Road to Lhasa

Trip Start Sep 26, 2004
Trip End Jan 15, 2005

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

November 17, 04

The road to Lhasa was long, dusty and rough. It's only around 600 miles from Kathmandu, but it is mostly dirt roads with those pesky Himalayan mountains to navigate through. We went over three different passes on the journey. They varied from 15,000 ft to 17,000 ft. It is a lot easier to ride over than to hike over a pass. We got out of our mini bus at each pass for photos and to stretch, and you could feel the altitude. I traveled from Kathmandu in a caravan of vehicles. Two busses, and three 4WD Jeeps. Tibet does not allow visitors to travel alone, so you must be in a group and enter and exit the country at the same point with the same people. I was paired with an Irish guy. We got along well, and wanted to see the same things, so it has not been a real problem so far. Mainland China is different than Tibet, so traveling there alone isn't forbidden. After the border crossing into Tibet, we stayed in a small town and enjoyed some authentic Chinese/Tibetan cooking. On day two we heard that Everest could be seen from the highway, so we all were looking for the first sighting. Mid-day the bus pulled over and we saw several snow capped peaks in the distance. The guide said there is Mt. Everest. I looked and asked which one? He pointed to a mountain standing alone with clear areas on both sides, and said " In the middle" Everest isn't often seen or photographed from the Tibetan side, so it took me a minute to flip the image in my mind. Then I recognized the worlds tallest mountain. We were at around 12,000 ft and Everest is 29,000 ft. Even from about 60 miles away, it is an impressive sight. You could see almost the entire mountain. Lhotse on one side and Makulu, both above 27,000 feet right next to it. We passed the road to the Chinese base camp after lunch and were only 50 miles from the mountain at that point. Only the top half was visible, but no one seemed to be able to look away as it finally disappeared from view further down the road. (There are several smaller mountains that obscure the view) I'll get a real close look when we visit Rongbuk Monastery and go to Chinese base camp (17,600 ft) on the way back to Kathmandu. We spent two more days traveling and finally arrived in Lhasa after 4 1/2 days on the road. Long, slow, cold and a very dusty journey. Lhasa is the largest city by far in Tibet and was the winter home of the Dalai Lama. He was chased out of Tibet by the Chinese in '59 and has not returned. His palace was the largest building in the world until the 30's or early 40's. It still is an unreal sight. I visited my first Buddhist Monastery in Lhasa right near our hotel. I'm sharing a room with the Irish guy, and an American who has lived near the Dalai Llama in India for 8 years. He gave us an insiders look at the monastery and some of the Buddhist beliefs and philosophy. Very interesting stuff. He is also going back to Kathmandu with us, so it will be like having our own guide along for the ride. Lhasa has small temples and monasteries all over the city, so there is plenty to do besides browsing the shopping areas and tasting the various foods from traditional Chinese and Tibetan restaurants. We have organized a Land Cruiser for the trip back to Nepal. We'll be able to stop wherever we want and see sights along the way. It will be much quicker as well.

We rented a full sized Land Cruiser in Lhasa, and the 4WD was needed a few times. We took a different route back to Kathmandu that took us first to Rongbuk Monastery. Rongbuk is located about 12 miles from Everest, and the view from there is stunning. We piled out of the vehicle for a walk/hike that would take us within 6 miles of the mountain.The trail ends at Chinese base camp. From there on in, you need special permits and a lot of courage! There were six of us in the Land Cruiser, so it was a bit packed. Joining the other two friends of mine were a pair of Japanese men, and a Canadian. We only had half a day at Everest, so we started our hike as soon as we stopped. The Monastery is at 17,000 plus ft, so we didn't have to climb very much and we also didn't need anything but water and cameras. It was nice to not have a backpack to lug around. The north face of Everest is almost all rock. At the base is the Rongbuk glacier and there is snow and ice all around it, but it does not get the heavy snowfall until winter sets in. The other side is pretty much covered for most of the year except for the top third of the mountain. Seeing Everest was never on my list, but it is something I could never forget. Over 180 people have died climbing the mountain, and there are probably 130 bodies still there. During an acclimatization stop on The Annapurna trek, I watched "Into Thin Air". The book is a really good read, and the movie wasn't bad either. It deals with the '96 climbing season when 15 people died. Specifically it tells the story of the New Zealand and American expeditions that had 5 members perish on Everest. Scary stuff. From where we stood, you would need 6 days and would have to climb another 12,000 ft. to summit.(Assuming you were acclimatized) Everest stands alone from Rongbuk. You can't see the other mountains until you climb back out of the valley. We saw the entire range when we approached the Monastery. After the half day, we came back down to around 14,000 ft and spent the night. I am pretty well acclimatized at this point. The Tibetan plateau averages above 10,000 ft in elevation. I am back down in Kathmandu now, but spent over a week at anywhere from 9,000 ft to over 17,000ft. One of the guys had a minor case of altitude sickness, but he took some Diamox and was able to continue. Tibet was well worth the hassle at the Chinese border, and other inconveniences. Again, there was no heat in any of the hotels or guest houses. It's cold at these altitudes, and I usually lingered in the dining room around a wood stove before heading to the warmth of my sleeping bag. I guess for around $1 a night for a shared room (usually just two beds) I shouldn't complain. You do get used to the cold, but going 4-5 days between showers takes a little adjustment. I am looking forward to reaching Thailand in a few days. I'll lounge around the beaches for a week or so before heading to Malaysia and Singapore. I could not organize a land route due to political problems and safety reasons. I wanted to go through Bangladesh, Or Myanmar (Burma) but could not get a guarantee on anything. The Visa situation is hit or miss, so I skipped it altogether. 
 More in a week or so...........Allen
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