Drive to the Highest Point of Adventure- Everest Base Camp, Tibet

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From my very first night at high altitude, 14, 000 feet at Sarchu, en route Leh, I knew AMS and me would be BFF. For the uninitiated, AMS is ‘Acute Mountain Sickness’ and BFF stands for ‘Best Friends Forever’. Trust me, at no point you want to have a BFF like AMS. But as luck would have it, here I was again at 17, 500 feet and minus 10 degree, AMS stuck, in the middle of the night, staring at the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.

Once on a flight from Paro to Kathmandu, I had a chance to view Everest from the top. Since then I have always dreamt about going to the Everest Base Camp. But in those dreams, I was always walking with a load on my back, panting at every breath and finally standing in front of the World’s Highest peak. #bucketlist #dreams #TrekktoEBC. *sigh…*

But seemed like God had other plans for me, a relatively easier one.

It started with the crazy team at Mahindra Adventure who organises expedition drives every year. The crazier the better! Last year this time, I was part of one such expedition. A seven day drive from Kathmandu to the Everest Case camp in Tibet, China.

While the trekkers make their way to EBC from the south side of Everest from Nepal, the north face is accessible by road via Tibet, China.

Next thing you know, a team with two Thars, two XUV500s and one Rexton were made ready for the ‘Mahindra Adventure Summit Challenge’, a crazy drive to the north face of the Everest Base Camp in Tibet.

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We were a bunch of 10 people, 1 guy from Mahindra Adventure, 5 Indian media guys, 1 Nepali journalist,  1 organiser from Nepal’s Sacred Summit, 1 Tibetian Guide and me, as the photographer.

The drive which started from Kathmandu wasn’t easy from the start. Fresh landslides in the Jurey area of Nepal, ensured we rocked and rolled in our vehicles during the slush trails and river crossings. This also threw us off schedule and forced us make an unexpected overnight halt at Kodari. (*This was the place where the second earthquake hit earlier this year.)

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The next day was our border crossing into the Chinese territory via the iconic Friendship Bridge.

Crossing this bridge between Nepal and China is rather interesting because exactly half way down the bridge is a line marking out the two countries. Since Nepal drives on the left, you drive your vehicle up to that line keeping left. Then as soon as you cross the line into China, you have to shift to the right of the road as China follows the opposite system.

During the team briefing the day before, the guide team from Sacred Summits, had warned us about the strict customs and scrutiny at the Chinese border. Eyes on us all the time, from measuring our body temperature to sanitizing each and every vehicle, it was everything that we were cautioned about. But in retrospect, the whole process wasn’t as gruelling as we expected it to be. None of us where questioned except me. During the security check, they opened my bag just to find a big case of Khukri rum. The Chinese guard looked at the Khukri shaped alcohol bottle and with wide eyes looked at me.

“Yours?”

While the boys in my team snickered behind me, I wanted to make a good impression on the Chinese and coyly lied, “No, for my dad.”

He smiled and no further questions were exchanged. I was on the other side with my bottle of rum!

*Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum… Drink and the devil had done for the rest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!*

Welcome to China.

Zhangmu, the town right across the border was our lunch stop, which also introduced us to YAK meat. I am a poultarian (fancy term for someone who eats only chicken and eggs) but beggars can’t be chooser and for the next few days it became a staple part of our diet. And apparently produces gas of massive proportions!

*{While on our return journey we made a stop-over at the sleepy commercial town of Zhangmu. The enthusiasm it lacks during the day is made up by the night. I am a city girl and I know what ‘night life’ means but there is nothing to beat this town. After dinner, we headed to one of the local pubs. Honestly I wasn’t expecting anything much but go underground it’s a whole new level definition of party scene. The place had music (from techno Tibetian songs to Venga boys…everything) and dance floor with the cutest old Tibetian aunties, young boys in their skinny jeans and shy girls all holding hands to synchronised dance steps. And the alcohol. Oh man. Nobody orders a pint or a bottle, every table had at least 2 stacks of beer cans. And these are given in shot glasses. I have never had beer shots and this was crazy! Every time someone toasted “Shyabdaa”, everyone around would raise their glasses and gulp it. And before you even keep the glass down, it is miraculously refilled by someone around you. The beer is light, so 20- 30 shots is absolutely doable, with of course insane number of loo trips. The real party starts after 3:00AM with the music going strong and people still flowing in. We go pub hopping, keep hearing “Shyabdaa” all through the night but what floored me was the way the Tibetian youngsters danced. All on the dance floor in two circles, girls and boys. Terribly cute. No vulgarity of any sort. I had never imagined this in Tibet but as our guide said, things are changing. More so towards modernisation and western influence. I will never forget what I witnessed that night.}

We ignored that gas warning, ate YAK at every meal and continued driving to our next stop, Tingri.

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The road to Tingri is part of the famed 800KM long Friendship highway that starts at Zhangmu and ends at Lhasa, Tibet. This stretch quickly became one of the best part of the drive. From the bump-less serpentine roads, the vehicles cruised from the green waterfall laden backdrop to the arid desert with snow covered mountains cradling it tight. With every passing kilometre the landscape changed drastically, the mountains rose and became more spectacular. En route we also crossed a pass, Tong La at 16,900 feet. This pass is a great place to view the majestic spread of the Himalayan range.

 

At 14,000 feet, Tingri is about the same level as Sarchu. Which also meant a huge climb in altitude for us especially since we had no acclimatization day between 7, 500 feet to 14, 000 feet. Diamox was passed round like Tic Tacs and the YAK meat continued to dominate our meals. Now we were worried about not just headaches and nausea but gas as well.

Except for the strange rumbling sounds at night breaking the silence of the place, the night was surprisingly very peaceful.

A quick count next morning saw a few long faces here and there but everyone survived. AMS can be a bitch. But this was just the start.

Then came the drive that would have change our lives, the reason why we readily agreed to go through some major self-inflicted pain. A 70 KM off-road drive to Rongbuk, the nearest location to the Everest Base camp! Driving through spectacular barren landscapes on the roof of the world towards the base of the highest mountain peak made even the ‘off-road’ road seem like the best drive ever!

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Rongbuk, a small settlement at 16, 500 feet boasts of the highest monastery in the world and is an important pilgrimage site. It is from here you can catch your first uninterrupted glimpse of the Everest. But as luck would have it, the sudden lash of snowfall and grey clouds overhead, made us cancel the day’s visit to the base camp.

With dampened spirits, even the atheist among us prayed hard for the clear skies. After all, we all had together battled the cold, altitude and bad case of gas to come this far. With conversations freezing midway and heavy panting in every breath, we sluggishly waited for the next day.

As daylight faded, the temperature dropped drastically. We hung around the kitchen room for as long as possible. But as the night drawled in, we were forced to move out of the warm kitchen to our rooms. I realized no amount of clothes or blankets could keep me warm. Just when I huffed and puffed and managed to reach my room, (at this altitude and no acclimatization even 10 steps can make you pant like crazy), I realized I need to pee. Ugghhh.

*Warning- Nonsensical rambling in the next paragraph. Can be avoided.

Since I was on the Diamox course, I had forced myself to drink insane amount of water and now it was all processed and ready to get out. Going to pee in the cold is probably the worst thing ever. With every layer of bottom I peeled, I could feel the cold needles on my bum. Worst pee session ever. I wished I had worn adult diapers or had one of those ‘go girl’ peeing contraptions.

It was probably around 11:00PM. Some of us couldn’t sleep and walked around to the balcony with our cameras in hand. There in the cold but clear starry night, we could see the sparkling mammothian mountain. Under my layers of woollens, I could feel the goose bumps.

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I was speechless. The sight made an indelible impression on me.

With my fingers crossed and frozen, I prayed the entire night for the weather to stay put.

The next day I woke up with an excited but heavy head and looked out.

Clear morning sky- Check.

5 layers of clothes- Check.

Cameras and batteries- Check.

Vehicles- The cold had got to them.

With the temperature down till minus 20oC at night, and the fuel freezing, the summit challenge came into play! But with a little molly coddling, and some warmth, the men with their frosted machines were back on the road.

As we drove the last few kilometres to the Everest Base Camp, I wondered how magical it would be to finally meet Everest face to face.

We reached base 1, where we waited for some formalities to close. In the meantime, we wandered into a small tent that said, Post Office. I always thought Hikim in Spiti had the highest post office but I guess I was wrong. Here I was at the world’s highest post office at 17, 060 feet. (Another blog post on this later)

Finally the team drove till we could possibly drive to. Not leaving an inch to spare.

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After a point, everyone had to take a 50 meter hike till the base camp. With the amount of layers I had on me, I felt like Bibendum walking and panting all the way up. When that moment finally arrived, it nothing less than magical.

Known as Qomolangma by the Tibetian, Sagarmatha by the Nepalis and Everest by the rest of the world, here she was gorgeous and humongous. The sight was actually very humbling. With cold induced numb faces, aching bodies, oozy head, panting lungs standing at 17, 500 feet and minus some degree, all you can actually manage to do is stare at the World’s Highest Mountain peak, absolutely speechless, for we had just reached the highest point of our adventure!

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I have seen Everest from above, I have seen Everest from below and now I cannot help wonder how it would be standing on Everest someday….

Why you ask?

Like George Mallory said, “Because it’s there.”

CHEERS!

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Extra Information:

  1. According to the Chinese immigration regulation, traveler who enter Tibet from Nepal are required to apply for Group Tourist Visa, a single entry visa, at the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu.
  2. Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu and the Tibet Tourism Bureau do not accept individual applications for Tibet Travel Permit.
  3. Visitors need to go through the local Nepal travel agency, who will do everything for you.
  4. We took the help from the Sacred Summit team, www.sacredsummits.com , a Kathmandu based agency. If you ask me, they were Fantastic!

 

 

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