Katmandu to Doha to Staunton – 18th – 19th May 2014

We had a lazy start to the day and headed for some breakfast before doing some final packing. 

After getting our things ready for the journey home we went for a wander through the streets looking for some Nepali sweets to take home for work. There was a huge range, which included sets from Switzerland, Turkey, Italy etc, but nothing from Nepal! 

We got back to the hotel and checked out after which we took a rickshaw to the ‘Garden of Dreams’. We spent some time wandering around and had a snack. The gardens have been recently restored and were a compete oasis in the heart of a very body and bustling city.  Plenty of people were there and lounging around and enjoying a welcome break from the city! 

Having got back to our hotel we started or long journey home.  We shared a taxi to the hotel with Jo, another member of our trip, and arrived at the airport.  There followed a 5 hour flight to Doha, 7 hours at the airport (with limited food and drink outlets) before a final 7 hour flight to London.  By the time we eventually arrived we had spent almost 24 hours travelling.  Nevertheless we were both still edited about our holiday journey! 

An early night filled in preparation for our first day in work. Reflection on this bit it seems like a distant memory, but I have memories that will last a lifetime! 

Katmandu – 18th May 2014

As the tour officially finished today we booked a private tour worth two of our group to see some of the main sights in Katmandu.  We meet at 7.30 to start the tie before the heart of the day.

We first went to Patan, a town in the suburbs of the main city.  We wanted through the narrow streets and saw all of the fruit, veg and meat stalls.  As it was Saturday, many of the artisan shops that the area is famous for were closer.  We were taken into a couple of temples all of which were busy with Saturday worshippers. The temples are shared by both Buddhists and Hindus. 

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We then went to the Patan main square or durbar where there are lots of temples.  The woodwork on each of the buildings gates back hundreds of years and is extremely intricate.  However, the buildings have been largely rebuilt as they were destroyed in an earthquake in 1934. 

Our next stop was at Boudha, another town in the suburbs.  The main thing to see here was a massive stupa around which houses have been built. We had some refreshments at a rooftop restaurant and then walked around the outside if the stupa before heading off to our next place, Swayambhu.

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Swayambhu is situated on top of a hill on the outskirts of the city and is also known as the monkey temple because of the wild monkeys that live on the site. By now it was extremely hot and whilst the raised position above the city have excellent views of the valley, it was very hazy and you could clearly see the smog which Katmandu is now known for! There were thousands of locals there worshipping in the temples and stupas.

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Out final destination was the Durbar square in Katmandu.  Like Patan, the square is filled with various temples and palaces.  We wandered around taking in the sites and looking at yet more intricate carvings on the buildings.  The old royal palace has been made into a museum to the previous total family, and we wandered through setting the costumes and artifacts on display. 

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As it was now mid afternoon we headed back to the hotel and spent the remainder of the day relating in the hotel courtyard and having a farewell meal with the remainder of our group.

Kathmandu – 16th May 2014 – Tour day 17

Wrote early this morning as it was light by 5am. After getting bags ready we had breakfast in the balcony in the early morning sun. 

We left the hotel at 9am and drive the sorry distance to Bhaktar.  This is an old Nepali town about 20km from Katmandu itself. The town was extensively damaged in an earthquake in 1934 but has been largely rebuilt.  It has a lovely atmosphere and we spent a couple of hours walking won’t the centre with a guide.  We could not go into the temple as only Hindus are allowed but we were able to look outside. We went into a Thangka school and saw the people painting the Thangkas.  This quickly turned into an opportunity to buy said paintings.

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We then got back on the bus and headed to Katmandu itself. Once again the temperature was hot and the roads manic.  We checked into or hotel and headed for some lunch.  We defined to upgrade or room, although the mini shore promised is not quite what you would get elsewhere, but at least it’s clean and comfortable.

After lunch we had some Gerome before meeting up again with our leader for an orientation walk.  Katmandu is a bustling city and the sights and smells are similar to India.  Constant beeping of horns, locals shouting and steamy temperatures.  We walked down narrow streets with ships crammed in everywhere.  In the area we’re staying there are endless shops selling local tat and also knock off western climbing gear. There are also far more westerners around and you can tell it’s a stating point for different tours or somewhere for travellers to spend a few days before their next trip.

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We returned to our hotel before heading out for our final meal with the group. Done are leaving tomorrow and some carrying on to different tours and it’s always a bit flat.  The group dynamics have been different to other tour we’ve been on but it’s been good to share experiences with others and we’ve deffinately made some new friends.

Tibet to Nepal (Dhulkiel) – 15th May 2014 – Tour day 16

We had a shortened nights sleep after last night’s activities and we left the hotel about 8.45am.  We drove through the narrow streets and back to the dinner place for breakfast.  The food wasn’t much better, and the coffee was awful.  This also have is an opportunity to change money into Nepalese rupees and to give or gifts to our tour leader, driver and guide.

A further half an hour down winding roads, lined with Nepalese trucks waiting to get across the border, and we arrived at Chinese immigration.  We had excellent views of the town clinging to the hillside.

Customs was relatively straightforward and we said goodbye to Kando and walked across the friendship bridge to Nepal. 

It really is amazing how quickly things can change and almost as soon as we crossed the border the sights, sounds and smells felt different.  We put our watches back 2 1/4 hours, but we might as well have put them back 2 1/4 decades.  We met our Nepalese guide and obtained or visas.  Then we walked down to our bus and started the for hit drive to Dhalkiel.  The distance is only about 80km, but the towards are often unmade and progress can be slow.

The views on the journey were amazing and we have exchanged bleak tundra for wooded valleys, rivers and waterfalls.  We are of course much lower, although still at over 1000m and the greenery is lush.  The temperature is much warmer and probably in the low 30s.  Hard to believe that just over 24 hours ago it was -5!

After a quick stop for a lovely Nepalese lunch of curried veg, rice, and dhal we climbed up the hills again to or hotel for the evening.  We are perched right on top of the hill and our room has a balcony with amazing views of the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately it is very hazy as on a clear day you can, apparently, see the Himalayas and the peak of Everest in the far distance. 

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After some fringe we meet up with our guide for a bit of a walk.  We walked up the hill to a place where there was a religious ceremony taking place.  We had a blessing placed on our head with yellow and red dye and some leaves on the top of our head.  The children there were lovely and so keen to have their photos taken.

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One we were finished we headed back to the hotel and has a couple of drinks before dinner.  Then we just spent a relaxed night having some drinks and reminiscing over the last couple of weeks. 

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Everest base camp to Zhang Mu – 14th May 2014 – Tour day 15

After a recent nights sleep, without the need for an oxygen pillow at all, we were woken at about 7.15. We got up slowly as the Trent was cold and had a like warm coffee.  Poking y my head outside, I could see that the wind had dropped and the sky was cloud free giving an amazing view of Chomolungma.

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Some of the group wanted to return to base camp and do we agreed to go along as well and to pay for the bus service there and back.  I am glad we did because whilst the temperature was -5C, the clear skies allowed from some fantastic views of the mountain and, of course, plenty of pictures.

We got back to the tent at 9.30 and immediately boarded the bus for the next stage in our journey. We stopped just up the road to visit Rhongpu monastery, the highest monastery in the world at 5150m.  It is home to 30 monks and nuns and was a very friendly place with just a small assembly hall where we were allowed to take pictures.  Then it was back on the bus for three 4 hour return trip to the main road!

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The road was every bit as bumpy as in the way up and we were ready to stop by the time we arrived back at old Tingri. Here we met up with our your leader and our recovered fellow traveller and had done lunch.

We rejoined the Friendship Highway to begin the climb to our last mountain pass off the trip at 5153m. Here we had a great view of part of the Himalaya range including another mountain which at over 8012m is the 14th highest in the world.

From here we carried on down the road and in 80km dropped almost 3000m to Zhang mu, a town perched on the the a valley.  This was to be out base for the last evening with our driver, local guide, and intrepid guide before we cross to Nepal.  Tibetans are bit allowed passports so we change or guide for the last couple of days.

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The road down was amazing.  The road clung to the edge of the for as we descended and there were many hair pin bends with little room for manoeuvre. The are we are now in send a different planet to that which we were in only this morning…lush green baskets with waterfalls and forests.  There were also reminders if hire precarious the road is.  Nevertheless, we arrived in Zhang Mu and took a welcome shower before heading out for our farewell dinner with our leaders. 

The restaurant we went to was nice enough but, as is often the case, the translation of the menu was not really helpful.

Having finished our food we went to a local nightclub and had a few more drinks, some dancing, and the locals performed an impromptu cabaret act.  We got to bed somewhere around 2am…by far the latest of our trip, ready for a new country tomorrow. 

Sakye to Everest Base Camp – 13th May 2014 – Tour day 14

Alarm set for 5.30am for a 6am start.  Through the night there seemed to be constant dig barking.  When we walked around the village yesterday there were loads of stray dogs barking in the sun and it seems that they wake at night! 

There was no hot water so we had a ‘festival wash’ and were on the bus in anticipation of the day ahead.  It was still dark when we left and there was no heater on the bus so the first couple of hours was pretty chilly!  The dawn slowly broke and we found ourselves traveling through  a wife valley plain before beginning the climb up to the highest point of out journey.  

We reached the Gyatso pass, 5248m (17,056ft), at 8.15 and all got off the bus to take some pictures.  It was absolutely freezing and the wind was blustery which made it fell even colder. Even at this height and inhospitable environment there were locals living and immediately the bus arrived they appeared with prayer flags for sale! It was at this point that we could see the Himalayas in the distance.  Most of us also added our Kada’s (the white scarf that we were presented with when we arrived in Tibet) to the prayer flags. Kadol said that it will bring us good luck in everything we do!

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We got back on the bus and tried to warm up. A short distance down the hill we got or first view of Everest, peeking between two other closer mountains. 

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We continued on our journey, through several sets of roadworks (not a traffic light in sight) and by 9.30 we had a much better view of the big one, and also another peak Cho Lho (8201m) which is further to the west.  The bus stopped for the obligatory photos, but we were still some 110km from Everest.

We carried on down to around 4300m, stopping for a couple of checkpoints and through some spectacular landscape.  So far we’ve been amazingly lucky with the weather as there is currently not a cloud in the sky. This makes the hills and mountains look somehow even more dramatic.  As we drive through the valley we’ve lost sight of Everest for now.

We stopped for lunch in old Tigre. A seemingly new looking motel with an extensive menu most of which wasn’t available. This didn’t please a couple of people and they had a bit of a strop! Jo idea why some people come to this sort of place expecting what they get at home.  The food was OK but the temperature, like many places in Tibet, was warmer outside.  The restaurant gave us all another Kada when we left.

Soon after the town we turned off onto an paved road which will take us to be camp in about 3 hours.  The initial view was of a very wide farming plane with some nomadic people and livestock with Everest and some other mountains forming a superb backdrop.

The drive to tent city,4km from base camp took almost 4 hours along a very bumpy and windy road. We arrived just after 5 and after ‘checking in’ to our shoehorning homely tent, we walked the 4km up to hear camp. Unfortunately, the peak of Everest was now shrouded in clouds and so when we arrived we took some photos of the prayer flags and added our own kadas and a prayer flag to the number. The wind was very strong and made it pretty cold but also pushed the clouds far across the summit meaning that we got occasional glimpses of the top. Bar camp was not at all how is imagined it and in the distance we could see just a few clusters of tents.

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Am alternative to the walk is a minibus service which runs up from tent city and as it was getting late, we opted to take this route down.  When we arrived at tent city we looked back and the summit had completely cleared. We spent the next hour or so popping out from the warmth of the tent to take photos as the sun set.

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We ate some reasonable food prepared by the tents owners but limited our fluid intake to annoys hanging to get up in the night to use the horrible toilets. (Very similar to those in slumdog millionaire)

One of or group became increasingly unwell (although we think she may have been panicking rather than actually neon suffering from altitude sickness). It was decided that she should descend and at 9pm or guide took her with another divert back down the bumpy road to Tingri, 4 hours away.

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Our beds were them made and we were literally tucked in with plenty of blankets to keep us earn with the lights being switched out at 10pm. A couple of his later there was a knock on the for and the police came in to, apparently, do a count.

Shigatse to Samye – 12th May 2014 – Tour day 13

We had a leisurely start today and had breakfast at the third eye restaurant again.

Our leader has been warning us if the effects of altitude sickness seemingly since we arrived in Tibet and has said that we will be most affected when we are at a Everest base camp and staying in the tent city tomorrow night.  Consequently most of the group had purchased an oxygen pillow in case we need to use it during the night.  We’re both sceptical about the need but have gone with the flow and night one between us…just in case! We also went to the pharmacy this morning to buy some more paracetamol although could only manage to get a cold remedy – but at least it contains paracetamol! 

We left the hotel at 10am for the 4 hour drive to  Sakye.  We had a couple of stops on the way including one at a small town where a couple of small dirty children came along for money and where there were stake seeking the usual tat. 

We are now on the ‘Friendship Highway’ between Tibet and Nepal.  It was built with money from the Shanghai government and do the milestones on the road show the distance from Shanghai…currently 5018km! This road will take us ever closer to the Himalayas and Mount Everest which we should be able to see tomorrow.

Or third stop was at or one mountain pass today, the Tsuo La (4500m).  As is usual the past was bedecked with prayer flags and a fair bit of rubbish. We walked up some steps to the top of a ridge 4580m and took some pictures before getting back on the bus for the descent into the valley below. 

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We arrived at Sakye at about 2 and after checking in met for lunch.  The town itself is home to about 10,000 people but is not nearly as developed as the last place! The hotel is nice enough but there is no heating or hot water.  The room is freezing and it is definitely warmer outside. 

After lunch we visited the  monastery which is home to the colourful sect of Buddhism.  There were three chapels to see and each has the usual buddhas.  In this sect the lama is allowed to marry, although the monks are not, and the title is passed to son or nephew.  The third chapel contained 11 stupas (burial chambers) to the previous abbots of the monastery.  The monastery used to be split into two parts but the north was destroyed during the cultural revolution. 

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After this visit we took an optional hike of about 30 minutes up to a nunnery above the town.  This was definitely a test given that Sakye is well above 4000m!  We went into the chapel and, far from the more formal arrangements in the monasteries that we’ve visited, this was far more relaxed. There were for nuns during in the chapel, all of whom were so friendly and eager to pose for pictures with us.  They were selling amulets, which had been blessed, for about 50p and so we all night a little some thing.  This was one of the highlights of the trip so far as they were so very welcoming and friendly and had a cheeky sense of humour. 

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We returned to the hotel and meet up again for dinner at 7.  The food was good, but wire greasy.  Early to bed again tonight as we leave at 6am for the 9 hour drive to Everest. Hope it lives up to expectations!
 

Shigatse – 11th May 2014 – Tour day 12

We had a later start this morning and headed to breakfast at around 8.30am at the restaurant next door to our hotel. We both opted for an American breakfast which included juice, coffee, bacon, egg and fried potatoes. Not a bad attempt considering!

Or first activity of the day was a visit to the Tashilunpo monastery, just around the corner from our hotel. The monastery is the ‘seat’ of the panchen lama (kind of a deputy to the dalai lama).  Most of the monastery was destroyed in the cultural revolution but, like the last place, those coming monks managed to save two of the buildings by pretending that they were storage for barley! 

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The swastika is a religious emblem in Asia

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Our group
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We didn't really coordinate our clothes today!

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The monastery has five main buildings including one contrasting the largest stupa in Tibet (about 26m high), the stupa of the 10th Panchen Lama, a stupa dedicated to the 6th to 9th Panchen Lamas, and an assembly hall.  Once again there were lots of statues to see inside and a charge for any photographs. However, here each ‘chapel’ had a separate charge and the ‘cheapest’ was £7.50 with the most expensive being £12.50!  Needles to say we kept our cameras in their cases in each.

By the time we finished it was lunchtime so we went to the hotel’s restaurant for a snack.  We then meet up at about 2pm to trace the pilgrim’s walk around the outskirts of the monastery which took about an hour.  Along the way we passed lots of wild dogs and some sheep and goats!  We also had a good view of the Shigatse Zhong…modelled on the potala palace.

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En route back to the hotel we called in at a supermarket for some snacks for the coming days journeys and then to collect our laundry!

We filled our free time in a coffee shop which allows us to catch up on the outside world using the free, but very slow, WiFi.

By now it was time for tea so we meet up with the group in a local restaurant.  One again the good was delicious and we managed to occupy our time by guessing the nationality of the small number of other westerners in the restaurant. 

Tomorrow is a lazy start before a 5 hit drive to Sakye. 

Gyatse to Shigatse (Xigaze) – 10th May 2014 – Tour day 11

We ate breakfast at the hotel this morning…lest said the better. At breakfast we learned about the decreasing amounts of oxygen in the air as we get higher. At sea level there is 20.9%; where we are today, at 3859m, there is 12.7% and this will drop to around 10.3% at Everest base camp – all this leads to done breathlessness when doing the simplest tasks.

After breakfast we checked out and walked around 30 minutes through the old town to the Pelkor Chode monastery. This was built in some 1418 and the assembly hall survived the cultural revolution because the monks used it as a store for grain.  Thus means that all of the statues in the 8 chapels and the murals on the wall are all original.  Many of the chapels leading off the assembly hall are very smoky from the two butter candles that are constantly burning and also the incense.  This makes for even less oxygen in the air and it is usually a relief to get outside. 

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We also visited the 5 storey kumbum stupa although we didn’t visit all of the 77 chapels that it contains!  However it did have a good views of the complex. Unfortunately we could not take cameras inside so no pictures from the top. 

We met back at the bus for the two hour drive to Shigatse. 

The drive was only 90km but took 2 hours due to the speed checks meaning you can only travel so fast between two points. Needles to say the bus has to stop for ‘toilet’ and ‘photo’ breaks along the way to kill time! 

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We arrived at Shigatse at about 1.30 and checked in. The hotel is probably the nicest that Weber stayed in so far; cleab , well decorated and in a good location. However it never ceases to amaze that even in the nicest places, the attention to detail can be lacking e.g. lights wired directly into a socket and carpet tiles placed on top of the carpet at the top of the stairs- just waiting to trip some poor soul up.

We had some lunch next door to the hotel then after a short break went for an orientation walk.  Shigatse is the second largest city on Tibet with 200,000 people living in and around. The centre is somewhat disappointing with the usual range of shops selling all manner of tat. As I write this, we’ve come back to the hotel and we’re just having a beer before meeting the group for ta on an hour or so.

We both fancied something western for ta so these up with a pizza and chips…a bit sad but definitely called for!  Had a couple of drinks back in the room with one if the group and then to bed!

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