DAY 1 – FLY FROM KATHMANDU TO LHASA, TIBET (Elevation – 3660 meters)
We took the 11.30 AM China Airways flight to Lhasa. It was so spectacular, even though there was cloud; the mountain peaks popped through – a most amazing spectacle to be witnessed from an aircraft window.
We arrived at the airport, after a one hour flight and had an onward journey to Lhasa of one and half hours. We were advised by our new guide in Tibet, to spend the rest of the afternoon resting and drinking lots of water, and strictly no alcohol, so as to get acclimatized to the high altitude. Lhasa stands at 3660 meters above sea level. We took his advice and later went out for dinner and felt a bit light-headed, which was nothing to do with alcohol, as we were on water!
The following day, we were going sight-seeing, so an early night was the order of the day.
DAY 2 – SIGHTSEEING TOUR IN LHASA (Elevation – 3660 meters)
We had a very interesting day in this most spiritual city.
We followed a procession of pilgrims, walking clockwise around the Potara Palace They were carrying their prayer wheels and rotating them clockwise – always clockwise to follow the sun. The outer perimeter is decorated with hundreds of prayer wheels that are touched and rotated by the local people. Prayer plays a very important part in daily life in Lhasa. We did not go inside the palace today, as our guide suggested that we should leave it one more day before we climbed the three hundred and fifty stairs leading up to the entrance. The palace was the official residence of the Dalai Lama, but these days he resides in Delhi, India.
Next, we visited the Tibet Museum. It was officially opened in 1997 by the former Chinese President.
We then had a break for lunch & sampled the vegetarian steamed version of the famous Tibetan dumplings.
After lunch we went to the Depong Monastery. This used to house seven thousand monks until the Cultural Revolution in the fifties but sadly now it has a mere one hundred monks remaining. We were fortunate to see a daily prayer and chanting ceremony, with many monks dressed in their formal robes of rose-pink. They were quite happy to welcome us and smiled as we passed. The Depong Monastery was one of the largest and most important in Tibet until it was devastated in the fifties and thousands of monks changed their way of life for political reasons.
We then visited the old city and the temple, where we saw the most amazing spiritual spectacle, hundreds of elderly women, some with deformities and barely able to walk, making their way to the temple for Sunday prayers – here, they would sit on the floor on cushions, turning their prayer wheel clockwise, swinging their prayer beads and chanting and praying; later, they would get served tea by the monks. These wonderful women made us feel very humble and it was a sight to behold and never to be forgotten. They touched us and were very welcoming, smiling and happy in their moments of thought. We felt honored to have experienced these beautiful people and to have shared their moments of spiritual joy.
Considering the altitude, that was enough for our first day and we returned to our hotel for a nap.
DAY 3 – SIGHTSEEING TOUR IN LHASA (Elevation – 3660 meters)
Our second day of sightseeing in a Lhasa consisted of three locations:
- Potala Palace (the Dalai Lama’s winter palace)
- Norbulingka (summer palace of Dalai Lama) and Jokhang
- Sera Monastery
The Potala Palace was built in the 7th century and rebuilt in the 17th century by the 5 th Dalai Lama – he took over from the monarchy and become political as well as religious leader in Tibet. The Potala become the Dalai Lama’s residence. It is more than 100 meters high with thirteen stories and a thousand plus rooms.
Despite the high altitude, we slowly climbed the three hundred plus steps and followed our guide for a couple of hours around the magnificent building. We saw examples of living quarters, temples, funeral stupas, Dalai Lamas‘ tombs and cultural relics, including images and murals etc.
We had lunch again in the heart of the old city. After lunch, we explored the shops for a bit, waiting for our guide and driver.
Next, we visited the Summer Palace. Unfortunately, following the Cultural Revolution, it is a fraction of the size of the original but it contained many interesting religious chapels, statues and artifacts.
Afterwards, we went to the nearby Sera Monastery, which was founded in the 14th century and was once the largest monastery in the World with 10,000 monks. These days, the figure is down to six hundred. We were able to see that the monastery was relatively unscathed from the Cultural Revolution. We arrived at a time of day when the the monks were debating – it was particularly noisy and colorful, making for wonderful photos of the monks in their red robes.
DAY 4 – LHASA TO SHIGATSE –VIA GYANTSE – 9 HOUR DRIVE IN LAND-CRUISER – 350 KMS -(Elevation – 3900 meters)
Our 350 km drive, following the Tsangpo River and took nine hours, including our first mountain pass at over 5000 meters. We saw the stunning sight of Yamdroke Lake & in the distance, snow-covered Mount Ningdzingzonka, from the 5000+ meter pass. We stopped for photos & saw lots of yaks and our first Tibetan Mastif – these dogs live at 5000+ meters!
We followed the lake west, towards Gyantse, where we stopped for lunch. We played safe with a simple vegetable curry and steamed rice. Afterwards, we explored the old city with our guide and saw traditional homes. Gyantse was once Tibet’s third largest city. We gave out our hotel freebies, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo etc. Once we started with the kids, word got out and they were following us, smiling in anticipation.
It took another two hours to reach Shigatse. The fertile valley between Gyantse and Shigatse is Tibet’s bread-basket. We saw all sorts of animals used to plough fields, including horses, donkeys, oxen, yaks etc. The monsoon is in June and that generates the annual crop.
At Shigatse, our guide got our passes for Everest. It took him an hour because there was a delay with two Americans who had entered Tibet without the required permits. This was Tibet and the Chinese authorities checked our papers many times each day – it was amazing how the Americans had avoided the checks.
DAY 6 – SHIGATSE TO TINGRI – 9 HOUR DRIVE IN LAND-CRUISER – 274 KMS – (Elevation – 4150 meters)
Before we left Shigatse for our journey to Tigri, we explored the famous Sakia Monastery. The immense complex is a rambling warren of chapels, shrines, and halls linked by alleyways & very steep staircases. Shigatse is the center of religious teaching in Tibet and the base of the Panchen Lama (PL), the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. The current 11th PL lives in Beijing & spends a month in Shigatse each summer.
Today, we joined the Friendship Highway, the flagship 5,500 kilometer road, linking Shanghai and Kathmandu. There was picturesque landscape and we drove past small towns. We crossed two passes at over 5000 meters, the second at 5248 meters is higher than Everest Base Camp (5200 meters). Amazingly at the highest pass, we were confronted by dozens of very aggressive hawkers – despite the altitude, we were forced to share some good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon English. They thought it was all hugely funny.
As the route opened into plains, we were shown many monasteries and locations of camps for nomadic herders in the Summer.
DAY 7 – TINGRI TO EVEREST BASE CAMP – 68 KMS OFF-ROAD – (Elevation – 5200 meters)
Today, we reached Everest Base Camp, viz. the North Face Base Camp in Tibet, China. There is a second base camp in Nepal.
Anyway, we turned off of the Friendship Highway and headed South over the Pang La Pass. At 5150 meters, going towards the main Himalayan range, we were rewarded with amazing views. We passed many villages, where we saw nomadic tribes, who are basically farmers, looking after the barley crops in summer and preparing the fields in spring. They also care for their animals, including yaks, who can only survive at an altitude higher than 2500 meters. The yaks are important for dairy produce, being the main source for butter, milk and cheese. as well as meat, of course. Incidentally, we were surprised at the ruddy faces of woman and children; our guide explained that it was from too much yak butter, cheese and meat in their diets! Perhaps, the diets of the men is more balanced, with regular consumption of barley beer?
Below the pass, we turned into the Rongbuk Valley and here we ha wonderful views of Mount Everest. We stopped at the Rongbuk Monastery, a Buddhist pilgrimage site founded in 1902, in an area of meditation huts used by monks and hermits for over 400 years. Hermitage meditation caves dot the cliff walls, around this unusual monastery. We made a different sort of lunch stop, at the Rongbuk Monastery; it had a charming atmosphere but the food wasn’t great, however, another travel experience! We got back in our Toyota 4WD Land Cruiser and we were now only 12 km from Everest Base Camp (EBC).
At last, we arrived and after many photo opportunities, walked up a steep hill, beyond the EBC sign, to appreciate the true magnificence of Mount Everest, North Face. It was a stunningly clear afternoon and we had splendid, really sharp views of the highest mountain in the world. We were standing at 5,250 meters above sea level at EBC, which was not really particularly impressive. However, one of its claims to fame is that it has the highest loo in the world, so Alf went and sampled it – holes in the concrete, of course!
DAY 8 – TINGRI TO ZHANGMU – 215 KMS – (Elevation – 2200 meters)
We started our drive at around 9.30 AM. We had Everest in sight for quite a while. We were travelling along the Friendship Highway. The views the Himalayan ridge were spectacular. The Tibetan side of the Himalayas is in complete contrast to the Nepali side. Tibet is rugged and dramatic, whereas Nepal is quite green and fertile in many places. Visiting these two countries, we feel that we have probably seen the finest mountain views in the world! After all Nepal can claim eight of the World’s highest mountains with summits at over 8,000 meters. The mountain passes were quite amazing and after about two and a half hours, we were descending quite steeply. Suddenly, the change in scenery was amazing, with difference of colors, fertile land, traditional Tibetan villages and trees. We stopped at one village for photos and what seemed like all the village children crowded us, holding their hands out for sweets – we were out of sweets, so we gave them two pens, they were so delighted, poor kids. The Tibetan traditional architecture is quite unusual. The houses are built in stone and are very colorful, with large windows and flat roofs. However, the roofs are very well insulated at high altitude with a thick layer of dried yak dung for insulation – and it really works apparently. Yak dung, sheep dung and all sorts of dung is used for burning fires – wood is not required – that’s recycling for you!
We stopped for lunch at a Chinese noodle establishment. It was really good and, of course, very reasonable as is the case with most of Tibet.
After a truly breathtaking journey down, we arrived at our destination, the border town of Zhangmu. Here we saw many trucks waiting to cross the border into Nepal, which was our destination for the next day. We were over-nighting in a comfortable hotel, close to the border and will be traveling back to Kathmandu in the morning. It will take about four hours.
Reaching Everest Base Camp in Tibet at 5200 meters shall always rank as one of our most cherished travel experiences. Incidentally, we didn’t take medication, like Diamox – we just followed good practice:
- Ascend gradually and move slowly, without sudden exertion
- Sleep at a lower level than maximum ascent
- Drink about four times the normal quantity of water
- Strictly, no alcohol!