By Mick McDonald
The drive out of Lhasa was the usual, epic mountain panoramas, glaciers, high altitude turquoise lakes and posing Mastiff dogs the size of Serengeti lions! We had hit the tourist trail and saw at least 5 other tourists on the route. On top of lofty mountain passes our car seemed to attract more attention than the scenery. The landscape had changed to that of a very arid mountainous region but still the ever-present snow-capped peaks and glaciers as we made our way to the “Roof of the world” or as it is locally known,” The land of the Gods”
The skies were clear as we left Tingri bound for Mt Everest, we were full of anticipation, we soon reached our first and only pass of the day, at a dizzying 5200 mt. We ascended the pass via a superb series of twisties, surrounded by incredibly arid and steep mountains with a huge valley below and a tiny river, which I image would be a raging torrent after the snow melt. As luck would have it Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven came on, yes, it’s true no poetic license here, and came to a crescendo as we topped the 5200 mt pass for a mind-blowing view of the Himalaya and Everest, although the tip of Everest was partly obscured by cloud. It truly was a breathtaking sight and not because of the altitude, the Himalayan Mountain chain stretched out before us. We stood there in awe for 15 minutes. A series of 100 hairpins bends awaited us as we ascended into the distant valley where the Himalaya became obscured again by mountains in closer proximity. The landscape remained barren yet starkly beautiful complimented now and again by traditional Tibetan villages.
Rounding a corner Everest finally reappeared but this time in all its glory, the clouds had blown away and there it was for all to witness, what an unbelievable sight, we truly were in the land of the gods. To give readers an idea of the journey, it took us 4 hours to drive 88km, such was the beauty of this ride day!
We finally arrived at Everest Base Camp and settled into our accommodation. The evening silence was punctuated by the sounds of Tibetan horns and symbols being played at the nearby monastery, all the while the sun set over a distant horizon and Everest glowed a breathtaking yellow before falling into darkness.
Yes, again it was one of the moving moments we simply will never forget and understood what a privilege it was to witness mother natures at her very finest.
I couldn’t resist the urge to call my busier partner Jerry, via video, from Everest and rub it in. Jerry was on his way home from another day in the office, in the dark, as trucks & cars raced by in their haste to get wherever they were going, we couldn’t have possibly been more removed from our usual frantic life and revelled in it.
The following morning, we arose for sunrise and again were treated to an epic sight as Everest awoke. We drove back over the pass and onto Shigatze set at the foot of a rocky outcrop consumed by the mighty Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 this place would give Potala Palace a run for its money.
If I were honest, we expected the trip to be in “wind down” mode after Everest but China certainly hadn’t quite finished with us just yet. We took some back roads up onto the legendary Tibetan Plateau, at an average altitude of 4000mt, and immediately were presented with a totally new landscape we had yet to experience since leaving Singapore. The plateau stretched on forever with an incredibly vast blue sky punctuated by stunning peaks and puffy white clouds. Yaks grazed on the grasses on the high plateau and reminded me a lot of Mongolia. Eventually we hit the legendary Qinghai – Tibet Highway that will take us part way to Beijing.
As yet another week drew to a close, we scrambled over another 5200 mt pass to get our first views of the mighty Namsto Lake, an immense lake that shone an incredible deep blue that contrasted sharply with the distant white of the snow-covered peaks, sitting at a dizzying elevation of 4700 mt.
Our arrival caused the usual interest as the souvenir sellers made their way towards us with the intent of unloading some of their goods on us, but they immediately forgot why they wanted to see us when they saw the car with the steering wheel on the “wrong side”. Locals asked to sit in the driver’s seat and have their photo taken and incredibly some thought the old Toyota Hilux was actually the Dalai Lama transport vehicle because that is the only other time they had ever seen a right hand drive car, incredible to think these rarely visited places still exist in today’s world!
Arriving into Nagqu and walking the streets caused quite the stir, we couldn’t walk 10 meters without a mother gesturing her child to say hello to us, young girls asking for photos with us and locals simply wanting to greet us, it really was amazing and made us feel somewhat special I guess.
Our last day in Tibet, last day of the week and last day at altitude saw us spend the majority of the day driving across the awesome Tibetan Plateau at an average height of 5000mt. The scenery was again epic with an incredible vast blue sky and still half frozen lakes and rivers that stood at the feet of frozen mountains.
The driving on the other hand was something to behold, seemingly 1000s of Dongfengs, Howos, Fawas and other unidentifiable trucks jockeyed for space as they lumbered along at walking pace on what is easily the worst paved road, we had seen to date. Curiously the truck madness lasted only a few hours, I guess it was a bit like what we used to call “Happy Hour” on the Hume Highway in my trucking days when all the southbound trucks met the northbound trucks, except we weren’t at 5000mt and struggling along at walking pace with our loads threatening to fall off at any moment!
Neither Sarah nor I can believe we have under 3 weeks to go, Singapore seems like a lifetime ago.
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