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ASIA & CHINA - THE "KEEP ON SMILING" TOUR

Everest Base Camp Postcard

EVEREST BASE CAMP

"WAS WE COLD"

Leaving Lhasa

Four-wheeling it.

From Lhasa to Kathmandu; making it through to the over-side.

Out of Tibet and into Nepal; in the process leaving China further and further behind.

There was only the obstacle of the Himalayas in-between.

Plus there was also the need to organise; no mean feat in-itself.

So there we were, the four of us, ranging in ages from about 30 to 70, meeting in a Lhasa hotel lobby after introducing ourselves via the internet.

Richard, in his late 40s, was from the state of Oregon, USA and was a huge man in both physique and personality.

Joseph, into his late 60s, was a regular traveller and a full-time Italian food critic.

Daniel was an Australian doctor into his late 20s and then there was myself.

Agreeing while seated in the hotel lobby, on an itinerary and a price range, we finally delegated the task of finding a tour operator to Richard.

Who by 5pm had been his choice of tour operator usurped by Joseph, and then by 8pm, had had his credit card eaten by a local bank’s ATM machine.

We were dysfunctional to say the least, but still, by 11am the next morning, with Richard’s credit card restored to its rightful owner, we were off … out of Lhasa and into the rooftop plateau of Tibet, where the sky seemed closer, making us all feel mortal and weak.

Yamdrok-Tso Lake - man and his dog
Yamdrok-Tso Lake - photo taken off the internet

Within a few hours of leaving Lhasa, the four-wheel drive was on a steep incline, winding its way up and over, until we came to the edge, inching over to the other side of the steep scree-rock hill.

Below was the Yamdrok-Tso Lake, turquoise blue surrounded by arid, infertile brown, a stark contrast of colours.

By the side of the track, above the lake, stood a yak.

It was in fancy dress, standing stationary, waiting patiently with its owner, a small boy, enticingly offering a photo opportunity in exchange for cash; which for Richard was too good to resist.

No-one else seemed in sight, for we were truly isolated; until a dog in fancy dress also appeared, out of no-where, with its owner attached.

Another photo opportunity, which to resist would be to insult. There was no hiding; we had fallen for the oldest sales tactic of them all.

Towards Everest Base Camp

Pelkhor Chode Monastery - man and his dog
Pelkhor Chode Monastery - photo taken off the internet

The previous day, after visiting the Drepung Monastery outside Lhasa, I had sworn no more monastery tours while in Tibet.

Nothing personal, but I had reached my limit.

Yet on the first day of the trip to Kathmandu we had arrived in Gyantse and even though it was late in the afternoon, we all agreed we had enough time to visit the Pelkhor Chode Monastery before it closed for the day.

Walking inside the Pelkhor Chode Monastery it felt similar to visiting a Sunday church, with everything dark and shrouded in shade.

More fascinating was the wall outside, coloured red, on the arid hills above and around, protecting the valley below from the marauding forces that never arrived.

In the night, over the mountain range, gathering strength on the decline, hurtling forward, a flood of rage, the enemy were going to drown the valley below in the blood of strangers, their knives and their swords glistering with reflective rage.

But they never arrived…Gyantse was too far away, too isolated; the land not worth the price of misfortune or misadventure.

Houses along the bank
Children posing for photo

Better to just stay the night and then, in the morning, move forward on the tourist trail towards another town and yet another monastery, this time in Shigatse, the second-largest city in Tibet.

Rather than visiting the actual monastery in Shigatse, I decided to walk around it; trying to take photos of the people lying on the ground, pushing themselves forward, meditating through their prayers.

It was a sight to behold and I felt I should not have intruded.

But I was crass, a tourist and not a very good photographer; unable to get the correct angle of the people lying on the ground, the photos were useless.

Round and around, crawling on the ground, paying homage to Buddha…I left them behind to walk back to our accommodation.

Tomorrow we would be back in the four-wheel drive and heading further towards Everest Base Camp.

Mountains in background and Tibetan flags in foreground
Three of us relaxing at night

Everest Base Camp

That morning after spending the night in a home-stay within a dog bitten town, using animal droppings for fire fuel and sleeping in our clothes, including woollen hats, we had to decide if we were going to spend that night at Everest Base Camp.

Richard was of the negative, but as a fellow compatriot of the New Zealander, Edmund Hillary, who was one of the first to ascent to the top of the mountain, I was of the affirmative.

The decision was left to be decided later.

For now we had to leave if we were to catch the sun rise, the distinctive peak of Everest shimmering through the early morning mist, the four-wheel drive hurtling forward towards its target.

And within a couple of hours, with day-light in full display, we indeed did reach our target.

It was Everest Base Camp; Mount Everest the peak, the culmination of all the mountain grandeur we had experienced over the last few days.

And there we were…at its base.

The place was deserted and sub-zero in temperature.

Minute by minute I was turning numb; my teeth chattering uncontrollably, shivering the only thing keeping my blood flow in motion.

Richard was looking at me to make a decision.

It was still only about 10am and if we stayed close to our current locale the accommodation was going to be another monastery about another 8kms away.

My previous compatriotism was crumbling, turning corrupt.

Joseph stated that he wanted to stay at Everest Base Camp so we could watch for the sun on other side of the mountain, which would occur at about 2pm. But he was now seriously out-voted.

Instead we were going to make a dash for the border, cutting a day off our trip.

Driving through and between the mountain ranges, on the edge of their gullies and ravines, slowly we were becoming warm, our bodies no-longer fighting for survival, on a high.

The arid land of the mountain ranges was turning into a forest of green.

MT Everest early in the morning
Mt Everest in background and Base camp in foreground
Stream leading towards Base Camp
The four of us with Mt Everest in background
Mountain range in background and sheep with herders in foreground
Mounatin range