We began our 2-day journey on the Friendship Highway from Lhasa in hopes to be able to sleep at Everest Base Camp. We were a bit worried that the altitude would pose a problem as Mindy felt effects in Lhasa at 3600 meters. Everest Base Camp sits at a whopping 5200 meters! We split our trip up with an overnight in Shigatse, a city under construction.
Here are some pictures from along the way:
Our highlight in Shigatse was our adventure to find dinner. Less of a touristy place than Lhasa, very few places had English menus or English-speaking staff. There weren’t even pictures we could point to! But we entered a small restaurant armed with a few Tibetan phrases and words we had learned. We greeted the Tibetan patrons (2 elderly women) and sat down. A waiter approached and after greeting him we said “vegetarian” in Tibetan. With some confusion, Mindy was invited back to the kitchen where she could point to the various ingredients we wanted, as well as playing charades to explain that eggs were welcomed. The result? A wonderful, vegetarian meal. They even brought us peanuts, which when we offered to the ladies next to us, were politely refused as they had no teeth. We all enjoyed a great laugh. We left feeling triumphant.
The morning after we climbed into the van again each hoping to see Everest by the days end. Never have we been subject to so many military and police checkpoints! Generally this meant piling out of the van and displaying our passports to some official or another. We actually lost count of all these checkpoints. The turn off to Everest Base Camp took us off a nicely paved road and onto a pothole-ridden dirt road. The 102 kilometer dirt road took just under 3 hours! The views were amazing and with each switchback we knew we were that much closer to Everest.
We arrived at the top of a mountain pass where we could see the northern face of the Himalayan range. How stunning! Due to cloud cover though, Everest was not visible.
We continued on our journey watching the horizon closely with hope that the clouds would dissipate. Eventually, our guide, Buchong, stated that it was now clear enough to see Everest and it should be around the next mountain. We waited with bated breath around each turn. Our cameras were perpetually at the ready and we couldn’t tell if we were having trouble breathing due to the altitude or simply because our hearts were racing. Would Everest stand up to such high expectations?
Absolutely! There she was! 8844 meters high, the peak of the worlds highest mountain was staring us right in the face. The sky was clear and this moment alone made the bumpy ride so worthwhile.
The closer we got the more magnificent the view. One final checkpoint at a tiny tent was necessary before we could climb the short hill (which, at the altitude winded Mindy!) to stand amongst other lucky tourists and see Everest mountaineers prepare for their 6-day journey to the summit.
Despite mild symptoms of altitude sickness, Mindy and another group member were able to stay with the group overnight in a nomad tent (literally called a “hotel”) at Base Camp.
Heated in the evening by dried yak dung, we were actually warm and comfortable. Sadly, when the fire went out, the temperature plummeted inside the tent, no doubt due to the fact that there was no door. We awoke the next morning with frozen toes and water bottles! The thermometer registered at -6C. But, again, all completely worth it as we were able to step out of the tent, and there was Everest – the first peak in the visible range to grab the morning’s sun.
We left with Everest in our rearview mirror shortly thereafter, and began our 5-hour drive to the Nepalese border, which, of course, included our favorite potholed, checkpoint-filled, dirt road.
Our overnight near the Nepalese border, was in a mountain town called Zhangmu (or Dram, in Tibetan).
Our evening was rather uneventful. However, the softball-sized spider Ligeia saw in the squat toilet stall, gave her pause. This overnight gave us one last opportunity to enjoy some vegetarian momos – a Tibetan specialty that we’ll truly miss.
That concludes our Tibet experience. Before we leave you with that, however, we want to impart on you a main thing we learned: Mt. Everest is the English name. The mountain actually has two other names, that make much more sense. In Tibetan (our preferred choice) is Mt. Qomolungma, pronounced “chomo-loong-ma”. In Nepal, the country that shares the mountain with Tibet, it is known as Sagarmatha. Everest, is apparently the name of some white guy.
Here is a picture that we feel sums up our Tibet experience, raw natural beauty and Tibetan prayer flags the honor it:
We’ll write again soon with our tales of Nepal!
Lots of love,
Ligeia & Mindy 🙂 🙂