We woke up today at the foot of Mt. Everest (Qomolangma in Tibetan, mother of all mountains) after an amazing couple of days. We are still in our Land Cruisers and the road up to Everest was pretty crazy, but the road down has been even better/worse depending on your point of view.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We last posted in Shigatse and moved on from there to Sakya (which means grey dirt, from the land it is surrounded by). It is by far the most authentic Tibetan town we’ve been to yet with the least amount of Chinese influence. We visited a nunnery there that boasted more amazing views. Unfortunately we probably can’t get photos up for a few more days… we didn’t even think we’d have internet access until we got to Kathmandu but we are waiting in Nyalam near the border for an hour or so until the road opens up again and we can get to the next town where we are staying before we cross the border tomorrow.
We departed Sakya very early to get to Everest in time to visit base camp before it got dark. We went over some more 5000 meter passes and could see the mountain getting closer… it’s hard not to take a ton of photos from the car because the view is so amazing, but then we stop at the top of these mountain pass view points and it feels like all the previous photos were in vain. The scenery is spectacular. We arrived at the guest house in Rombuk (spelled various ways, many of them at the same site) monastery with the mountain looming over us. At first we thought we would walk, the choice was walk or take pony carts, but the pony cart nomads were apparently bothering many of the visitors and the military came in and cleared them out last week. So we were prepared to hike up to base camp but the wind was blowing at over 35 miles per hour blowing piercing grains of sand everywhere, and the temperature was approaching freezing… so we ended up being driven up in our Land Cruisers to base camp which sits at 5200 meters (about 17,000 feet). Again, you keep thinking you need to just keep taking pictures to capture it all, but it never quite suffices. I hate to say you have to experience it for yourself, I hope the pictures do give some of the feeling of what it’s like to be there. We were asked again to show our passports by the military (not everybody had them though as this wasn’t told to us that it’d be required again… so the Tibet Permit seemed to suffice) and then walked up to the viewing point beyond which you aren’t allowed to pass without another permit. The Chinese government controls this side so strictly, it’s no wonder most Everest climbs are taken from the Nepal side of the border. This was the highest point we would reach on the trip and I definitely felt it. I was dizzy and had a growing headache, despite the week spent acclimating to growing altitudes. It was extremely cold with the wind blowing and you can see in the photos we were all bundled up. Even though we didn’t climb our way up there, there was still a feeling of achievement having reached that point. It wasn’t just amazing standing at the foot of Everest, because other than the trivial fact that it is the highest point on earth, it’s no more spectacular looking than all the other mountains that surround you… in fact Cho Oyo was more impressive looking.
We headed back to the guest house which is run by the nuns and monks of the monastery, and went straight to the main room with the yak dung stove for warmth. We ate dinner and milled about there for several hours, playing cards and chatting with our fellow travelers. But night fell and it was time to go to sleep… or try anyway. The rooms are VERY basic, kind of like a stable with beds… four to a room so Kim and I shared with two of the singles in our group. Each bed gets three blankets so we pushed our beds together and piled all six on to try to stay warm, sleeping in all of our long underwear and clothing. This is the highest elevation we slept at, and it was exceedingly cold (below freezing outside, just above inside) but we did manage to catch a few hours of sleep.
This morning we woke up early for breakfast and a visit to the monastery which has the unique distinction of being both the highest in the world, and the only Tibetan monastery where there are both monks and nuns (though it can be tricky to distinguish them, they both shave their heads and wear the same robes). They live separately but work, pray and chant together.
Then we piled back into the Land Cruisers for the most arduous and scenic portion of our drive. We really went off road and cut through barely defined paths and rivers through the mountains to Nyalam. So we are heading back to our rides to move on to the first shower in a few days and a good night’s sleep before we move onto the next leg of our journey. This marks the 1/3rd of the way mark and we’ll be home in a month!