Friendship Highway Day 3
An 800 km Scenic Route Traversing The Tibetan Plateau, a.k.a. The Roof of the World
Day 3 Route Information || Shigatse to Tingri/Rongbuk Valley
From Shigatse, continuing west parallel to the Yarlung Tsangpo valley, the road passes Lhatse and forks just beyond at Chapu, where China National Highway 219 continues west and upriver, finally crossing the Brahmaputra/Indus divide near sacred Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, then on to Ali in Gar County.
From Chapu near Lhatse, the Friendship Highway maintains the Hwy 318 route number and turns southwest and crosses the main Brahmaputra-Ganges divide at Gyatso La (5,260m), the highest pass on the road. Descending 1,000 meters onto alluvial plains of the Bum-Chu, also known as the Arun river in Nepal, the highway passes near Shelkar (New Tingri) then through Old Tingri, both gateways to Rongbuk Monastery and the north side of Mount Everest.
Day 3 Recap
Day 3. Today had potential. It was supposed to be the day we spent the night in Rongbuk Valley near EBC (Everest base camp). We’re supposed to be there right now. But we’re not. Instead we’re in another disheveled Tibetan Friendship Highway town, this latest one called Tingri, somewhere we’re not supposed to be until tomorrow. But now that we are here we find ourselves trying to keep warm as we grumble over our chocolate & instant noodles, cursing the Chinese & lamenting about that should have been. It ended bad but it wasn’t all disappointment & letdown today. Quite the contrary – it was actually great, beyond great, up to a point. Enter the Chinese.
Gyatso La Pass
Not long after taking my selfie we reached the Friendship Highway’s Gyatso La Pass, not only the highest point of the day but also of the whole trip, not to mention the highest I’ve ever been on planet earth. It was one hell of a (cold) buzz, albeit only for the few minutes to subjected ourselves to the elements.
Our First View Of Everest
The hits just kept on coming. And the next one was to be a big one. Shortly after leaving the Gyatso La Pass we got our first look at a distant Mount Everest, the first time we laid eyes on the world’s highest peak (yes, it’s the ‘preposterous triangular lump’ in the distance).
– George Mallory, explorer, commenting on Mt. Everest
Zhufeng Road & The Pang La Pass
Time for a lineup, a unrivalled alpine lineup as seen from yet another lofty mountain pass, this one the Zhufeng Road’s Pang La Pass.
– dangerousroads.org commenting on Zhufeng Road & The Pang La Pass
A few more captures from the trip along the unforgiving Zhufeng Road.
Rongbuk || The Arrival
We departed Shigatse earlier today at 11 a.m. & we arrived in the Rongbuk Valley (which Everest, in all its glory, sits in) at 6 p.m. having spent the best part of 7 hours inside our hired Toyota Land Cruiser jeep, 4 of those hours hours on the nicely paved Friendship Highway traversing the highest pass of the trip & getting our first views of Everest, & 3 hours bouncing around the inside of the jeep as it slowly made its way up the windy, 90 kilometre Zhufeng Road that links the valley to the Friendship Highway proper. Everything up to that point had been great. Better than great. And it got even better when we were greeted by the Chinese military personnel who patrol the Everest area with a big “Welcome to Everest” cheer as we got out of the jeep, gazing in awe up the valley at the north face of Everest as we did. Geographically we were at the end of the road, outside the only guesthouse in the valley, right beside the Rongbuk Monastery, the highest monastery in the world, and some 7 kilometres down the valley from Everest Base Camp (EBC).
– John Noel, British explorer, commenting on the Rongbuk Monastery
When Good Days Turn Bad
Seven kilometres. Having come this far we were only 7 kilometres from EBC and even having spent 7 tiring hours inside a 4×4 jeep we were as pumped as could be. We were eager to stash our bags, settle into the guesthouse and take a look around the monastery and valley and so just after receiving our greeting we began to unload our luggage. We did so until we were told to produce our passport for yet another check, just like all the other checkpoints we’d passed through earlier in the day en route to our present location. It was then that everything stopped going to plan.
“You not staying here. You don’t have correct permission,” was the official line they spun us.
“Correct permission! What?”
According to the military guy raining on our parade the person we hired the jeep from in Lhasa, the guy who was supposed to arrange the permits to enable us to have the “correct permission”, didn’t do what he was supposed to do. So we found ourselves standing in the Rongbuk valley, in full view of the north face of Mount Everest, arguing our case with two Chinese military personnel who were having none of it. Pat was a model of calmness during the negotiations. I wasn’t.
“We just doing our job,” they kept reminding us. (They seemed to know which lines to utter in order to scupper our plans, & which line – singular – to utter to justify their decisions, but nothing beyond that. Hence it became quickly obvious that attempting to rebutting them was a pointless endeavour).
It was somehow communicated to us that we were granted 30 minutes to take pictures after which we’d have to pile back into the jeep and head back down the 90 kilometre dirt road to the Friendship Highway. Adding another 3+ hours of driving, 3+ hours of nighttime driving on the dirt road we’d just driven up, wasn’t in anyway appealing, least of all to our driver who spent the 30 minutes we’d been granted to take pictures changing the jeep tire, it obviously having succumbed to the conditions of Zhufeng Road en route to the Rongbuk Valley.
The Reluctant Retreat
Nighttime quickly fell as we reluctantly left the Rongbuk Valley which made the 90 kilometre drive back to the Friendship Highway that bit slower and that bit more dangerous. There was a strange mood in the jeep – we were well aware that the jeep was using the only spare tire we had and were also fully aware that a breakdown of any kind would have put us in a rather grim predicament. Seventy kilometres into the trip we stopped on the Pang La Pass, the same pass we had stopped at earlier in the day to gaze and marvel at the Everest region spread out in front of us. This time, however, we stopped to give our driver a rest. Of course we couldn’t see anything that the jeep lights weren’t illuminating, except for the stars in the sky which made for a wonderful spectacle.
We set off again, bouncing the remaining 20 kilometres to the paved Friendship Highway where we all drew a collective sigh of relief. And so three hours after leaving the Rongbuk Valley we limped into the dusty courtyard of the Amdo Hotel here in Tingri, 24 hours earlier than initially planned. It was 10 p.m. and it had been a long, long day of sitting in a jeep, showing our passports at numerous Chinese military checkpoints and gazing at mountains from high-altitude passes. The cold Gyantse hotel room from two nights previous was still fresh in our memory as we were shown earlier the €6 room that was to be our accommodation for the night. The room is small, it is dingy, it is dirty, and it’s not 7 kilometres from Everest Base Camp. But at 10 p.m. it was pretty much our only option – we doubt there are many better accommodation options in this one-horse looking town anyway. Of course the room has no heating and being at 4,390 metres (14,500 ft) means it is also cold. Very cold. As I type (23:15) we’re hoping the combination of our exhaustion and layers of clothing will, again, get us through the night.
“Here lad, where are the sleeping pills you bought in Lhasa?”