May 20, 2009:
No trip to the Roof of the World would be complete without a visit to the highest mountain in the world!
At the top of all mountain passes and other very high points you will find prayer flags. Lots of them!! There are always five different colors with prayers written in the Tibetan language. They are used to pray for family members, good luck in the coming year, etc. Our guide purchased one of these flags at this pass and had it blessed by a monk at the monastery before tying it at the next pass. The colors of the prayer flags represent: blue-sky, white-clouds, red-fire, green-water, and yellow-earth.
The traditional Tibetan houses are very similar. They are painted white, black, and red. If I remember correctly, white represents compassion, red represents knowledge, and black represents power. We were a bit surprised the first time we saw these dug patties stuck on roofs, walls, or fences around the houses. The yak dung is collected, mixed (by hand) with grass, shaped into patties, and stuck on the wall to dry. Once they are dry they are stacked up in the yard, to be used as fuel for the fireplace in the winter. Some yards had huge stacks, even with winter still months away!
We encountered many Tibetan children who were always happy to greet us with a smile. We encountered these children sitting on a fence in front of their home as we passed through a small village on our way to Qomolangma.
You won’t find many tractors in Tibet. Most of the farmers still use animals to cultivate the land. The decorations on the yak are very typical and common and worn by the animals to help bring a good harvest.
Reaching the final pass before entering the Qomolangma National Nature Reserve was truly a momentous occasion for us. Not only is it home to Mt. Everest (Qomolangma) but also home to 4 other 8,000 meter high Himalayan Mountains! Notice the thousands of prayer flags tied to the gate. This is where our guide tied his prayer flag for his family.
We stopped at Rongphu Monastery, which is the highest monastery in the world, with an altitude over 5,000 meters. It was also the last stop before reaching the base camp where we encountered several yak. This one in particular appeared to be the gate keeper – confident and strong – knowing only the strong will survive!
Around 5:00 PM we reached the Tent Hotel area. There were probably 50 or more of these tents and as we pulled in with the Landcruiser, many of the tent attendants came running out trying to get our business. But it appeared that our guide had predetermined where we would stay as we passed by many of the attendants and parked in front of one. Inside the tent were 5 beds lining the walls and in the middle, a wood/dung burning stove. If you need to use the toilet there was a community out house located a distance behind the tents to keep out the smell! Other than that this was an all-in-one tent! We ordered our dinners from the attendant and he took off through the back entrance only to return 20 minutes later with our hot cook meals of fried noodles. We can only assume that there is a central cooking tent that is shared among the tent hotels. The wood burning stove was kept burning the whole night to keep us warm and we had an endless supply of jasmine tea or hot water. He also had a collection of beer and other hard liquors available to keep you warm and if you needed oxygen there was a supply of that too. The roof of the tent had a skylight that was made of transparent corrugated plastic- a great idea since it gets dark very late here! When it did finally get dark a small light was powered by a battery that was charged by solar panels.
We slept on couch beds in sleeping bags with layers of thick blankets which kept us warm, but even with all of these comforts we had the roughest night of our Tibetan tour. The wind started to howl and did not stop the entire night, shaking the roof and clanging the pipes that held the tents together. The wind kept slamming the tent wall against my bed, making me think someone was tapping me, and waking me up. Also the smell of the smoke from the wood burning stove made the air in the tent heavy and dry. But what was worse was the anxiety and altitude sickness! It struck the both of us and made it very difficult for either of us to sleep that night.