Tuesday, May 10, 2005

High Anxiety

Our flight to Lhasa was fine. The scenery outside of the plane was fantastic (Martin is working as we speak to get these photos up) though the food inside gave us a slight cause for concern if it was a sign of things to come (salty porridge....?).

The flight was on-time and when we landed we started to wonder if all this talk of Altitude Sickness is just lies. Headaches, dizzyness, out-of-breath, yeah right. We were fine and we're only in the airport (kind of like that time we beat jet lag and woke up in a hotel room in Gympie at 9 o'clock at night - try finding food at that time of night in Gympie!).

It was another two hours before we were able to feel its first effects. The airport at Lhasa is over 90 kms outside of town and so felt fine for the two hour coach journey into town. We arrived at our Hotel and proceeded to walk up two flights of stairs to the reception. After the first flight we started to breath heavily and by the second we were panting like we'd just done the Ventoux. After checking into our room we discovered we needed to have a good lie down (involving a four hour nap) after which we had the strangest feeling in the world - the dizzyness of being tipsy combined with a hangover size headache. Hmm, hardly seems fair to have them both at the same time.

Its probably a good time now to say we were pretty disappointed with Tibet. Perhaps our perceptions were too unrealistic. We knew it wasn't going to be the Shangri-la of "Lost Horizon" fame and we knew that the Chinese had altered it forever, but we just couldn't get a good feeling for it. Maybe it was the harrassing monks shouting "Money, money!" at any white-faced tourists they see or being persistently overcharged by shopkeepers. Alternatively it could be the sinister Non-Government operators (NGOs) who seem to each have a token Tibetan with them in each of the restaurants we went to. Tibet's case also wasn't helped by the profusion of 17 year olds on their gap year whose Mummy has given them a round-the-world ticket which gives them a stop in 20 different countries for five days. I hope somebody back home will tell them how stupid they look in their collection of "ethnic" hats. I didn't have the heart.

As it stands we were happy to leave Lhasa and head towards the border on a Jeep trek that would take in some of the sights as well as Mt Everest Base Camp. We were lucky to be paired with Ana and Juan Carlos (from Spain and Argentina) for the trip. Apart from an opportunity to practice my ever-diminishing spanish, Ana and Juan Carlos were great companions and always up for a laugh. Lucky this as we keep running into them here in Kathmandu!

We departed on my birthday (4:00am start - that's why I'm starting to look old!) and over the next few days passed through several of Tibet's towns, monasteries and forts. All these were only a pre-cursor for the big one - Everest. All through the last couple of days our guidebooks had promised glimpses of Everest. It wasn't until Day 4 as we went over our highest pass that we saw it. I'm not going to bother with words as the four of us in the jeep certainly didn't. Instead we jumped out of the jeep and were giddy as children (not just the altitude this time) and ran about photographing Everest and us in various combinations. After half an hour here we jumped back in the jeep and headed towards Everest Base Camp where we would spend the night.

Everest Base Camp was an interesting place for an evening, but I can't imagine spending five weeks there as some of the mountaineers we met had. All that time for acclimitisation must drive them potty. One climber we met, Humphrey Murphy is hoping to go up in a few days time if the weather is right. We've got our fingers crossed for him and will be keeping an eye on Explorer's Web for his progress.

After Everest, we thought the last day would be a disappointment. Thankfully it wasn't. As we lost 4,000 metres of altitude and headed to Nepal the road hugged the river and we had some amazing scenery. The friendliest border crossing ever, a cheap and tasty dhal bat lunch and a five hour bus ride later and we were in Kathmandu. Obviously there are bigger issues in Nepal with the Maoist rebels in the countryside (our bus went through about 6 roadblocks), but Kathmandu is fine and a friendly and welcoming place.

We definitely feel we're back into our world now - driving on the left, cricket in the streets and fantastic food. Namaste.