What makes you infatuated with Tibet in an intensely unforgettable way, are the stunning sights en route to Mt. Everest. It is nature untouched. Every color here is deeper than usual. And you start seeing the Himalayan peaks, bit by bit. If you have a patient guide/driver, then the journey gets longer as there are innumerable stopovers inevitably for photography.
WHAT YOU MUST NOT MISS EN ROUTE TO MT. EVEREST
Yamdrok Lake soaks you in blue
You just have to let the hours go by without blinking, as every turn is visually delightful. The lush greens and mountains look like a painting. There is a lion oops! a Tibetan Mastiff you’ll meet on the way, as well as the innumerable prayer flags that add color to the countryside.
(Males among Tibetan Mastiffs can reach a height of 2 1/2 feet. They are primitive breeds, can easily survive the cold of the Himalayan region & lack the smell that comes from being big/having a coat)
But wait till you reach the 1st stopover. Yamdrok Lake (elevation of 14,500 ft). In fact you start seeing it at a distance, with just the color blue. Once you get close you feel like you are in heaven. It is one of Tibet’s sacred lakes and it’s said that the day it goes dry, the land would become uninhabitable. We drove all the way down to the lake & paused. Stayed there for 20 minutes just meditating. It was so calming.
Further ahead you get a glimpse of another shade of the Yamdrok lake as it extends itself across the land to present a sight like no other. You have to climb up what I called the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, to get a view of this stunner.
As you drive for another 2 hours you see the Karo-La glacier. Standing at 5500 m (18,200 ft) it isn’t a big one, but looks fabulous as the backdrop of a stupa & Tibetan people all dressed up in their vivid colors. For photographers this is another ‘must not be missed’ delight
Colors of the rugged terrain
The road trip itself has many checkpoints as is the rule & there is a one night halt both at Shigatse and Old Tingri before you reach the Everest Base Camp. This is the North Face and less populated. Hence you have all the time you need to just stay put, with very little noise around you. Old Tingri has night stays that are more backpacker friendly and run by Tibetans, as well as modern hotels with bathing facilities too. We stayed in the former, which was really just a room and sleeping bags. It totally prepares you for the couple of nights that you are going to spend in the tent near Mt. Everest. So get ready to start a new day without a morning bath.
One look at the play of colors below and you know that none of the inconveniences will bother you. This was what I saw on my way into Old Tingri and it filled up my sleeping bag dreams. I haven’t forgotten this till today. I got out of the car hoping all of that would come closer and envelop me. I had never seen something like this before. Yes, I must leave the city more often but the many shades of red, yellow and red, purple & pink were arresting. This sunset picture is my photo moment of Tibet.
(Sunset in colors painted in ether. I barely caught it for 10 minutes before it bid adieu for the day)
(The guides recommend these tiny rooms with a basin, 2 beds & sleeping bags, as it’s run by Tibetans. Any patronage helps)
Near Mt. Everest (North Face) Base Camp
When you head out from Old Tingri the next day the first peak (8201 m/26,900 ft) of the Himalayan range that you see is ‘Mt. Cho Oyu’, the 6th highest mountain in the world. It is on the border of China and Nepal and facing Mt. Everest (Tibetan name Qomolangma meaning ‘Holy Mother’). I had decided that my 1st experience of the Himalayas would be from the Tibetan side. I knew it wasn’t much explored from there by mountaineers & climbers. Felt perhaps it would be less crowded & cleaner, so I’d have it mostly to myself. I did.
(Mt. Cho Oyu at first glimpse)
The Rongbuk Monastery that is en route to these glorious mountains is where both monks & nuns reside. You get a glimpse of Mt. Everest from there too and many campers set up their tents just outside the monastery. The truth is, however close you think you are getting to the mountains it always seems further away from you. Just my desire to see sunrise & its moods on the tallest Himalayan peak with as little visual distraction as possible, made me get closer.
(Mt. Everest straight ahead. Snow covered & feels like its just around the corner. Nah! that’s just an illusion)
Once we reached the tents near the Base Camp, I quickly had my local veggie lunch (made by the lovely lady who took care of the tent I stayed in) and headed towards the hill from where you have a clear view of Mt. Everest. The tent itself is extremely comfortable & houses I think, about 10 people (travelers) over and above the family that takes care of it. Do not expect to have a bath for a couple of days or have clean toilet facilities. Honestly it will not matter once you are there.
(The beds open up magically once all guests are in. The kitchen is adjoining this and there is some great food cooked by the host. They live here for close to 6 months & exit post November as the cold gets unbearable)
The evening was utterly eventful as it moved from clear skies and an ink blue roof with stars, to a sudden downpour of rain and then snowfall all within 8 hours. Waking up to catch the 1st rays meant a new landscape from the day before. Nature & her show. Just WOW!
(In a state of ‘Shavasana’ in front of Mt. Everest ~ Posture of relaxation where one is conscious of one’s breathing and in a state of awareness of the inner self)
Sitting in front of the mighty Himalayas & Earth’s tallest mountain above sea level (8848m/29,000ft) in itself is overwhelming. And the weather with its surprises simply adds the mystique to the vastness you are enveloped in.
On return as you near Lhasa, push your driver to travel a while southwest of Lhasa city till you reach the Nietang Buddha (this is closer to the airport and can be seen when you are coming into Lhasa too). This is a statue-painting of the Sakyamuni Buddha at a height of 32 feet, in the meditation posture . All around it are white scarves offered by devotees, as a mark of respect to the enlightened one. I had read & seen images of this a while back and since I have a weakness for anything ancient, I didn’t want to miss this 700 year old piece of divinity.
I went to Tibet in September, which was perfect to see the many colors with glimpses of snow. And be it staying in the tent or sitting on an elevation before the Himalayas and meditating, all of it simply humbles you. Both the journey and the feeling of vulnerability is fabulous, if you are ready for it. And don’t think it has ended once you get there. The return to Lhasa is even more stunning. You realize you were always meant to be one with nature and leave the land feeling absolutely grateful.
Tibet is an inner journey to simply get in touch with yourself. In the purest state. Do it atleast once. It will make you float.