Everest and bust
10 Nov 2004
|Ice on the inside of our bedroom windows, and none of the promised hot showers! Nearby Shegar had a nice little monastery which we went to visit. Interestingly this was the first time any monk had mentioned the Dalai Lama, as one (not the pictured one) showed us a hidden pic of him in a locket. Most of them are too scared to do this for obvious reasons.
And then on the road. Brilliant view of Everest and neighbours from one of the 5,100 metre passes. The mountains were visible for a long time as we wound down the steep road into the valley, and lunch (yak and chips) in Tashi Dzom, a very small and very Tibetan village (i.e. horrid toilets). And then on to spend the night near Everest Base Camp, next to the highest monastery (Rongpa or Rongbuk) in the world. A brilliant drive through even more increasingly dramatic scenery along scary roads.
Some time ask me to tell you the full horror of the toilets at the first guesthouse near base camp. I won't here in case any of you have ate in the last few hours. Some argy-bargy with where we stayed in the end, not very nice place either, but with great views of Everest, which I could see from my bedroom window! There would have been good views from the restaurant also (yak and chips), except a huge TV was in the way.
It was quite late by the time we arrived, but the light was good on the North Face of Everest, and I was incredibly thrilled to be realising such a lifetime dream. The sunset lit up Everest beautifully. The stars were incredible, it was easy to see the Milky Way - though I couldn't see the colours of individual stars like I had been able to in Ladakh, mainly as it was too cold to go far away from buildings for more than a few minutes.
Next day: Tashi - bless him - had got really drunk with the waitresses last night (frozen vomit made toilets even worse), and was not willing to drive us up to Base Camp, so we had to walk the 10 miles there and back, no joke at 5,200 metres plus, even on the level. I felt exhausted by the time we got back, but in the end it turned out to be for the best, as we had great views the whole way up to Base Camp, and also we were out late enough to still be around when the sun eventually got over to shining on the North Face. I loved every minute of it, despite the fact it was also incredibly cold (I slept with four blankets and three duvets, and when I tried to open my windows in the a.m. my fingers stuck to the metal it was so cold). It had also been difficult to sleep at 5,200 metres (about four times the height of Ben Nevis) and my headache had come back with a vengeance. Base Camp itself was empty, and nothing special to look at, it not being the climbing season, but note there is a little sub-post-office (closed) so you can even send cards from there! What would Hilary have thought?
And then after trying to convince Tashi of the error of his ways, off on the road again. The already bad roads of the last few days got even worse, literally the worst road I have ever been on. Not just because there were bits above deep canyons where the crumbling road was so narrow we had to drive at an angle along the hill above to avoid falling over the edge. And not just bacuse the rivers we had to drive through were mostly solid ice. The real problem was that it was so rough and bumpy (though I am told that Mongolia is worse).
And then a bit of a disaster, luckily in the end not the really dangerous one it could have been. We were in the absolute middle of nowhere (actually about halfway between Everest and Old Tingri), deep in empty countryside. There was the river ahead, iced up like all of them. Tashi went for it, and about halfway across we crashed through the ice and turned out to be stuck there, in the middle of the river, wedged in by ice, sunset in a few hours time.
None of the things we tried worked (though the effort really made my head throb), and I ended up with wet feet as a result, not good in very-sub-zero temperature, especially if you may have to sleep the night rough (it was at least 30 kms to civilisation). And then, after about an hour, another 4WD turned up, going the same way. No tow-rope either. And then thankfully another one with a tow-rope shortly after. Suffice to say we got unstuck and eventually made it back to the main highway (just as darkness fell and the temperature really plummetted), though highway is a very misleading term, very-bumpy-track would be more appropriate.
Old Tingri was the smallest one-yak town yet, and I confess the attractions of very rural Tibet were waining. To all of us Khatmandu had transformed into this Promised Land of warm showers, clean toilets, and food other than yak. Coldest and grottiest rooms yet (anti-dirt sleeping bag back in use again), though a rather nice (and warm) meal of...yes, yak and chips. Great stars again though.
Last day in Tibet: Early rising in the dark, no warm water or breakfast, prise Tashi out of the arms of yet another waitress, and head off for the border in the dark with the windows constantly freezing up both inside and out. As the day came up we could see that we were in some of the most dramatic scenery yet (and many more scary drops too). I have to say, that in conclusion, the road from Lhasa to Khatmandu, except for the last thirty miles at either end, has to be one of the world's top drives. The nearer we got to Nepal the more dramatic, and scary, it got. And for the first time in weeks there were trees! It was very beautiful.
At last at the border, though a hard walk of several kms with heavy baggage from the Tibet side to the Nepal side. And you certainly knew you were in a different country. The scenery was the same - dramatic gorges covered with trees, but incredibly colourful people, complete chaos, and warmth - at long last!
A long period of negotiating, and we eventually got a jeep to take all 5 of us to Khatmandu for about five pounds each. I was glad, as the bus would have meant several hours hanging on to he roof with scores of Nepalese, on extremely bumpy roads with big drops. The drive was incrdibly beautiful (until about the Khatmandu Valley) and I fell in love with Nepal immediately. Why had I not got it together to come here before?
Saying that, the traffic was terrible for the last hour at least, and we didn't get to Khatmandu till well after dark. Allowing for losing two hours, this had been a very long and hard day, with no meal breaks at all. I booked into a seperate but cheaper hotel than the others, though very near them. We are right in the middle of the Thamel Tourist Area, and much to my suprise (and slight dissapointment) it is absolutely heaving with tourists, even more than the say the Koh-San Road in Bangkok. I was hoping that the 'terrorism' would have scared off most of the tourists, but obviously not (though it is peak trekking season). It is also heaving with tourist shops, etc. In fact, after a week in rural Tibet, it is great, though I will need to be careful not too get too stuck here, eating and shopping and chilling. Just the thing for now though.
As yet, I don't know what to do next. I am missing some people more and more (and hopefully vice versa), but also want to make the best of this opportunity. To trek, if so, for how long? To go to India, if so where, and for how long? I will chew this over as I recharge, though it is clear that all good things have to come to an end, hopefully so new good things can start too. Tibet I loved, the best country I have ever been, and I will miss it, and Nepal is here now!