The photographs shown below are from a 1935-1936 expedition to a remote area of eastern Tibet, record the adventures of 25 year old John Hanbury-Tracy and 26 year old Ronald Kaulback. With the backing of the British Royal Geographical Society, they went in search of the source of the Salween, one of the great rivers of Asia that originates in Tibet.
At the time, on maps, the upper course of the Salween was an immense blank space. Among the first Europeans to enter this area, for two years they had no contact with the outside world as they traveled across a rough and unforgiving terrain. Although they did not succeed in reaching the Salween’s origin due to impending war, they mapped 25,000 square miles and brought back specimens of plant and insect life for the British Museum of Natural History. Their photographs bring to life impressions of local villages, the river’s rope bridges, sturdy yaks, and the people of the upper Salween valley.
Hanbury-Tracy, who died in 1971, published the story of his journey in his Black River of Tibet in 1938. Kaulback also published his tale, a 1938 book, Salween. Their accounts and photographs record aspects of Tibetan culture now lost through political and cultural transformation of the region. Many of these photographs, donated to the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art by Sir Bryan Frasi were included in the Museum’s 2005 exhibit, Exploring Tibet: In Search of the Salween.