saw in Tibet at the higher elevations. When I went below ten thousand feet, though, the mountains began to look like this instead of this (see next several photos).
The photo you linked looks almost like pure rock once you rise even a few dozen feet above the valley.
Even in central Tibet, a valley is connected to a valley is connected to a valley. Schaik claims the average altitude of all Tibet is 16,000 feet above sea level (app. 4,900 meters), which I found unbelievable because that was as high as I ever got during my entire trip. So either central Tibet is lower in elevation than much of the Tibetan plateau (which would help explain why the largest historical towns are to be found there) or the bulk of mountains offsets the lower elevations of the valleys more than I assume.
Among the larger cities and towns in Tibet, the elevations range from Lhasa (11,450 ft - 3490 m), Shigatse (12,585 ft - 3,836 m), Gyantse (13,050 -3,977 m), Qamdo (10,682 ft - 3,256 m), to this little border town (14,268 ft - 4,348 M).
But all of those places in Tibet are two thousand or more feet below the average elevation in the region. This supports your point that the elevation of the mountain range is much less important to the question of adaptation than is the elevation of the valleys those mountains sit above. Even the Tibetans aren't billy goats, and so they naturally settle in the valleys where there is more water and arable land, as well as oxygen.
Is Colin Thubron worth reading? He's written a book about Mt Kailash in western Tibet that I was thinking of picking up.
When I heard about Thubron's Tibet book I recoiled. It sounded "spiritual". I don't like "spirituality" and I have shied away from Tibet (unfairly) because my irrational mind associates the place with so much New Age claptrap. (The train to Lhasa will be overcoming that association soon, hopefully.) Thubron's earlier books had insight and some humour, but he could easily lapse into tedious plodding earnestness, and I can only imagine what Tibet must have done to him ! Would I be prepared for a 10-page lyrical meditation on solitude and death by Thubron ? No thanks.
Well, that photo is linked from the Wikipedia entry on Skardu, the capital city of Baltistan Autonomous Region in Pakistan. And the elevation is stated as 8000 ft. I can believe that figure because I've been there and I didn't get sick. Quite the opposite -- I descended to Skardu from hiking in its environs to get respite from altitude sickness.
I think the nudity of mountainsides is a function of not just elevation but also wind, humidity/water, season and local plant ecology. The reason landscapes are "lunar-looking" is that they are essentially high-altitude deserts (which, I believe, most of Tibet qualifies as). But not all high altitude landscapes are deserts. Some are alpine.
Deosai Plateau (13,000 to 14,000 ft)
Similar elevation in Ladakh :
Those are amazing photos. I was looking at other photos of the Deosai Plateau, however, and they look very Tibet-like in appearance.
Again, a very-Tibet-like feel to the landscape in this photo.
This photo, on the other hand, looks almost like a low-level wetland.
I'm sure you're right that there are various appearances at that elevation depending on several factors -- including the season, precipitation, and the elevation of the surrounding mountains. I believe one of the reasons why Central Asia (including most of the Tibetan plateau) is so dry, and the Indian subcontinent so wet, is because the Himalayas affect the weather, catching many of the clouds formed in the Indian Ocean against their southern flank. But some get through the lower mountains, providing the lower Himalayas with abundant moisture. Perhaps that's why some of the valleys in Tibet and Bhutan looked so different to me, even when they are within a half-a-day's driving distance from each other. It wouldn't be just their elevation, but their position along the mountain range that gave them an entirely different look.
I was also in Tibet in the early summer. Perhaps it looks much different in other seasons.
#111 and the last photo in #113 certainly look like scenes in Tibet. The other three pics less so (including the two taken of the Shandur Pass whose last photo I think looks like Tibet). But my impression might change if I toured Tibet at a different time of year.
The more I see of these pics, the more I think it's my limited experience in the area that is fooling me. I always try to remind myself that spending a few days in a country or region doesn't make a person an expert on it. I spent one week in Tibet. For all I know it might have looked completely different to me three months later or three months earlier.
Not yet even a vague plan. I wonder, can one actually get off at some of the high-altitude station stops ? The route is supposed to contain the highest railway station in the world. Is there a place to stay overnight if one chose ? Can one physically stay overnight in the middle of high elevation nowhere ? I've also heard they're working on extending the route to Urumqi. Xining-Lhasa-Urumqi would be amazing.