I was excited. The alarm went off in the dark and I popped on the rice-cooker we purchased in Bangkok. This rice-cooker has been a God-send! Lately I’ve been cooking in the morning whilst we are packing up – buckwheat porridge, sultanas, and sliced fresh apple; for when the small rural hotels don’t provide breakfast. Brilliant! Who would ever think of travelling with a small rice-cooker?!?!
Penny had a substantial layer of frost on her black cover and it glistened as the sun rose and we packed her up ready for our drive to Everest Base Camp.
Porridge consumed – and off we went. It wasn’t far down the road before we encountered our first of four checkpoints for the day; two of which were police ones, and the other two ticket ones. Recently there has been an increased number of police checkpoints throughout China, and we encounter on average 3 per day, where our guide provides the paperwork with our passports; car registration, drivers license, and appropriate permits for each region.
We drove west passing through small villages where the barley harvest was in full swing. Rising from the river flats Penny navigated 42 hairpin curves on the way up to Gyawula Pass where the view of the Himalayas caught me by surprise.
We came around a corner dissected by prayer flags and the next thing I could see were these triangles of brilliant white piercing the sky! I was instantly overwhelmed and tried to process what I was seeing. In front of us were 6 mountains higher than 8,000mts. I looked to the left and there was a shape I had recognised…. It was Qomolongma; Mt Everest… standing boldly there alongside, and guardian of the others.
I honestly couldn’t believe that I was there… standing viewing the Himalayas with the cloud in the valley slowly driving through…. and able to see the expansive vista of these beautiful mountains.
We had been so fortunate to have a relatively cloud-free morning, and within about 15 minutes the valley fog drifted in and we decided to descend down the 52 hairpin turns toward where the new Eco-buses would take us closer to Qomolongma.
We passed again through the fertile river flats where the newly harvest grain stood drying in bound vertical clumps. We saw some being thrashed and sieved on small flat areas in front of homes. Mud blocked walls were capped elaborately with Yak dung pats, a vital source of fuel for heating and cooking. Round river stones tumbled from the walls which once held sheep penned. Some of these pens though were being used to pack in sheep, and perhaps those sheep were headed for somewhere other than the paddock as it is apparently the time to enjoy mutton.
About a dozen green buses were parked at the end of the car park where Penny was ushered. As usual we provided a source of much interest and we were mobbed as usual. Today was the first day I became a little unsettled and flustered with all the questions and everyone trying to clamber in to Penny and have pictures taken with her. I just wanted to gather my things and go to view Qomolongma… but it was really difficult to even think.
Hopping off the green bus walking through the Nomad tents at Base camp was a little strenuous as it was at 5,100mts. I forget sometimes the altitude I’m walking until I start to be a little exuberant ….followed by puffing like I’ve just run up a hill.
Oh my goodness. Qomolongma glistened. There it stood, nestled within the surrounding brown slopes. It’s really hard to explain. I don’t know why a big mountain is such a big thing. I asked myself that question whilst I stood quietly. I had no answers really.
I took my watercolour pencils with me on this journey from Bangkok to Londond; thinking I would have time to do some drawing and painting.. LOL.. I did not foresee such big days… but today I was determined to have a couple of hours to just sit and draw and paint. It was so lovely.
I blocked out the rowdy noise of the other tourists and went into my happy place. The sun was sharp and warm. I used my scarf to create shade, as I accidentally left my hat in Penny. I used the water from my water-bottle and gently brushed the pencil marks from my sketches. I felt like I was communicating with the mountains… and yet still had no answers as to why we are in awe of such geology. I had no answers but I can feel something within me when I’m in various landscapes. Here, sitting with my pencils and brush in my hand, I felt humility and gratitude.
It was a perfect afternoon to stay and view the mountains at sunset, and would have been spectacular views; but there was accommodation available for us to stay at Base Camp and driving Penny a couple of hours in the dark back to New Tingri up and down the mountain pass just wasn’t going to be a good plan. I felt content.
The sun to the west now highlighted the geology of these remarkable mountains as we drove home. A police-doll pretended to check for speeding cars; sheep wandered the dry paddocks; and the prayer flags waved on the wind hope and prayer into the clear sky.
It was such a lovely day and one which justice cannot be given through words nor photographs.
Heading further west now.. and in a few days Kashgar. The villages are becoming more sparse and I feel like we are becoming more remote. We have some big days ahead, but I will update when I can.