|18 Aug It's our second day on the train. The scenery outside has changed a lot since leaving Beijing. At first it was city, then steep hillsides covered in vegetation and fields of corn and sunflowers, next dry hills with fields of a different crop. This morning when we woke up we were in high altitude tundra, permafrost and all. I've seen very hairy cows (yaks?) out the window, as well as sheep (hairy looking, not woolly) and small deer (like reindeer). We've just been through the highest rail tunnel in the world - 5000m, dug through permafrost. That's quite a bit higher than Mt Cook (3754m)!
12:15pm. We've stopped at Cuo na hu, the highest lake in the world, 4954m. We've also been past (yesterday) China's largest freshwater lake, Hainan (?) and seen glaciers. There are small animals a bit like a guinea pig chasing each other around outside the train. They are really hard to see until they move. Every now and then they dive into a burrow.
19 Aug Lhasa (3500m) - Potala palace and Jokhang monastery. Both amazing. Full of treasures from about 700AD onwards. Bokhara (?) market before and after dinner. Old ladies like to stop their pilgromage clockwise around Jokhang to look at the children and hokd their hands. Suzanna and Ben walk for a few minutes each holding hands with an old lady.
20 Aug Lhasa - Norbulingka (Summer palace) - 8th, 13th & 14th Dalai Lamas' had houses there- and Sera Monastery - sand mandalas, book printing, monk debating/testing. Wandering in Bokhara (?) market before and after dinner. More old ladies.
21 Aug drove from Lhasa to Gyantse over Khumbum pass (4500m) and Kerala pass (4400m) which has a magnificent glacier. Stopped at three tourist spots on the way to look at the view. Two were unimpressive - too many vendors, the third was the glacier which was worth the stop. We asked to stop to watch a local horse race- it was interesting, men on horse back racing to pick up scarves and women in traditional dress. Two women gave me barley beer to drink, strange flavour. We also stopped at a small cluster of houses so I could take a photo of the houses. Gyantse is interesting - a frontier kind of town with a lot of shoe shops. We had a short walk along the street.
22 Aug Palkor Chode/Kumbum monastery in Gyantse. Very old (1400's) and quite magnificent. We were allowed to take photographs if we paid 10-20RMB depending on where in the monastery we were, so we did. Then a small drive, 1.5 hours, to Shigatse, a big city. Diki got the permits for Everest while we had lunch and visited Tashilhunpo monastery. They wanted 50-150RMB for photos, so we didn't take any! Again very old, it is the monastery of the Panchen lama. Then to Shigatse hotel. Paul & I went for a walk through the streets and saw interesting things. Then dinner, bath (!) and bed.
23 Aug drove to Everest base camp. The road to Shegar is good. Soon after Shegar we turned off onto the road to Everest - 102 km of dirt road with many potholes (2 hours of driving). We went over 3 high passes - Tsongla 4480m, Gatsula 4900m (both on thesealed road) and Gyola 5200m (on the dirt road). The weather wasn't good for viewing Everest - cold, windy and very cloudy. But we went to basecamp anyway and took photos. Stayed overnight at Rongphu, 5150m. Ben and Suzanna didn't like the altitude much.
24 Aug The kids weren't feeling so great this morning because of the altitude. Still cloudy over Everest. It peeked out every now and then. I walked for about 15 minutes and sat by a raging river. The clouds over Everest cleared so that we could see the top. I got some great photos, including with us in front of Everest. Then we drove back to Shegar to stay overnight. The kids perked up about 1/2 way back as we descended.
25 August Drove from Shegar to Zhangmu - 4 hours. Came over Tongla pass - 5030m. Very strange - a really high plain. Zhangmu is an odd town - a very skinny street zig-zagging diwn a a steep hillside with buildings on either side of the street. Cars park on both sides which leaves a single lane for traffic - including big trucks bringing stuff from Nepal. Waterfalls flow through the town, lots of culverts. Also funny stair cases joining one level of zig zag with the next, so you can cut off the corners of the switchbacks if you want. Good food at Basecamp restaurant. It's nice to be below 2000m again!