A detailed account on my journey to China and Tibet during the period Sep - Nov 2002. Part 6 continues covering Tibet.Other parts: Yunnan province (China):   Tibet:     East coast China: .
Published: Nov 2002
This travelogue was kindly typed from Stas' original notes in the notebook and slightly edited by Ada Ho.
travel, Chinese, Mandarin, hotel, hostel, hike, drive, bus, Lhasa, jeep, kora, Buddhist, stupa, tibetan, Tibet, nomad, Shigatse, Shegar, Lhatse, Tingri, Everest Base camp, Nam-la pass, Rongpu Monastery, monk, advanced camp, Rongpu glacier
This day we did about 16 km more, stopping to camp at the base of the Nam-la pass.
When I walked in the morning our tents and surroundings were covered with several centimetres of snow, with stream being frozen. It must have been several degrees Celsius below zero that night. And that was at the altitude of about 4.6 km.
The mountains covered with snow were absolutely gorgeous. On that day we met several jeeps heading in and out of Everest Base Camp and several caravans of yaks. Otherwise not a single person.
Just like the previous day it was a very painful day because the back wasn't getting any better.
At the next camping place there were supposed to be 2 springs and a stream but they were all dry so we had to search for the leftovers of the snow which mostly melted during the day in order to get water.
The night was freezing and I had to sleep fully dressed and use the rest of my clothes and other things to add extra padding between my sleeping bag and the earth. In the morning hours I had to boil water every hour to keep me warm. It was a hard night. Though when getting out of the tent at night the skies were amazing. So many stars, so close and the moon shining very strong. I've never seen such skies before.
In the morning we crossed a hill to find the place where we should have really camped last night, there was a valley with streams. Most of the water was frozen which was very beautiful. The rest of the day was quite boring. We kept walking by a different route then described in the Lonely Planet, via Lamna-La which was less steep but added maybe 4.5 km to our trek. The descent was maybe 200-300m and we must have crossed Lamna-La (5000 m) without even noticing it.
Jeeps kept on riding pass us as the day before. Towards 5 pm we have found a great place to camp. It was a seasonal normal camping place inside the stones fence. This place must have been used for extracting barley. The earth was very flat and covered with several centimetres of pure ground (cleaned of boulders), so it was warm to sleep on it. However at about 4 am I woke up from being cold. I have recalled that I had an emergency hot packs, which I've never used before, but knew people who have used them in the army. I put it between my back and the shirt and it surprisingly kept me warm all night.
This was the last day of our trek. It was more interesting as we trekked a bit away from the main road and trekked through several ruins of previous settlements. Also the trekking was harder as we had to navigate boulders and bushes.
In the afternoon we returned to the main road. The first thing we saw was a monk riding a motorbike. When he passed us he has stopped and shared with us a thermos of sweet milk tea (tea with condensed sweet milk). Then he asked for a soap so he can wash himself in the nearby holy spring.
Several hours later we have reached the Rongpu Monastery where we have based our stay. The monastery had about 35 monks and nuns, and was located on the slope of the hill. It had surprisingly bright temple rooms. Usually temples have no windows but this one had and the bright sun was shining in.
We ate and slept at the monastery guesthouse across the road from the monastery. The highlight of our combined lunch-dinner was a meal of good goat meat (slaughtered just as we came in) which was very tender and delicious. At the restaurant we met lots of foreigners who came in on jeeps and shared with us their stories. The night was very cold but I had 4 blankets for my use, so I survived.
That was a vicious day. I've planned to walk to the Everest Base Camp (2h each way from the Rongpu Monastery), wander around for a while and come back. I took 2 litters of water, 2 small mooncakes and camera. I was told the day before that those who want to walk past the Base Camp have to pay a huge amount of money something like US$500 or even more.
As I was taking shortcuts to avoid the road switchbacks, I have happened to come to the Base Camp's location at the ridge above it. I saw it from the top of the mountain and was very disappointed. The E.B.C. was far, far away from the Everest itself. At this point something happened to me and I decided to get to the real mountain base, at least as close as possible.
Since I bypassed the EBC from a side, nobody asked me for any fee, so I've descended from the ridge, fording on the way a beautiful semi-frozen mountain river and started walking parallel to the Rongpu Glacier, on its left side, close to the ridge, where I've found a prominent foot path. After about an hour of walking the path went up to the mountain, and then turning left, I suppose that it was heading to the Advanced Base Camp. But I didn't have any notes with me since I wasn't planning past the EBC. After following the path to the top of the mountain I broke off the path, crossed another icy downstream and continued in parallel with the Rongpu Glacier valley. From now on I had to walk in the snow and navigate huge boulders. There was no trek but sometimes I saw footprints in the snow. Needless to say I wasn't prepared to walk in the (wet) snow and my shoes got wet after a while.
Far ahead I saw the Everest and beautiful glacier hills. I decided to walk forward as long as I'll have enough time to come back before the darkness will fall down (8pm). That meant 5.5 hours one way from the monastery. So I had to turn back at 3pm. But at 3pm I was still far away from the Everest, so I decided to "walk" some more, fighting the stones and going up and down all the time. The final goal was seemingly so close, but I just couldn't reach it.
At around 4pm I've reached the next ridge at which I've forced myself to turn around. Which I almost did, but then I saw that if I get off the ridge and walk back through the glacier valley, I will walk much faster as it looked flat, so I thought that I can still go forward for a while. How wrong I was. I got down and walked forward for one more hour. Only at 5pm I've turned back, after I've reached the glacier hills. That was after 7.5 hours of non-stop walking, meaning that if I walk back at the same speed I'd reach my bed after the midnight. Now I faced the risk of getting stranded in the glacier for the night, without any equipment and food. I haven't eaten anything since breakfast other than two small mooncakes. But thoughts of how to cover 7.5 hours distance in 3 hours were taking over the hunger. Especially it was really hard to leave from the point I've reached. Since I was surrounded by magnificent glacier hills, and very close to the foot of the Everest.
But I had no choice but to leave the place taking quick snapshots on the way. At the beginning I was indeed moving very quickly and I thought that everything will be just great. But half an hour later I've started to face hills that I had to cross, and the problem was that it was a hard task to do, as everything under my feet was on the move. I was constantly fighting the rock-slides. This has slowed my pace to a crawl. An hour later things got worse, I was getting constantly trapped by glacier walls. I'd climb the hill trying to cross it and would find vertical ice walls on the other side. So I had to back trace (again facing the rock slides) and try the nearby hill, but many times I'd face the same problem. This almost halted my movement forward. I thought of getting back to the ridge but it was too high and steep from the point I was, so I kept on fighting the rocks and ice. At some point I've got desperate. It was after 8pm the sun set down and it was getting dark and I was still stranded in a glacier with no solid path out but wild guessing and constant back tracing. Being desperate the next time I faced the vertical wall I've decided to slide down it (about 5-10 m) and got my body down holding on the rock. The wisdom took over and at the last moment I decided to stop this insane attempt and I brought myself back to top and went for a long back trekking. I'd surely break my legs if I'd let go of my hand.
After struggling for another half an hour in the moonlight, which luckily gave enough light to see the silhouettes of stones I've finally heard the river I've forded in the morning, after some struggle I've found the path and guessing the path in the darkness speeding up as fast as I could (I was on my feet for more than 10 hours already, mostly struggling the rocks) but still tried to semi-run. To my relief at 8:30pm I've reached the open valley that lead to the E.B.C. At 9:30pm I've reached it and walked into one of the Tibetan tents to get some tea, I didn't drink any water for a long time, as the water that I've got left has turned ice. After a few cups of tea I've rushed to the monastery, which I've reached at 11p. I was on my feet for 13 hours that day and hardly any breaks. The moon was my best friend that day (night?) as it safely took me out of the mountains. My friends know that I'm insane, so no surprise here. Just the usual me.
When I came to the G.H. everybody were asleep so I've engulfed a box of instant noodles with a great appetite and was off to sleep to. The next day I could hardly walk in the morning.
After having a breakfast, I've befriended a group of Chinese tourists, who took me to the Shegar turn-point on the Friendship Highway for 120Y on their jeep. We drove on the road that I was originally planning to trek out of E.B.C. But after 4 days of hardcore trekking and a crazy 5th day marathon I was too tired to trek more. Moreover, trekking on the road is not fun so I won't really enjoy walking for 4 more days. In addition I was sick and it was very cold at nights. I don't understand why the Chinese tourists didn't let me go with them till Lhatse where I could take a public bus, but they have supplied me with a lot of medicine and water.
So I was hitching again.
After an hour of unsuccessful hitching, a jeep with two Tibetans have stopped and they took me to Lhatse without asking for anything in return (whereas Chinese tourists have charged me 120Y). They were continuing to Shigatse next day, and Lhasa the day after. They decided to move closer to Shigatse that night and I decided to join them hoping to catch a bus to Lhasa the next day from Shigatse. So they drove for another 100 km and stopped at some truck stop with a small guesthouse handled by 5 Chinese girls. It was a fun evening. Both guys were drinking a lot of beer and the girls would refill their glasses the moment they sip just a bit. Then hand the glass to the guy. And that process has continued for hours. They were literally forcing the beer down the men's throats.
We reached Shigatse at about 10:30am and I rushed to the bus station and luckily there was a bus to Lhasa leaving at 11am. So I reached Lhasa at about 6pm. It was really great. Just yesterday morning I was at the E.B.C. which is about 500 km away. Moreover I've caught the Bank of China open after 6pm, so I've exchanged money and I was lucky to find the Chinese airline office open, and ticket to Beijing available the next day at 4pm. This was just a row of amazing coincidences. It could have taken me much much longer to get back to Lhasa and get the ticket to Beijing.
I've checked into the dormitory at the Pentoc GH, which was really cosy and warm and after 10 days, I finally had a shower. They even had a western toilet, but I was more at ease with the squat one already :). That night I've eaten at the Lhasa Kitchen restaurant where I've met a couple from NZ whom I gave my Tibet LP book as I didn't need it anymore, and you can't buy it in China/Tibet.
I had a really good sleep afterwards.