After a long and warm sleep we had some instant noodles and boiled eggs for breakfast. Today we had about five-six hours of drive in front of us back to Lhasa. Jue-a explained that there were checkpoints verifying that speed limit is kept along the way.
The system works such as that you get a ticket with a time stamp and a time for the next check point at the first check point. If you reach that point before noted time, you will have to pay a fine. So in effect most drivers speed and then crawl or take a short break just before upcoming check-points. To our drivers demise they had put a regular check only two minutes drive after the first stop as well. A nice picture of our land cruiser for the small price of 20 € was given by the friendly chinese traffic police.
This was quite bad news to Jue-a which makes about 100 € (note to self, ask for drivers salary next time when deciding with a travel agency) per month and would need to take this out of his own pocket. He asked if he could pick up some locals on the way to Lhasa which we didn’t mind. So three locals later he had reduced the fine to 5 € which was painful but not devastating. When the last check point was passed he gladly doubled the speed limit again, I was kind enough to refrain from commenting on this.
Back in Lhasa I took a long hot shower, something much needed as well as much appreciated. After some blogging Yoon-Ki knocked on my door as we would go out for dinner. I then realized that my black beanie was missing, probably still in the car. I called the travel agent who repeatedly asked me if I wanted to go to Nepali border. When explaining for the third time that we just got back he said I should come to Yak hotel next day to meet him, I’m quite sure he didn’t understand me. Yang would have been very useful but she was off helping two travelers who had probably been food-poisoned (she’s a doctor and knows chinese, good combination).
After some delicious fried noodles at Pentoc, Yoon-Ki and I strolled back to the hostel. I remembered my shaving foam accident and decided to replenish my stock. Doing this using sign-language proved to be a challenge but finally I managed to find some for the decent price of 1 €.
Back at the hostel we met Yang who thanked Yoon-Ki for yelling out that she was a doctor causing her to spend close to three hours with two girls who had eaten hamburgers about 8 hours old. I recalled that I’d borrowed my phone to Jue-a in Shiga when he was out of signal and that he’d then called his wife. So with the help of Yang we called his wife and asked for Jue-a’s number in hope of he had spotted my beanie. Better than that, the wife held the lovely hat in her hand and Jue-a would drop it off at our hostel the next day. Yay!
Now it’s time to publish the blog and some photos. It will probably be a calm night, perhaps watch a movie or read some, I haven’t had a fraction of the time reading I thought I would.
After sleeping long and good we all had a breakfast together before leaving Jung-Wook and Sakura to their destinies. They would wait for the bus that would arrive “between 12 and 13” towards the Nepali border. I found that I’d left one of my favorite thirst-quencher, Nutri-Express Apple, in the car and not surprisingly I now had some ice cream / milky thing instead.
The plan was to drive to Shigatse and spend a day there instead of driving all the way back to Lhasa, said and done. Yang deviously made the remaining trio plus the driver to sing songs on the way. After some initial excuses I was the last and gave in by singing the Swedish national anthem in a way that would anger anyone the least nationalistic. Well, it was a nice variation to the tibetan version of euro-disco that our lovely driver played when not suddenly bursting out into tibetan traditional songs without prior warnings.
In Shigatse we visited the Tashilhunpo Monastery which house the Panchen Lamas (although I guess they’ve hidden the 13-year old boy somewhere more secure). The Panchen Lamas are approved by the Chinese government (in contrast to the Dalai Lamas) and is sort of the political centre of western Tibet.
The monastery had a hefty 7.5 € fee for taking pictures inside chapels so I will only with words describe the 26 meter high gilded statue of the future Buddha, Jampa, in one of the chapels. It apparently took 900 artisans some four years to finish in 1914 and each of the fingers are more than a meter long. It saddens me to see such a poor population prefer to pour more than 300 kg of gold and additional precious stones on a religious statue instead of investing in their own future in this world. I get the same feeling when I see young people indoctrinated to a religious belief performing rituals instead of learning about the world we live in.I think I’m getting the hang of monasteries now, although beautiful to look at and often very impressive (specially when taking into account when they were built) I think I’ve had about my fair share for some time.
When back at the hostel going through my packing I found a bag full of foam, I guess that either the low pressure at the Base Camp or that something had pressed against my shaving foam can. The effect was still that I threw everything in the plastic bag (mostly soap and stuff stolen from hostels) except my hair-gooey and the charger for my trimmer. Well well, less stuff to carry I guess. After a not-warm-not-cold shower Yoon-Ki and I decided to stroll down to downtown.
Not being in a particular hurry or really caring where we went, it was dark when we got to downtown after more or less walking around the whole city. Shigatse is Tibet’s second largest city and shared several features with Lhasa such as vendors, occasional beggars and brand stores. Yoon-ki bought a cake consisting of whipped cream and garnished to look like a cute pink pig. Well back at the hotel he convinced Yang and me to share the monstrosity, together we managed to eat about half of it.
Going to bed early with an ample stock of blankets I quickly fell asleep.
Sleeping through without any real competition the coldest night since I started my journey I started my morning by breathing white clouds and showing some hot instant noodles to invigorate my frozen body. But today is not a day for lament. Today we will see Mt Everest. This has been what I’ve been looking forward to most of all things in Tibet. After our waking up our driver who had overslept it was off towards Everest Base Camp.
Passing scenery surpassing ordinary beauty we drove slowly upwards the mountain of mountains. When we came to the place where tickets were issued we were told that the price was 18 € rather than the 6.5 € (plus 40 € for the vehicle) expected. No sense to argue here, just another trickle of money to the government I assume.
When arriving to the base camp it was clear weather and quite warm so we stayed for more than an hour just watching, taking photos, playing around and some more watching. The raised fee seemed like nothing in respect to what the sight gave me. It’s really an amazing feeling watching the mountain, I will not try to hide that the thought of climbing struck my mind. Maybe next time.
The elevation of 5200 meters didn’t give my any problems except I needed to catch my breath after some acrobatics. The base camp itself was a few container-style buildings which didn’t impress much. Instead we drove back to the Rhongphu monastery we had passed on the way up. The monastery didn’t hold anything in particular, it’s rather small (some 30 monks/nuns), but can at least claim to be the highest monastery in Tibet, thus in the world, with an elevation of 4980 meters.
We drove back heading for Shiga were we would spend the night (and later Sakura and Jung-Wook would depart for Nepal). At the border control (in theory someone could trek from Nepal over the mountains into China) it was some lesser confusion regarding the fact I had two passports (damn you Aeroflot!), but they dutiful chinese soldiers in the end just jotted down the details of my two passports in their log book.
Jue-a promised that the hostel we would go to in Shiga was warm, and he was partly correct. The room where they prepared our dinner was cosy and warm, the room where the five of us would sleep were not so warm though. After dinner I greatly impressed on the locals by taking forth my macbook and playing the video with Jue-a’s cousin.They knew the song and gladly sang along. After some chatting and drinking we retreated to our room, three blankets and my jacket on top ensured that I could sleep without waking up shivering every second hour.