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Published: November 7th 2015
Moving on from Buddhism and monasteries, arrival at Everest Base Camp was the other attraction heavily anticipated, and it didn't disappoint. Having watched the movie "Everest" only a couple of weeks before commencing this trip, I decided I didn't have a death wish so had well and truly crossed climbing to the summit off my bucket list, but checking out the mountain at close quarters was still on the list.
As anticipated, as we approached the Everest region the altitude got higher and the countryside became even more desolate, with pretty much no vegetation of any sort. From Shigatse, we drove around 220kms along the Friendship Highway before taking a side access road required to reach the Everest Base Camp. On this access road, we crossed both the Gyatso and Pang passes, each of which were at over 5,000m and which gave magnificent views of the valleys below. As well, from the latter pass we got our first sweeping views of the snowcapped Himalayas, where we could see at once five of the world's highest mountains (Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, Gyachung and Cho Oyu). The final night before we hit Base Camp was spent in a Homestay, some 50km from the
camp. This was quite an experience in itself, all of us staying with a local Tibetan family in their traditional-style home, sleeping in dormitories in what was proudly exhibited as a 1-star establishment (see pic). Heating and cooking were all done on a centrally located stove, fuelled with cow dung. To be honest, I'm not too sure what the evening meal was but it was tasty and filling. Toilet facilities (only one loo) were a little more primitive than some desired, and I had some fun setting up my CPAP machine given there was only one power point in the dorm, along with just one light. You can imagine my surprise when the last person switched off the light only to find that this also switched off the power point - however with a bit of creativity, a satisfactory night's sleep was enjoyed by most.
The plan was to rise early to drive the 40kms or so to the Rongphu Monastery, the highest monastery in the world at over 5,000m and perceived as the ideal location to photograph the north face of Mt Everest. A 5am rise at a temperature of around minus 10 degC (with associated wind chill)
was not a hugely popular move at the time but this was soon forgotten as we drove in to witness an absolutely incredible scene of the sun rising over the mountain. From here, it was just a short drive into what is classified as Tent Camp, a collection of a couple of dozen 'tent hotels' that can provide accommodation, food or just shelter from the elements during the climbing season, from May to October. This is as far as vehicles can travel, and the last 4km trip into the Base Camp itself has to be done by a local 'environmentally friendly' minibus (at a cost of course). As it turns out, there were minimal Everest climbs from the Tibetan side this season, so Base Camp was a totally deserted stretch of rocky ground, the main interest being the prayer flags and the 'Mt Qomolangma (the local name for Everest) Base Camp' marker signifying an altitude of 5,200m. Furthermore, we were lucky that we actually arrived at Tent Camp on the last day of the season, when they were busy dismantling all the tent hotels, and had we arrived a day later, this would have been as deserted as Base Camp.
After a couple of hours spent around the Base Camp area, we drove back to the Friendship Highway and a degree of 'civilisation' again, staying the following night in a modest hotel at a town called Shegar, which is very close to where the access road to EBC breaks away from the Friendship Highway. We were lucky with our timing as I understand that until recently, this side road (some 80kms in all) was primarily a dirt road making for a much less pleasant trip. My next blog (and final one for Tibet) will discuss the joys and perils of driving back to Lhasa on the Friendship Highway, as well as discussing my overall impressions of my visit to this wonderful country.
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