I had many estimates for the drive up to the Base Camp. Last night I met a tour guide in the restaurant of the Guest House who had been to India and been there for more than four years. He had been to Varanasi to study Sanskrit and Tibetology, which was useful towards his work as a guide. He told me that I would be able to get up there in about two hours and back in less than that. We managed a sharp 7.30 am start, the first time since we started on the journey nearly two weeks ago. Yingchu suggested that we keep the luggage in the guest house and keep the option of staying back in Old Dingri in case we were delayed at the Base Camp.
Yingchu had warned us that the road would be bad since it was a dirt road. The dirt road was in better condition than some of the highways in India. It was compacted with mud, stone and gravel. As we got on to the dirt road to the Base Camp I knew that the estimate of driving time would go awry. It was exceedingly bumpy and I felt for the tyres. However, the views on the way kept us enchanted. We stopped at many locations for photos and bio requirements. During the early part of the drive there not many cars on the road. After about 9 am many came down from the Base Camp. They were tourists who had stayed overnight at the Base Camp in camps or guest houses for a view of the sunrise. Very close to the Base Camp we passed the Rong Po Monastery, one of the oldest in Tibet which was established in 1899. It houses both monks and nuns. At the time when the monastery was established there was peace and quiet. It is now chaotic with the entire region overrun by tourists. It also is supposedly the highest monastery in the world. We reached 3 kms short of the Base Camp where we had to park the car. Thereafter, we had to take an Eco Bus to the Base Camp. Only vehicles of mountaineers and others using non-fossil fuels were permitted to use their own transport. We had to pay Yuan 25 for the service. When we parked the car a Tibetan lady came out of a tent named ‘Wish Ful Hotel’ and requested that we have a meal there. We said that we would be back after the Base Camp visit.
We took the Eco Bus with a few other tourists for the last three kms to the Base Camp. The view of Mt. Everest was simply marvelous. On the way we felt that the mountain view may be hidden due to low hanging clouds we saw from a distance. However, as we neared her she stood there in magnificent splendour waiting to be admired and adored, at the same time. An inscription on a slab indicated that we were at 5200 meters above sea level. The best part was that none of us had any signs of altitude sickness, perhaps, because of the Diamox that we had been having over the past few days. At that point it looked as if we had carried the oxygen cylinders for nothing. But it is better to be prepared rather than be sorry at some stage. We climbed a small hillock to get better views and take more pictures. The army presence there is discernible. It is with a lot of reluctance that we moved away from there. Strangely, when we reached the place where the car had been parked clouds had partially hidden her majesty.
We decided on lunch at the Wish Ful Hotel. The order was for omlette, which was the staple for Lal, veg soup, chicken noodle soup and boiled eggs. Yingchu and I shared the chicken noodle soup, which was incredibly tasty. While waiting for the order to be served I went to the car to put the woolens back as it was extremely hot. Yingchu suggested sunscreen to avoid sunburn! And, we had lugged so much of warm clothes. To my utter surprise I discovered that the cover of the spare tyre was missing. It was strange that we had not noticed it when we had parked the car there. I went through the photos that we had taken en route and found that we had lost it some way behind. We hoped to retrieve it on the return. Without it the spare tyre would be easy prey for pranksters.
The meal, as usual in Tibet, was exceedingly good. I had asked Yingchu to help choose the local dishes so that we sample them during the journey. The return trip to Old Dingri took us only two hours while the climb to the Base Camp had taken three. The sad part of the return is that the cover of the spare tyre could not be located. I will try to get one in Shigatse. Since we were at the Snow Leopard Guest House by 3 pm we decided to load up the car and push on another 60 kms to Dingri. The distance was done in less than an hour which included a police chick point stop over. The G318 highway runs from Shanghai to Zhangmu, a distance of more than 5300 kms. With exceptions of small stretches, Yingchu told us that the road is exceedingly good.