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Published: August 6th 2007
It all began with the overwhelming desire to go Yak spotting. Having been denied exposure to Yaks on our Annapurna trek, this time we were determined not to leave the Himalaya without laying our eyes on the hairy beasts. We reasoned that with yaks being creatures of high altitude temperment (they prefer to dwell above 3000m), what better place to guarantee a Yak sighting than Everest Base Camp at 5200m?
Strict travel regulations and the need to obtain foreigner travel permits met that independent travel in Tibet was impossible and the only way we could overland meant taking (a costly) organised trip. In Thamel we started to investigate the options, but they all came back cost prohibitive without procuring some travel buddies to split the rupees. Enter Kat and Mike an Aussie/British couple who responded to our Thorntree travel posting with matched enthusiasm for a prompt departure to Everest Base Camp.
We met up in Thamel, negotiated our route with the friendly (and reasonably priced) travel agent*, stocked up on supplies - instant noodles, dried fruit, chocolate, warm clothes and sunscreen - and set off on our epic seven day crossing of the great Tibetan Plateau.
photo at the "Friendship Bridge" marked our crossing from Nepal into highly strict and regulatory Chinese administered Tibet. Since the 1959 Chinese "liberation" of Tibet, Tibetan culture and religious practices have been ruthlessly supressed. It is prohibited to bring images of the Dalai Lama into Tibet, and music and media are rigorously monitored in an attempt to create a compliant and homogenous Chinese culture, assisted by the mass migration of Han Chinese into Tibet. The 'cultural genocide' seems to be working: recent estimates indicate that less than 20% of the population in Tibet are Tibetans, making them a minority in their own motherland.
It was here at the border that we were greeted by out guide Dongdruk (whom we mistakenly called Tindruk the entire trip!) while Londruk our driver waited patiently in the Toyota LandcruiserFrom the border we climbed steadily to spend the night at Nyalam, nothing more than a transit town lacking both charm and decent facilities, but it was here we began to dabble in the Tibetan language and mastered words vaguely resembling "hello" and "thankyou".
On route to Tingri we spotted our first yaks out plowing the fields, and crossed the first of many high
altitude passes - Lalung La at 5050m which afforded us amazing panoramic views out to the Himalayas. Tingri was a small Tibetan village consisting of a few shops, houses and guesthouses flanking the main highway, and locals commuting by horse and cart, or on the back of a tractor.
Our excitment was bubbling as we made the approach to Rongpho Monastery on the doorstep of Everest Base Camp. After a quick dash around the monastery we piled back in the jeep for our assualt on Everest. We were dropped at the tourist tents at the base and began the walk up to the "real" Base Camp. It was here from Tibet that the first unsuccessful attempts were made to summit Everest before Tensing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hilary took the accolade, completing the ascent from the Nepalese side in 1953.
The 4km uphill trudge was rendered particularly arduous given the effects of altitude on our bodies. At altitude everything is difficult - talking, walking, sitting and eating all become mammoth tasks of gigantuan proportions when you're feeling dizzy, have a pounding headache and are gasping for breath through contracted lungs. It was in this condition we began the
walk towards where the real mountainers were based in their domed tents awaiting their chance to claim the peak. The peak though partially obscured by cloud, was worth the struggle and we felt a marked sense of achievement after our little walk!
That night back in the tents we all got the best tucking in we've ever had. Snuggled in our sleeping bags, huddled under several layers of blankets, our hostess then preceded to tuck the blankets underneath our bodies, ensuring we were ensconced in the ultimate of cocoons to ward off the sub zero temperatures. Although the altitude made sleep difficult, throughout the fitful night, we remained snug in our mummified state in the freezing temperature.
Over the two days were rewarded with a stunning sunset and glorious sunrise with perfect and uninterrupted views of Everest, or as she is known in Tibetan, Chomolangma (Goddess Mother of the Snows).
Heading onwards to Lhatse (4350m) we crossed over Ghatso La the highest pass at 5220m. From here we gazed back at the Himalayas and reflected upon Everest (8848m) nestled alongside the towering peaks of Mt Cho Oyu (8201m) and Mt Xishapagma (8201m). In Shigatse (3900m) we delved
into Tibetan culture at the Panchen Lama's Tasilhunpo Monastery, wandering through the narrow cobbled streets and marvelling at the 26m golden gilded statue of the future buddha.
Gyantse (3950m) was the most culturally active and historically preserved of the Tibetan towns and it was an absolute delight to spend the afternoon wandering through the village and meet the local children. The abandoned Gyantse Dzong (Fort) towers over the old town at one end, and the Pelkor Chode Monastery, with decorative Kumbum hems the village in at the other end.
Arrival in Lhasa (3700m) on day seven marked the end of our jeep trip but the start of a great friendship with Kat and Mike. We simply couldn't have asked for better travel companions throughout our trip. Inside the jeep, the conversation and laughter flowed freely, and while Kat and Suz were outside photographing all and sundry, Dave and Mike kept themselves occupied by building rock towers and sharpened their target practice skills. It seems that seven days together wasn't enough, and now we find ourselves here in Lhasa hanging out together with more sightseeing, bargain hunting and laughter! Check out Kat and Mike's blog and photos here.
Not to be confused with a horned panda!
* We used Janita at Trailfinders in Thamel who was the most competitively priced agent we found. Janita spoke excellent English and told it how it was. E-mail:email@example.com
NEPAL:Kathmandu > TIBET:Nyalam > Tingri > EBC > Lhatse > Shigatse > Gyantse > Lhasa
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