Monday, 5 January 2015

Day 199: Everest Base Camp - Small monastery, big mountain

Or big monastery, small mountain?
We set out well before daylight to drive to Everest Base Camp.  Yes, drive there.

"The new road isn't finished yet, so we have to take the old road," our guide apologised.  We smiled.  So the Chinese are now constructing their second road to EBC at 5,100m?

After getting lost a couple of times, our vehicle managed the journey without further trouble, even though we do not have a four-wheel drive.  But who needs 4WD when the Chinese have built the road?

Obligatory mountain selfie
Everest, as we approached, looked as awe-inspiring as you can imagine and a lot more.  I approached it with similar cynicism to the way I approached the Chengdu pandas.  After all, Everest is home to the annual spring circus where hundreds of mountaineers pay extortionate sums of money to queue for fixed ropes up to the summit (can't you queue more easily on Oxford Street?) instead of venturing into less frequented mountain areas.  But just as you must 'ahh' at the pandas, even if you think they are due for extinction, you have to feel dumb-struck by Everest.  It stood alone, with Lhotse now hidden behind its eastern flank, jabbing a clear blue sky.

We walked up the road from the Rongbuk Monastery Guest House to the base camp, then sat for hours watching, remarking, photographing, oohing, aahing, photographing, watching.  We tried to make out Mallory and Irvine's route: the first step, the second step, the section of the ridge where they were last seen struggling upwards.  #seekingirvinescamera, we joked, would be an appropriate hashtag for an Everest visit.  Then we stopped joking and started staring again.  At last it was time to walk the seven kilometres back down the track through the thin air.

Rong pu monastery
On the descent, we passed a flight of steps up to a tiny gompa and realised that we were not yet done with visiting Tibetan monasteries.  Leaving the rest of the group, Guy and I found a lone monk at the top and he gestured us inside.  Entering a room full of candles we found a step ladder descending through a narrow opening.  It led to a cave whose walls wriggled and curved according to their natural formation.  We had to bend double to examine the worm-shaped space where niches doubled as shrines.  But although cramped, the air oozed warmth down here and we imagined the lone monk lying in the cave after dark with his book and his radio (the Chinese have even built electricity pylons to one-man monasteries below Everest Base Camp) while we shivered in the guest house down the road.

Everest by night
After photographing Everest towering behind the monastery's chortens, then Everest towering behind prayer flags, then Everest with more chortens, we descended to 4,900m where many mugs of lemon, ginger and honey tea were drunk in the plummeting evening temperatures.  Guy drank beer which may be why he was mad / inspired enough to go outside for a final shot of the Big E piercing the stars, while Chris wrote 'LMC' (London Mountaineering Club) with a torch in the foreground.  The best photo of the trip yet?  Hopefully there will be many more contenders.

The approach road to Everest base camp
Everest's north ridge 
Group shot from our lodge
Chinese road building at EBC
Walking up to EBC  
More selfies
Relaxing at EBC
Everest rises almost 4000m from the Rongbuk valley
Prayer flags at EBC
Selfie #635
Everest is known as Qomolangma in Tibet
Vast amounts of trash at EBC
The tiny Rong Pu Monastery 
Birds hover over Rong Pu
Yak butter candles 
The cave beneath the monastery...
... is accessed via a hole in the floor
Everest and chortens
Everest from the monastery
The north ridge in the afternoon light...
... and in the evening light

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