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Everest Base Camp drive

Thursday, June 12, 2008
The massive and mysterious Mt Everest captures the imagination of travellers from around the world. Straddling the borders of Nepal and Tibet, the majestic giant sits at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Its Tibetan name, Qomolangma, means "mother of the universe". Climbers have been attempting to reach the summit since 1922, but for most mortals its physical demands place it out of reach.

In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached the summit after a gruelling climb up the southern face. They were low on oxygen and stayed for just 15 minutes before making the equally gruelling descent.

North and south base camps are used by climbers as a place of rest, to acclimatise and reduce the risk of altitude sickness. They are made up of long lines of tents with food, blankets and lighting, all delivered by sherpas and animals.

To approach Everest from the Nepalese side requires an eight-day trek to the south base camp, but from the Tibetan side you take the two-lane Friendship Highway joining Tibet and Nepal to the north base camp. It is 3500m above sea level and can be fairly hairy in parts.

The 20-hour drive to the south-west camp is a true frontier adventure. You will cover 700 winding kilometres, with a couple of detours along the way which are well worth taking.

From Lhasa, you reach Yamdruk Tso Lake in two-and-a-half hours. The large coiling turquoise lake is stunning. Lying several hundred metres below the road, it is first viewed from the Kamba-la Pass. Also down there are the Samding monastery and the little village of Nangartse.

At an elevation of 4488m, Yamdruk Tso Lake is one of Tibet's four holy lakes and pilgrims spend weeks walking its perimeter. Tibetan Buddhists view it as sacred, while their Chinese neighbours see it as a resource to be used in a hydro-electric scheme.

A river runs hundreds of metres below the basin of the lake and the Chinese have drilled a tunnel underneath so its water falls into the river and produces electricity for the Lhasa region.

Three hours further on takes you to Shigatse. It is at an altitude of 3840m at the confluence of the Yarlong Tsangpo and Nianchuhe Rivers and was the ancient capital of Ü-Tsang province. It contains the huge Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by Gendun Drup, the first Dalai Lama. This is one of Tibet's six great Gelugpa monasteries and the tombs of past Panchen lamas rest there in a series of ochre and gold buildings.

The imposing castle, Samdrubtse Dzong, was built in 1363 but destroyed during China's Cultural Revolution. Donations from Shanghai allowed it to be reconstructed, using old photographs as a blueprint. It is built from cement and the outside is wainscoted with natural stones. It will eventually become a museum of Tibetan culture.

New Tingri, five-and-a-half hours further on, provides incredible views of Mt Everest, far superior to those on the Nepal side.

Twenty-seven-thousand square kilometres around Everest's Tibetan face have been designated as the Qomolangma Nature Preserve and New Tingri is the gateway to that preserve. Highlights include the ruins of Shegar Dzong and the small Shegar Chode monastery dating from 1269.

As the road climbs up the valley, you will see tiny traditional Tibetan villages with farmers taking care of maize and potato crops with the help of yaks. Don't be surprised if older Tibetans poke their tongues out at you. It means they don't have green or forked tongues and are not the devil!

The drive to Rongbuk is around three hours, the last stop on the road to Everest Base Camp. Most climbers stop at the Rongbuk monastery for spiritual support on their expedition. There are two accommodation options in town — very basic guesthouse quarters at the monastery and the gleaming Rongbuk Hotel, recently built by the Chinese Government.

The Rongbuk monastery, lying at the foot of Rongbuk Glacier, is the highest monastery in the world. It was founded in 1902 in an area of meditation huts that had been in use by monks and hermits for more than 400 years. It was once home to 500 nuns and monks, but numbers have dwindled to around 30. At its front is a large, round, terraced chorten containing a shrine.

Hermitage meditation caves dot the cliff walls around the monastery and up and down the valley. Walls and stones, carved with sacred syllables and prayers, line the paths.

The founding Rongbuk lama, also known as the Zatul Rinpoche, was much respected by the Tibetans and even though he viewed early climbers as heretics, he gave them protection, meat and tea and prayed for them.

Rongbuk is only 200 metres lower than the north-side base camp of Mt Everest and climbers must pass through it to reach the highest peak. It has some of the most dramatic views in the world, with a panorama of Shishapangma, Mt Everest, Cho Oyu and Gyachung Kang.

North-face Everest Base Camp is just 20 minutes away. At 5200m, it is slightly lower than its Nepalese counterpart at 5380m. The Tibetan side attracts fewer climbers as the northern route is considered more difficult than the southern.

Peak climbing is in April and May, before summer monsoons. May is the best time to view Everest when it is least obscured by clouds. Base camp is a collection of tents housing expedition parties, "tea tents", accommodation tents for tourists and mountaineers and even the highest post office in the world.

Location

The border of Tibet and Nepal.

Cost

The Travel Directors has 29-day Himalayan Express tours through China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. All flights, transport, accommodation, most meals and all entrance fees are included. They are $13,457 per person twin-share. Tours are scheduled for departure on September 21 and October 10, 2008, and there are 2009 dates available.

Prices correct at June 12, 2008.

For further information

The Travel Directors
177 Oxford Street
Leederville, 6007
Ph: (08) 9242 4200; 1800 641 236
www.traveldirectors.com.au
info@traveldirectors.com.au

Mountain Designs
Ph: (07) 3114 4300
www.mountaindesigns.com

Nepal and Tibet
It is recommended travellers to Nepal and Tibet see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.welltogo.com.au.

Check out our celebrity Getaway blog

User comments
check out www.explorenepal.com.au and other available sites for more information on Nepal
I also would love to know about the music and can it be purchased?
Wonderfully Done. Please spare a thoughts to all those Tibetans who have been killed while crossing Everest from Tibet to India in search of Freedom and to meet their beloved leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. xx
Hi there, thank you Catriona for your great segment on Tibet. I had the opportunity 2 years ago for the trip of my life, flying from Kathmandu to Lhasa then the journey to Base Camp and back across to Kathmandu by 4 wheel drive, it was one amazing and spectacular trip, you captured the country and its people beautifully. well done! I too loved the segment's back ground music , what is it called? Thanks heaps for making my memories come alive one more.. k.
My partner and l love your show - the recent episod on Mt Everest was amazing. The music you played whilst covering the story was captivating and both my partner and l comment on how amazing it was. Are you able to send me the name of the tibeten music you played we would love to buy it.......Many thanks, Wendy.
This was a wonderful segment in your already great show. It certainly inspired the thoughts that I would like to make the journey,( and I am not an adventure seeker), that is until Catriona mentioned the "squat toilet"...I was so captured by this beautiful journey I had forgotten the realities. Can you please give me the name of the music you played throughout this story on the trip to Everest from Tibet....it was beautiful and helped cast a spell..until the "squat toilet"!!! Thank you for all your great work.
Hi love your show. The episide you done on Mt Everest was great. My father has an obsession with all things tibet and i was wondering where you got the background music of the tibeten throat singers and was wondering if i can buy it at shops or if you know of something similar that i could purchase. If you could get back to me that would be great if not thats fine. Thanks heaps Nerissa TAS x x x

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