July 2001

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The Friendship Highway from Lhasa to Kathmandu. Prayer flags on the left, one of our jeeps on the right and the mountains on the horizon.


We left Lhasa for Kathmandu about two weeks ago. We took a public bus to Tibet's second biggest city of Shigatse. From Shigatse organized for a couple Landrovers to take 3 couples, including us, from Shigatse to the Nepalese border. We were glad to escape Lhatse as the build up for 'celebrations' for the 50th anniversary of the 'liberation' of Tibet were escalating along with the number of troops and restrictions on foreigners. For much of our trip we were consigned to government hotels and restaurants to minimize our contact with locals. The government was so concerned about security that even the exact date of the celebration was kept a secret!

We took three days to drive to Everest Base camp, which is a few hours off the main highway. All the way from Lhasa to the border (5 days), the scenery was fantastic, and more beautiful each day. It was like our own 5 day, 360 degree IMAX movie - no one slept a wink while we were driving. Initially it was mildly fertile valleys, but this eventually gave way to very desolate dry mountains including several 16,000+ ft passes. The 'highway' was mostly a dirt track, almost all the vehicles on the road were 4 wheel drive. There were almost no towns and we saw more nomads moving camp with their yaks than anything else.

Along the way, two of our travel partners (Paul and Gavin) planned a new coffee table book they want to create - 'Toilets of Asia'. They discussed how the book could be broken into different categories such as 'Great Views', 'Minimalist', 'Two-wood Planks' and others. They felt that our current travel path was giving them lots of raw material for the book, unfortunately they could rarely bring themselves to take the necessary photos. In fact, their wives generally had to take the pictures for them. Along the way things got a bit heated - with Paul "questioning Gavin's commitment to 'the project'". In any case, we felt that 'The Lhatse Palace' might deserve a section of it's own. This hotel in the truck stop town of Lhatse was the only hotel I've ever been in (outside of trekking and small villages) that had no running water. The toilet was two holes in the floor that led to a chute to the outside. Truly revolting.

The track from the 'highway' to Everest Base Camp, is 4x4 only and was almost completely impassable due to recent rain. When we arrived at Rongpu monestary (the accommodation near base camp) Everest was almost completely obscured by cloud; we passed a group that had just spent 7 days, waiting in vain for the clouds to clear.

Once at Rongpu, several of our group members developed headaches (we were at 17,000 feet) and one (named Heidi) stayed in our hotel while the rest of us hiked 1 1/2 hours to the actual "base camp". When we returned, she was in very bad shape and we knew we had to descend immediately. Heidi had a migraine headache and had to be carried to the car while she was throwing up. Our guides were extremely alarmed, which scared us. In fact, we were really scared she might die. One car descended with her as fast as possible, not even stopping to let her be sick, at one point it had to drive straight down the middle of a river because the 'road' was blocked.

We were lucky that the driver of Heidi's car was an absolutely amazing driver, who we had already named 'Gun-slinger', for his brutal calculating skill, rough manners, can do attitude- and a soft side. Once gun-slinger had gotten her down to a safer altitude (after 3 hours of driving), her headache receded and Gun-slinger and her husband (Paul) got her in bed. Gun-slinger then spoon fed her until she was able to fall asleep.

Crisis past, the next day featured 12 hours of jaw dropping scenery. The weather cleared to a crystal clear blue sky and we hit a pass on the way out with perfect views of Everest and several neighbors in the 25,000ft+ club. Closer to the border we emerged onto a wide, flat, dry plateau, with the Himalayas dramatically emerging from the edge of the the plateau for 180 degrees. It's easily the most dramatic mountain scenery I've seen anywhere.

We descended quickly from the plateau into a deep gorge that led us to Nepal. The gorge became incredibly fertile with waterfalls every 50 feet. At the border itself we ran into a big border hassle with the guards, but 'gun-slinger', who is a man of few words, and has little tolerance for incompetence managed to get us through.

Kathmandu was a paradise-like vacation from travel, with great hotels and restaurants on every corner. No signs of any of the recent political unrest. We ate Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, huge steaks and more. Kathmandu is a fantastic medievel city replete with the tiniest meandering alleys.

We did 3 fantastic walking tours that were veritable treasure hunts. Poking down small alleys that would reveal hidden shrines; looking under signs that said 'photocopy' to discover tiny 1500 year old statues that we would never notice without a written guide.

Kathmandu Party Cell

Our group at one of the passes, this one at over 17,000 feet.
4 wheel driving up to Everest Base Camp.
Everest sticks out the top of the clouds in the middle of the picture.
A pit toilet of the 'quaint' school of architecture.

Created: August 18, 2001
Maintainer: Keir Paesel keir.robyn@usa.net