Tibet…Dedicated to – To Edward Rogers 1969 – 2015. One final checkpoint and a lot of kerfuffles later, we had reached base camp. A circle of identical tents marked the periphery of the campsite; each tent emblazoned with a large red number to aid you in orientating your sleepy, oxygen-starved-self should you need to pee in the middle of the night.
Our tent itself was like stepping in to an Aladdin’s Cave… Thick drapes of yak wool protected us from the harsh outside elements… Central to space was a burning stove fueled by yak dung, and circling this was our beds for the night… Firm mattresses adorned with thick, colourful blankets and fluffy pillows. This was definitely my idea of camping… We were ‘glamping’ it up at Everest!
I felt like I was being suddenly hugged by a thousand warm arms as we warmed ourselves around the spitting stove and were served hot yak butter tea by our local host for the night. The feeling was short-lived though as our guide urged us to press on. We had a small window to go up to the viewing point before nightfall descended upon us.
Back outside, the camp was a throng of activity now. Every nationality was present… Chinese, Japanese, American, Europeans, adventurers from all walks of life tied together by an unvoiced, strong mutual bond to see Everest. If there had been any national stereotypes and resentment beforehand, the vision of Everest had ebbed them away. We were one of the same in this moment, dressed in thermals, our ‘Gore-Tex’ and ‘North Face’ brightly coloured jackets… And together we made our journey towards the viewpoint.
‘Remember, go slow, go slow,’ our guide reminded us again as he watched us race off in excitement.
I consider myself relatively fit and take pride that I can endure an hour of intense cardiovascular workout, but any amount of training proved fruitless in this environment.
I ascended the top of the hill where countless thousands of prayer flags fluttered against the wind and realized my lungs were burning. If I wasn’t smiling so much it may have been easier to take in deep intakes of air but the scenery before me was everything I dreamed of and more.
Its beauty was epic, monumental, wild and terrifying. Heart racing I sat down on a rock and drank in the view. She rose high above the clouds, so high she soared triumphantly into the blue sky above the mist and gazed way down below at us. The sun glinted off her snowy white peak like a sparkling bejewelled crown, adding to the semblance of her celestial status. In front of her were ‘smaller’ mountains holding guard like they were her protectors.
They must have been amused at us, the spectators. We were a weird mix. Some of us seemed more absorbed in taking selfies, finger poised in the air as if to say to Facebook or Instagram followers – ‘Look, I’m touching the tip of Everest!’ This was perhaps not the best place for introspection but for the first time on this soul searching trip, I think I may have found what I was looking for…
I took out my own string of prayer flags that I had purchased in Lhasa and wrote on each flag the names of the people I love… of those here on this earth and of those who have gone from our lives. The Tibetan storekeeper had explained to me that, “Beings touched by the wind are uplifted and happier, and will receive good fortune. The stronger the wind, the more your silent prayers will be answered…”Touched by this belief, I too wanted to believe the mystical powers hidden in these landscapes. I wanted to believe that there was magic in this world, that life wasn’t all about heartache, loss and suffering.
Names clearly written, with a strong desire to believe, I strung up my prayer flags to join the thousands of others. I watched each colourful flag flap against the escalating wind and imagined that everything in the world would be okay now; that with love there would be harmony, that with acceptance there would be peace, that with optimism there would be happy and that with happiness there would be belief.
Enlightenment to the soul was but for a fleeting moment though… The honking of a bus was rounding the last of us little adventurers up for the day. The sky was darkening. The rain was on the approach. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped. I was happy to be led back to camp where we were going to be fed and then put to bed.
As the six of us sat around the stove and tucked into our vegetable chow mein later, sure enough, the heavens had opened. The wind and rain tried to whip at our tent but years and years of nomadic living in harsh conditions outwitted the weather. I only wished our particular tent had caught up with modern times! I was in need of pee and discovered the only facility was a 100 yards away in a shared outbuilding.
It was pitch black outside now. The prospect of peeing in a sh!thole in the dark was foreboding. Thank goodness I had packed a head torch and strapped it on to my head like I was going on a major expedition. The wind was howling and rendered my umbrella useless. I envied every man I spotted p!ssing against the side of their 4WD. They were like rabbits caught in my headlights as I dodged growing puddles and god knows what…. Human feces???! Finally, I found the ‘washroom’ and from that moment on, I will never take a proper toilet for granted.
Sleep came in stutters. The retching and vomiting of nearby campers stirred even the heaviest of sleepers. The altitude was ruthless and smothering. I gave up trying to drift back to sleep and stepped out of the tent to take another glimpse of Chomolungma before madness descended on the camp again. She was shrouded in mist now though. I would never see her again.
As we made our long, arduous journey back to Lhasa on our final leg of the trip, I tried my damnest not to fall asleep this time. I wanted to soak in everything… the glittering turquoise lakes, the snow-capped glaciers, the expansive plains dotted with nomadic tents and yaks, fields of golden yellow flowers, colourful prayer flags that draped high above us into the heavens and most of all the big, wide smiles and warm greetings of the Tibetans as we passed them… I wanted to freeze-frame every picture, every moment and every thought because from the moment I had stepped into Tibet I realized I now saw the world with a different set of eyes…