Everest Base Camp and the road to Nepal
23.08.2009 - 27.08.2009 34 °C
We could have been very happy with a few more days in Lhasa as we LOVED it there, but as our itinerary already had us leaving China on the last day of our visa...So we headed off in a 4WD towards the Nepal border looking forward to the next 5 days visiting the more remote Tibetan monasteries and of course Everest Base Camp...
"Buddha coming out of the Mountain"...was how our guide described this point. My immediate thought was, "haha, they always come up with funny sayings and they just carve things in rocks to go with the stories. But what we didn't realise at the time is if you look to the left of the painting, you might be able to make out the face of a man/Buddha in profile naturally formed by the rocks...It is funny how sometimes when you are in the moment you don't see things clearly, but when you look back you think to yourself, how did I not see that! Now when I look at the photo, I don't even see the carved and painted buddha anymore, only the natural one. It has made me realize that in life it is so important to occasionally step back and see the overall picture instead of the obvious.
Tibet is referred to as the "Roof of the World", but it is only after you come here that the name really makes sense - perhaps you can appreciate this from the photos, but standing here at about 4,000 odd metres, the clouds feel close enough to reach up and touch...The beautiful scenery only enhances the experience!
From the day we left Lhasa, we had days of driving long distances (at least on smooth roads which is one of the few nice things the Chinese have done for Tibet but sadly mainly for the purpose of tourism I think), and the lunch stops were our only chance to see the people of Tibet and get a closer look at the culture. It was often short, but sweet. I just love it when people don't shy away from the camera, but actually embrace it. Not only do the pictures look great, but you gain a certain connection to the place you visit and it makes carrying around heavy camera equipment all worth it! There was a group of ladies chatting to each other and selling cheese on strings and the lady wearing the blue headscarf was genuinely happy to smile for my picture.
Another stop was at the Kharola Glacier. There was a lady drying sheep wool on her tent made of yak wool. She unfortunately really only wanted me to give her money, but instead of taking a picture of her which is what she wanted (so I would give her money), I had a lovely encounter with her because of the tibetan turquoise I was wearing around my neck. Every tibetan seems to wear a piece of turquoise as they believe it protects you from disease and she was wearing turquoise earrings. After i asked her if her tent was made of Yak, the only thing she understood was the word ,"yak", and said in a very high pitched voice (i think trying to imitate me) "Yak...Yak...Yak!" while smiling her shiny gums at me as she had no teeth.
Our first stop after a long day driving was at Gyantse, one of the famous monastery sites outside of Lhasa and home of a great yak burger!
This video gives you a little insight into our 5 days on the road. Lots of this music blasting in the car constantly, and many animal road blocks. It seems the old lady leading the pack is not phased by our car at all, and either are her cattle!
Our second stop at Shigatse is the home of another famous monastery of Tibet, the Tashilhunpo Monastery. We had hoped to also have a stop at the Sakya fortress-like monastery, which apparently has the most spectacular assembly hall in all of Tibet, but were told by our guide that the ancient city was closed to foreigners. Although we accepted this at the time, another traveller we caught up with again in Nepal said that the city was definitely open and they were able to visit on the same day we wanted to go...Since we didn't go to this town, it only took 30 minutes to drive from Gyantse to Shigatse and our guide and driver had apparently figured they were done for the day when they dumped us near the monastery. When we asked to be taken to an internet cafe-only 5 minutes away as it turned out, they rolled their eyes and put up a big fight and told us to take a taxi. we didn't understand when we were paying approx RMB1,000 per day for the car, driver and guide. They said "it wasn't on our itinerary". What, so we can't stop on the side of the road to go to the bathroom either because it isn't on the itinerary? We think what happened is the driver was taking advantage of having the car to go visit his family a few hours away from where we were (on our money) and that is why we didn't go to the town we wanted to visit so he could have more time with them. I would have loved to have skipped the town and gone to visit his family with him to see the life of a real tibetan in the countryside, but I don't think that would have been following "the rules" as our guide always put it!
Anyway, the monastery at Shigatse was very interesting, and we spent several hours here and finished it off with a walk around the monastery kora for an incredible view over the city and countryside beyond. We were also able to watch more young monks practicing their philosophic debates inside the monastery. I really love Tibetan architecture. It is almost always rustic and colorful.
Here we are entering the national park of Mount Everest...we are getting closer, but will we be able to see it??? At this point, it was snowing and cold alright and overlooking the winding road, Everest was currently covered with a blanket of clouds. Hmmm...
we finally arrived nine days after arriving in Tibet. The long awaited glimpse of the highest mountain in the world was getting even nearer. Normally you can see Everest in all its glory from tent city, but still no sight of it as it was really snowing hard now and completely foggy. We stayed overnight at base camp or, Tent City, as they call it. There are about 30 or so large tents made of Yak wool that we slept in with layers and layers of blankets. I had several moments of panic in the middle of the night when I woke up about every hour in complete darkness gasping for air. Some people we came across in Lhasa had prepared me for this, so I calmed myself down by saying, "it is ok, I can breathe, I have oxygen" as I drifted back to sleep or passed out perhaps! At the altitude of 5,000 meters/17,000 feet, that is not surprising. The highest post office in the world in tent city normally has a backdrop of Everest, but was unfortunately closed the day we were there which was not a good sign of our luck to come.
It is a good thing we have such a good imagination!
This little girl squatted in the restaurant and peed on the floor...why wouldn't you if you wear pants with a hole in it! I guess it does save the environment by no diaper disposal, but what happens when you are stuck on an 8 hour bus ride with a baby wearing bottomless pants? I have always wondered this.
This is the friendship bridge leading from ZhangMu a Tibetan transit town, to Nepal. After a very scary drive through the mountains covered in fog, waterfalls gushing over the roads, and car size boulders that had fallen from the mountains onto the road and then finally through a lengthy customs check, we walked across the bridge with a feeling that we were stepping into freedom again. I had the urge to run, but thought that would have caused some alarm with the men holding huge rifles and lets face it, we are in a world of war, but this isn't a movie after all. So I stopped being so dramatic and walked slowly across the bridge. We did however, almost cause an international incident when Andrew tried to take a photo of a plaque explaining the history of the "Friendship Bridge" when guards came running at us from everywhere with their guns. Apparently, stopping for long enough to read the plaque was also forbidden...