Today was a long day, but will forever be a highlight for me. First, how we got started…
We left our fairly mediocre hotel in New Tingri, Tibet and headed upward over another beautiful pass of 5200 meters (17,000 ft.) and much to the disappointment of our guide and driver, we could only see clouds in the distance (evidently, this was where we had a good chance of seeing Mt. Everest and several other 8000 meter peaks in the Himalaya). No such luck.
After this came some of the more adventuresome driving of my life as we tackled serious curves on a paved road with no guard rail (and remember, no seat belts) and then without warning the driver took a sharp left off the side of the road into what appeared to be nothing (down a very steep hill). We were bouncing around like kids on a bed for about 1 minute before finally asking. Answer: “short cut.”
The rest of the driving for the day didn’t get much better. All above 4600 meters (15,000 ft.) and all off-road. BTW – not to plug the Toyota Land Cruiser, but 80% of all vehicles on the friendship highway are exactly like ours, and 80% of those are white for some reason. If you are into treacherous driving in the middle of nowhere, you might want to consider one.
Just as the road had gotten boring and we had been fully shaken and stirred by the bumps, our guide and driver started going nuts. We looked up from our boredom and music-listening to see it… Everest! In the sun!!! The North Face. For those of you who don’t know, this is a very rare sight. Our guide does this trip once a month and has been doing it for 12 years – she has seen it clearly like we did only 10 times in her life. Even better is that it stayed clear for the hour or so it took us to get to base camp, where we took about four thousand photos and then walked the mile or so back to the tent city where we would be spending the night.
The bad news in all of this is that Ty started to feel ill in the late afternoon. Classic high-altitude sickness (the mild form). Headache, nausea, etc. He was basically out of commission until the next morning. Luckily I felt fine and even went for a long walk by myself to just “be” near the mountain. I’m a real sucker for big mountains and as you know, this is the biggest. It even showed itself slightly to me a few more times during my walk.
I finally retired to the tent to check on Ty and eat some dinner before going to bed, but the real fun was just beginning. Out tent was run by several Tibetan women (most of the tents seem to be) and a young Tibetan man from a neighboring tent kept paying them a visit. While I couldn’t understand him other than “America, good” he did say the magic words for me: “I play guitar for you?” He left and returned with an amazing 4-string Tibetan instrument and started playing and singing. I of course, started taking video and photos. Like a chain reaction, this got all of the women to want their picture taken and ended with 3 of them and the “guitar guy” singing and dancing together. I got the whole thing on video. It was amazing, but even better was watching them huddled around the video camera watching themselves and giggling. I think they had more fun than I did. I should also mention that this was the first time I bonded with the driver a bit, who you can just tell is a very funny fatherly figure. Everyone around him is always laughing and he himself has a hearty laugh that makes you chuckle even though you don’t know what he is saying.
Over all, a day for the record books indeed.