We were off to see Mt. Everest. It is only 460 Km from Lhasa, but it is a two day trip each way. The Friendship Highway is one of the world’s iconic roads. The road is good, but there is a very restrictive speed limit of 40 km/h. and we had to check in with endless police stations. We usually had to go in, and they would compare the photo in our passport to our faces, and permits. Sometimes just the guide and Policeman could take our permits and passports. Serious stuff – smiling not allowed…. Vehicles are photographed and timed, so we often had to wait before we passed a check point. There are also statues of Police Officers, and old police cars are parked beside the road, with red and blue lights still flashing. We needed to arrive in Shingatse in time for our guide to get yet another permit for each of us. We were also required to have a Police officer with us the entire trip. Our guide said they had been told he only spoke Chinese, but we were all sure he spoke English and Tibetan too. He never stopped listening to our conversations. He was the last one on the bus every time – we were always waiting on him. Our guide was not allowed to say anything, but there was no stopping us giving him dirty looks every time he was late. We went up, and up, and up. We spent the night in Shingatse, then an early start to EBC. At Gyatso Pass we were over 17,000 feet, with 78 switchbacks to get down the other side. There were no cafes, and we knew we had to take our own food to the guesthouse at EBC so we stopped at Everest Friendship Supermarket and bought cardboard bowls of “just add hot water” noodles. Yuck.
Another stop gave us a view of 4 mountains all over 8000 meters. Arriving at the Rongbu Monastery Guesthouse some of the group decided to trek the last 2 km to “Base Camp”. I rode the bus. I was surprised there was no snow – the snow started quite a bit farther up the mountain than we were. The guesthouse was very basic – no heat (it was minus 5 inside), squat toilets. There was a coal stove in one room where we could heat water. Everyone had a headache that night – but no one complained – we were at EBC!!! Oxygen bottles were available for us to use, but we didn’t bother. Canada has some pretty impressive mountains – but Everest did take my breath away. At that altitude most people are breathless. We started back to Shingatse early in the morning with a stop at one of the high passes for us to all hang prayer flags. The Tibetans believe the wind blowing causes the Buddhist scriptures on the prayer flags to take the blessings to the roof of the world. Our last day back to Lhasa we stopped at a couple of sacred lakes, and a glacier. A great tour – great people, awesome guide, and the highest mountain in the world!