Jewel in the Ice: Kathmandu-Lhasa
Overland, Tibet & Nepal
September 15-October 3, 2002
Day 1, September 15
Day one really began on Friday, the 13th in Los Angeles when the first of our group began the long flight to
Kathmandu. 9 out of 14 had the opportunity to get to know each other quite well before touching down at
our final destination. The views of the Himalayas were somewhat disappointing due to the thick layers of
clouds. But a safe landing at the end of a long and exhausting flight combined with the fact that all our
bags showed up on the carousel was enough to maintain our enthusiasm. Jwalant Gorung, son of Dinesh
Gorung, our concessionaire, met us outside the arrivals lounge and presented us with traditional garlands of
orchids before whisking us off to our hotel, “The Tibet Hilton” in Lazimpat. Here we met 4 more of our
group making us 13 out of 14.
Day 2 would have begun with a dawn trek to Swayambunath, the Monkey Palace, but, due to a one day
strike on September 16th, the entire group (with the exception of yours truly, the trip leader) elected to visit
the temple this afternoon. I stayed at the hotel to sign over a stack of traveler’s checks destined to pay for
land costs for our trip.
Despite a couple of torrential downpours the roundtrip to Swayambunath seems to have been a success and
everyone met in the hotel lobby for a meeting at 6 PM. Here we focused mainly on health and safety
topics. I distributed the 7% tincture of iodine dropper bottles and discovered that the “Safeway Select”
brand of Purell was really liquid hand soap.
We had our first dinner together at a nearby restaurant joined by Ram Rai and Kirpa Tamang who would be
joining us in Tingri for the Koreg Buk portion of our trip. We returned to the hotel around 9 PM aware of
how tired we all were. We retired early wondering what day 2 and the one day Maoist rebel supported
general strike would bring us….
Day 1 addendeum,
A small addendum to Patrick’s day 1. If you were fortunate to get a window seat forward of the wind in
the Bangkok to Kathmandu flight, those clouds parted, opened up completely at just the right times to see
the Iruwaddy River in Burma and the coast of Bangladesh with the many mouths of the Brahmasutra
emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Again they opened to show the Himalayas and the intense green of the
Swayambunath temple has 365 steps to the top. A rough go, but, if you can do it in one breath - instant
Nirvana. Renee did it so now she is our official goddess. Later she said she really took two breaths, but
we’ll let her off. Beautiful views in all directions. Awesome green for a southern Californian after all
those months of drought. By the way, the torrential downpours that Patrick experienced at the hotel - we
saw off in the distance - wonderful sight - just about 2 miles away.
Day 2, September 16
Despite dire warnings of Maoist rebel activity in Kathmandu, Jwalant, our guide, relented and took us on a
walk to Durban Square, a World Heritage site full of ancient 16th and 17th century temples. Perhaps the
most interesting event was the sighting of the “Virgin Goddess”, a young girl who is considered absolutely
pure, and retains her title until her first menstruation. She appeared briefly in a third story window of the
temple, during which time we were not allowed to take any pictures and after which we were encouraged to
make a small donation. Though the girl is chosen from the Buddhist Sakya community, the same family
from which Gantawa Buddha came. Jwalant told us that worshipping her is primarily a Hindu custom.
As we walked through the square, Jwalant told us a little about Hinduism - that there are over 330
million(!) gods and goddesses because every element is worshipped: wind, earth, sky, clouds, etc.
We also learned there are three architectural styles of temples: pagoda, shikara and stupa.
Finally, the most important Hindu gods form a trinity: Rama Brahmin, the creator; Shiva, the destroyer
(whose vehicle is the bull) and Vishnu, the maintainer (whose vehicle is the garuda, the distinctive holy
man/half bird deity who is found in the roof architecture of many Hindu buildings).
Our walk back to the hotel was uneventful, despite (or because of?) the presence of armed (M-16s) guards
placed at regular intervals along our route.
After lunch at the hotel everyone went their separate ways, and I took a long walk with GS Rai, the Sirdar
from a trek I took last year, to his store and apartment in the Baluwatar District of KMD. It was wonderful
seeing a part of the city that was quiet, tree lined and empty of tourists. I tried to help him figure out a
digital camera and answering machine that Ben Parks had asked me to deliver, but both devices were old,
cheap and your basic pieces of you-know-what.
The day ended peacefully enough at our hotel, though we heard that the cellular phone plant had been
blown up today, explaining why Stephane’s cell phone hadn’t worked earlier.
Tomorrow on to Lhasa, where the real adventure begins!
Day 3, September 17
Today we said goodbye to Kathmandu for about 2 weeks and ventured to the roof of the world. The day
started very early (especially for the night owls in the group) with breakfast at 6:30 with bags packed. We
left for the airport about 7 without any turmoil and we arrived for our 9:50 flight.
The Kathmandu airport was smaller and less crowded than I expected. They waved us through customs
easily, thanks to our expert esteemed leaders.
The unforgettable flight over the Himalayas was as spectacular as I had read about. Seeing the peaks
through the clouds was a real experience.
Going through customs when we arrived just took a few moments, either because they are so inefficient or
maybe because we were in a group. Whatever the reason, it was a relief and we were greeted outside by a
perfect day of 70 degree sunshine. This was certainly a perfect sign of welcome from the gods of Tibet.
The trip into Lhasa took about 90 minutes (not including the stops). The landscape was fascinating with
many more trees than I expected. We stopped to interact with a group of Tibetans in the fields thrashing
barley. It was enjoyable to take some photos. I had a great time giving the children basketball and soccer
cards. I was surprised how much English they knew. We also stopped at a religious site where Stephane
was aggressively fondled by the lady selling jewelry by the road. On the way into town, we stopped to
change money at the bank.
Although there was general disappointment that we were staying at the Lhasa Hotel (formerly the infamous
Holiday Inn), the rooms are very clean with working showers and toilets (hurray!). After the friendliest
staff I have ever encountered in my life in Kathmandu, the attitude of the employees here left a lot to be
desired (in my humble opinion). They didn’t do anything terrible, but they smile little and instead of going
out of their way to help, they seem to just do what is required.
After resting our tired and oxygen-starved bodies, we had a relaxing meal with good quality food in the
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I had a pretty severe headache by the time I fell asleep. Luckily,
throughout the night it lessened. Hopefully, the group has emerged somewhat unscathed by the altitude
A few quotes of the day from our esteemed leader, Patrick, for posterity:
“Hang onto your gonads” (when shopping). Referring to the red light district, an innovation of the
last few years;
“You can get laid, re-laid and parlayed”;
“You can get reamed, steamed and dry-cleaned”;
“Or sucked in and blown out again in the bubbles”.
Day 4, September 18
We started the day with a Chinese breakfast at the hotel and luckily, the worst symptoms of our first night
at 12,000 feet were a few headaches and bad dreams.
In the morning we went to the Potala Palace. Bulak, our Tibetan guide, explained that the current palace
was built in the 17th century by the 7th Dalai Lama on the site of a palace built in the 7th century by King
Songtsen Gompo. His knowledge and interest in Buddhism came from his wives from Nepal and China.
He is credited with the large scale spread of Buddhism in Tibet. The Potala contains the tombs of the V-
XIIIth Dalai Lamas with the exception of the VIth. The 12 story structure has served as a sacred and
administrative center as well as a fortress.
We started out tour in the Red Palace which contains thousands of statues of Lama, Buddhas, Kings,
Deities, gurus and prominent Tibetan clergymen. In addition to the Lama’s tombs, there are many stapes
containing relics and ashes of Lamas, small statues and jewels.
The narrow hallways were dimly lit with small lamps and De (female yak) butter lamps, which according
to my guide book “evoke the surreal mysticism associated with Tibetan Buddhism”. Monks were
strategically placed in cubby holes along our tour route - some were reading, others were quietly chanting.
One of the tour highlights was a monk in the Dalai Lama’s meditation room who was intrigued by Randy’s
beard and after close examination, we think may have given it a special blessing.
Amongst the many statues and shrines we saw was an image of the Vth Dalai Lama seated next to the
Chakyamuni Buddha, the religion’s founder, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama who lived in India about
500 BC, the Bodhisattua of compassion, Ceresin (Avalokiteshwara), King Songtsen Gompo.
At the end of the hallway we entered the Assembly Hall with murals depicting Buddha Sahakyamuni’s life.
Near the Assembly Hall was the most elaborate shrine, the tomb of the Vth Dalai Lama, Lhankhang. It is
covered with 4 tons of gold foil (worth $38 million at today’s prices) and adorned with 10,000 pearls and
We saw statues representing three aspects of Buddhood: Wisdom (Manjusri holding the flaming sword of
wisdom), Compassion (Avalokiteshvara) and Power (Mahahla).
Upstairs we saw a variety of chapels and several mandalas, a model of a palace-like structure in copper and
gold enclosing a mystical circle representing the Buddhist cosmos (heaven) and used as a meditation aid
(chalhor). Another shrine, the main statue worshipped in the Potala, was the eleven faced Avalohitesvara
Continuing upstairs was the meditation chapel of King Songtsen Compo, one of the rooms which survived
a fire in the 7th century. It contained statues of him, his nephews and Chinese wives, children and other
kings. We went on past the tombs of other Dalai Lamas. A room with the throne of the VIth Dalai Lama
had a statue of Amitayus (Buddha of boundless life, but no tomb. Another room had an image of Chinese
Some people went up to the roof for an additional fee to get a great view of the city.
We proceeded to the White Palace which included the living quarters for the Dalai Lamas, including a
room for blessing pilgrims, living room for meeting VIPs, meditation room (where a monk blessed Randy’s
beard), study room and others.
We experienced being second class citizens as Chinese groups were moved in front of us. We finally took
the long flight of stairs down to ground level where we ran the gauntlet of street vendors to get back to our
Lunch at the hotel.
In the afternoon we went to Barkhor Square with more street vendors and the Jokhang Temple. This area is
the center of Tibetan culture in Lhasa. The rest of he city was dominated by Chinese.
The Jokhang Temple was built in the 7th century by King Songtsen Gompo to hold the Buddha image
bought by his Nepalese wife. It’s the oldest temple in Tibet. Bulak told us that the monks from 3
monasteries come here to pray 2 weeks before the new year. We saw many more statues, including:
Padmasambhava, the Indian tantric master brought to Tibet in the 8th century by King Trison Detsen.
He is said to have founded the Saurue Monastery, southeast of Lhasa, where he set up the first
Buddhist University in Tibet. He was instrumental in the spread of Buddhism;
Milarepa (1040-1123), a great poet and saint;
More guys with blue and white hair; Avalokitesvara (Bodhisatra of compassion) with 11 heads and
1000 arms with eyes;
several incarnations of the protector (Maitreya);
Skamania (present Buddha) with a crown of gold, coral and turquoise. He is the most important image
chapel of Songtsen Gompo;
chapel of the mystic sacred goat who, according to legend, carried stones to provide the foundation.
There were a lot of pilgrims circling the Jokhang clockwise with prayer beads and wheels turning the many
prayer wheels mounted along the route. Some were praying by throwing themselves prostrate in front.
Most of us joined the procession around the Jokhang. There were 105 nuns ranging in age from 21-90
years. Our group was invited into their prayer room to observe them.
Don & Ruth explored the back alleys of the Barkhor old quarter after getting separated from the group
going to the nunnery. They saw small markets, Tibetans playing billiards and carts with freshly butchered
sheep. This is where Don got his trademark cowboy hat (popular with women in the red light district - so I
Kathie gathered a crowd in the main square as she bargained for tonkas.
That night we had dinner at the Mad Yak Restaurant, traditional Tibetan fare and entertainment consisting
of dances and short plays. Several in the group were not impressed and left early. The Tibetan menu
consisted of: yak heart, lowa (sheep lung), a tripe dish, gyumak (sheep intestines stuffed with minced meat
and blood), yak curd, yak butter, tea and barley beer (I didn’t find anyone who liked these). There was also
a Chinese menu for the less adventuresome.
Day 5, September 19
We started our day with hard-boiled eggs and bread (in addition to fish) for which I was mighty glad. Then
off to Ganden (major monastery for Gelugpa sect) about 1 ½ hours form Lhasa. It is 300 years old and they
have 300 monks. Before the cultural revolution in ‘59 and ‘66 they had 5000 monks. Ganden was
temporarily closed to tourists in 1996 after violent demonstrations (hit with heavy artillery and bombed
from the air) against the government’s banning of Dalai Lama photos. We saw statues of 16 arhats (who
meditated in caves). We saw the monks meditating in the temple (oohmmm) with westerners among them.
We saw the statue of Tsongkapa who was the founder of the Ganden monastery in 1409. We entered the
“library” where they kept the wooden printing blocks and found teenage boys chanting while they made
pages for books as well as painted blocks called pershings.
Then we saw the Tsongkapa tomb which was covered with 20 kilograms of gold and quite impressive.
Next was the statue of Moitrego, the future Buddha. People donate gold for the tombs, so more gold has
been added recently.
We enjoyed spectacular views of the Kyirche valley with a winding blue river and trees in the autumn
colors. It was interesting to see the farming communities we passed with yaks grazing or carrying bags of
grain. The pigs and cows were a challenge to spot before we hit them as they crossed the road. The
farmers are often colorfully dressed and there is the occasional young adult seen exiting these somewhat
impoverished homes bound for the city looking very middle class.
We returned to the hotel at 1:30, had a wonderful lunch with 10 or more different dishes and left a 3 PM
for the Sera Monastery which is one of the two great Gelupka monasteries. The monk population has again
fallen from about 5000 to 500. It is 500 years old. We saw a lot of Tibetan people here. Some were
having red ribbons written on in gold with the names of family members who had died, and they prayed
and put the ribbons into a fire. We saw the statues of the past, present and future Buddhas. We saw the
painting of the “protectors” and the most important protector Buddha that protects the monastery. We saw
a statue of the god of wisdom. He had his head tilted towards the debating courtyard as he was supposed to
be listening. Then, as we approached the debating courtyard, we heard the yelling and hand slapping of the
monks as they debated philosophical questions. The room of 200 men could be heard a long way off. It
reminded me of about 75 Marine sergeants yelling at new recruits all at once within 3000 sq. ft. Only the
monks (sergeants) were smiling and enjoying themselves.
The monastery was founded in 1419 and has 3 colleges. Buddhism was brought to Tibet in the 7th century
by the Indians.
I got a picture of the golden yaks in the middle of a roundabout near our hotel. The traffic signals are
unique also as they have a large overhead electronic readout showing how many seconds until the signal
Dave and Renee split off and visited a nunnery and somehow were chased away from a hill they were
climbing with a radio tower. The rest of the group visited the summer palace (Norbutingka). It was closed
but they enjoyed seeing the grounds. However, the zoo there was depressing (I’m glad I didn’t go). We
went on to an absolutely great local Tibetan restaurant in the Tibetan part of town where they had Tibetan,
Indian, Chinese and American food. I was in heaven. Meals were around $4.00. And dessert! And the
Day 6, September 20
An easy start with breakfast in the Everest Room. Then it was on the road again. Four land cruisers,
curiously all different colors. A false start as we stopped just at the edge of Lhasa for passport retrieval.
An enjoyable break while we waited and Renee entertained us with a kickboxing lesson. The first day on
the road took us to the Mindoling monastery, tucked away in the Droehi Valley at the end of a challenging
8 km ride. The valley appears to be productive even though it is surrounded by a multitude of arid, sand
blown mountains. The Mindoling monastery is set on the hillside, incredibly peaceful and well cared for.
The monks are quartered across the courtyard from the temple and more than welcoming.
The rest of the group visited the monks’ quarters while I wandered the community enjoying the peaceful,
After a box lunch, a strange but flavorful assortment (boiled egg, cucumber, bun, smoked (?) chicken leg,
cake, banana and pear) it was on the road again.
On our way to Tsetang our land cruiser ended up being swiped by one of the many tractor wagons loaded
with an unbelievable amount of barley. Unfortunately, the mirror on the driver’s side of the vehicle was
broken off. Pa-dir, our driver, immediately stopped, turned around, exchanging us for two of the other
drivers and off they went down the highway after the tractor leaving us abandoned at the side of the road.
Patrick, ever the group leader, immediately organized a group of us to continue down the highway while
the rest of us took the opportunity for a well needed rest stop and nap. It is quite interesting that we all
the driver was rushing down the highway to pounce on the tractor driver but it turned out he was seeking
money to pay for damages.
Tsetang was just as the guidebooks described, a modern Chinese city with very little character. The Snow
Pigeon Hotel is somewhat incongruous for its location - a fully uniformed staff including fully (western)
dressed doormen. A quick trip to the south of Tsetang to visit the castle - breathtaking climb and
breathtaking views of the Valley.
As usual, a Chinese feast for the evening meal with an after dinner walk through the red light district of
Tsetang - very educational for some of us.
An eventful full day with promises of many more to come.
Day 7, September 21
So another day being jostled about in the white death-mobile with the taped on mirror. This time over
spectacular 15,000 feet plus passes. We covered it all today, through sunshine, snow, hail and rain, through
terrain that ranged from desert to mountain to farmland to Inca ruin-ish. And, somehow, a yet another
reminder of our good karma, we passed a handmade rickety footbridge just as the car broke out into a
chorus of “Like a Bridge over Troubled Waters”, which our driver, Ba-din, 24 years old, a Red Bull
drinking, cigarette-smoking Tibetan with a sweet little laugh, happened to have on bootleg cassette. Just to
make sure that Ba-din got the feel of the thing, Stephane held up his lighter in kind of a Simon and
Garfunkel in Central Park thing (Stephane, by the way, will do a fine air guitar to George Michael -
unbidden!). So enough about my van-mates. The morning started with breakfast at 7:30 AM at the
Tsetang Hotel. The staff obviously had bent over backwards to provide us with a “western” breakfast -
white bread, fried egg, garlicky French fries, and, as always that exclamation point at the end of the meal, a
plate of watermelon. Then we piled into our thirsty land cruisers for the long drive, past the Lhasa airport
(again!) and the pretty landscape - love the golden poplars twinkling in the breeze against the deep-blue
By mid-morning we hit Yamdrog Tso, the Sacred Lake - lots of tourist busses backed up, old payer flags,
yaks covered with bright Tibetan blankets. A good place to catch your breath before the long climb in the
vehicle of death. To the Khaumba (a pass at 16,000 ft.). Oh, how our driver loved to hug the outside of
those hairpin curves at approximately 120 mph, and had my trusty seatmates, David and Alison, not held
me down, I would have flown right through the roof, soared over the valley and then scattered to the wind,
which isn’t a bad way to go, considering. “Look”, Alison said, showing me the hand that had been
gripping the handle above the door, “my knuckles are white”. And, indeed, I can testify I saw white
Canadian knuckles. Not that our Red Bull fueled driver wasn’t skilled. On the contrary, he was soooo
confident that he would drive full speed when blinded by clouds of dust kicked up by the vehicle before us
and would have no qualms about passing on blind curves in a lane barely big enough for one car. So, it
didn’t really matter that there were no guard rails or seat belts. What really matters is that when you get out
at a 15,700 ft. pass, David says, “Watch the yak shit!” Something new everyday, That’s what counts. Like
the mammoth glaciers that ice over the mountains. You don’t really see that everyday in L.A. or the
spectacular 16,400 pass, Karola, or the emerald green reservoir, 2 years old, put in by the Chinese for
So now we are in Gyangste, a charming Tibetan city, a mixture of old and new. Horses tied to trees (no
hitching posts around), cow and yak trains jostling for position with motorbike rickshaws. Above the city
are the towering ruins of Mt. Tzong. And all today, we could see the snow-capped peaks in the distance
beckoning. We got a bit of snow today and with the wind at our backs, and, thanks to the good country
people, the prayer flags twined on posts everywhere, our prayers for safe passage are being offered to the
Gorgeous blue gray sky tonight with bright near full moon. We took a walk after dinner tonight past part of
the old Tibetan quarter, and were glad we’re here to see it before the Chinese completely obliterate the old
parts of the country where old stone houses still stand with perfectly serviceable stacks of yak dung ready
Day 8, September 22 MY BIRTHDAY (50th, if you must know).
The Chinese believe that “the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step”. Since we are in the
Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, calling that saying to mind seems very apt. We have all made
significant journeys to reach Tibet; now that we are here, whether that journey continues as a merely
physical one or, in whatever way, as a spiritual one is for each of us to decide for ourselves.
Our physical journey today began in Gyantse, once the second largest city in Tibet. It ended in Shigatse,
now the second largest. For a change of pace, we feasted at Tashi, the restaurant that impressed us last
night. But before we could open our menus, dishes began arriving - scrambled eggs, hash browns (Tibet
style), toast and then, to our collective amazement: oatmeal (with honey, courtesy of Janet). With
spectacular views of the fortress, we made a stop at the Tyantse Kumbum.
The Kumbum is just one of several structures inside the walled Pelkov Chode Monastery. Begun in the
early 15th century, the walls once enclosed some 15 monasteries, representing three different orders of
Tibetan Buddhism: Gelupka, Sakyapa and Buton. Although the outer walls call to mind the Great Wall of
China, few structures of significance remain. Perhaps the greatest exception is the Kumbum (meaning
1000 images). Pilgrims ascend six floors clockwise, passing 77 chapels along the way. Statues damaged
during the Cultural Revolution have been restored. The murals are the originals, though, dating to the
1400s. Though we were unable to visit the dzong (fortress), marvelous panoramas of it stayed with us for
awhile as we drove through exceptional countryside. After dropping our bags into beautiful Tibetan style
rooms in the otherwise sterile, but imaginatively named Shigatse Hotel, we lunched at Tashi. The staff
managed to deliver the first meal in minutes. Ruth’s Hawaiian pizza checked in about 60 minutes later.
Dawn, Renee and Stephane spent the afternoon shopping while the rest of us visited Tashilunpo Monastery,
quickly understanding why the guidebook called this Gelupka institution ( dating to the 15th century) a
“stunning” place. Founded by the man who retroactively became the first Dalai Lama, it later became the
official seat of the Panchen Lama (meaning “great scholar’). second in importance only to the Dalai Lama.
With wonderful little cobbled alleys, it was actually untouched by the Chinese and today is the largest
functioning monastery in Tibet.
We capped the day with a visit to the Gang Gyen Carpet Factory. Since it was Sunday, we could not watch
the women weave their magic - and magical - carpets. But the showroom proved enticing enough!
A truly wonderful dinner at the Sumdruptse Restaurant made the day a special one for everyone, most
especially for me; a wonderful present of ringing bells, superb chocolate pudding, two katas and wonderful
wishes made for a never-to-be-forgotten birthday.
Day 9, September 23
We awake to an overcast sky. Breakfast at the hotel featured a buffet and eggs done --not “eggsactly” to
order. We left our brightly decorated Tibetan rooms about 8:30 - the shrine atop the dresser, stenciled
walls, platform beds and empty refrigerators. Left Shigatse (elevation 3900 meters/12,792 ft.), headed for
Tingri (elevation 4390 meters/14,400 ft.). The concrete road ended at the Shigatse gateway and became a
dirt, somewhat muddy road due to last night’s rain. The road edged a wide graveled wash, then proceeded
into a succession of farming villages and fields, some with stands of yellow wild mustard. The settlements
were what Patrick calls “Totally Tibetan” villages with small square houses, a tower on each corner topped
with prayer flags, and presumably a courtyard in the center. (Unlike the cities and towns there are few, if
any, Chinese impacts). The haystacks are low and rectangular. In less than an hour from Shigatse we
reached Tso-la Pass. It was less muddy on the other side of the pass. The sun came out mid-morning.
There were few trees from this point on. We passed herds of goats, sheep, more fields with hat shaped
haystacks and brick making sites with stacks of gray bricks drying in the sun. There were terraced fields on
the far hills accompanied by larger multi-family houses snuggled into the hillsides.
At the 5000 km marker to Beijing (according to Lonely Planet or Shanghai according to Bulak), we
stopped and waited for ½ hour for the 4th vehicle to catch up. Many dirty hands were stuck out. Flocks of
magpies flew over the small village, small monastery and ruins of a fort. Renee and Alison chased and
played simple games such as “Knee Up” with the children. We passed more small villages and road repairs
on the climb to Tropu-la pass (4950 meters). We passed an elementary school campus with unique
architecture including some hipped roofs. There were aqueducts, bridges across the streams to other
villages, and homes with red and blue stripes and windows with painted black frames.
We had lunch at Lhatse at the Tushi, serenaded by street musicians with homemade instruments. Adults
and children alike were selling crystals. Past another checkpoint and past fast-flowing streams with camps
of nomads with their yurts, livestock, multi-colored yaks, sheep, burros and their mild-looking children, we
headed to the high pass - Gyatso-la, 17,121 ft. (There was a building on the way up with a satellite dish
and no prayer flag.
After a gas stop at Shegar we proceeded on to Tingri, where we met Ramrai and crew at the Snow Leopard
Guest House. We went to dinner at the Amdo Restaurant (which lists oxygen on the beverage menu) while
Ram, Kirpu, Keshap and Dowa set up the 2-person North Face tents opposite the Snow Leopard. The sun
was still up at 8:00 PM.
We went to bed. Who could have believed the dogs would bark all night?
Ramrai - a wizard is he
As he conjures up cookies and tea.
His speech is a trick,
His consonants click,
As for vowels, Ramrai has no need.
Day 10, September 24
Almost noon, sitting on the grass - tough and sparse as it is near our tents surrounded by goats and sheep.
A very ancient lady and her granddaughter who came up to ask for money are now squatted down in front
of me watching me write. The girl is singing to herself and touching as many things as she dares. Off in the
distance Everest is mostly surrounded by clouds. Yesterday, when we arrived, at 7:00, the range was clear
with that orange-pink alpine glow of sunset. The herder came up and examined the fossil ammonite I
bought at New Tingri for 7 yuan. The great wash in front of me is where Stephane and Renee and their
horse guides slowly vanished a couple of hours ago. I don’t think the photos will give a true impression of
how vast the wash rising up to the range is. I was shocked this morning to hear from Patrick that this is
where Michael Andrews developed cerebral edema two years ago. It’s 14,400 ft. here and I have assumed
the problem had been at Lama-la pass, 18,571 ft. where Stephane and Renee are headed.
The shithole hotel across the road of 2 years ago is still a little rough - we had breakfast there - now has a
separate shower building with marble floors and counter - and solar heated water. In the restaurant - I hope
someone got a photo - There is a great cast iron stove in the center of the room fueled with yak dung.
Pillars hold up the roof - all painted in Tibetan style and Tibetan furniture. Most of the group set out on
little hikes in various directions while the kitchen tent is being set up here at camp.
The various mini groups returned each with different tales - as I write a little festooned horse cart passed by
on the path with bells jingling. Janet tried to visit the school in town. They wanted money so no one went
in. Sitting on the low fenced wall of the compound, some of the boys harnessed her which she ignored.
Then one of them peed on her from behind. Just a random act or does the Chinese school make them angry
and mean? Who knows!
There is a considerable military compound here - we hear them marching, singing and chanting from time
to time. While I was sitting outside the tent earlier, three little boys sat nearby and held out their hands
asking for money, so I held out mine as Patrick does and one of them offered me a turnip. They had a little
bag of them for their lunch. So, you just never know. Most often they’re just curious, but sometimes,
especially if there are several - a small mob, they get very demanding - kind of the classic boy group
Great lunch in the kitchen tent - curried green beans with eggplant, very tasty fried and spiced potatoes,
tuna and noodles. The first lazy day. The Lonely Planet writing of the hot springs - slimy in a courtyard -
sounded so bad - only a few went -Mike, Jean and Donald. Turned out to be polished granite and not slimy
at all - oh well, next time.
Day 11, September 25
It rained last night, And I started the morning “on the wrong foot” so to speak. I was in the toilet tent
doing my morning routine when I thought I heard something, or felt something move. Unsure, I decided to
ignore whatever it was. The next thing I know, the dirt/earth under my right foot moves, caves in and my
foot goes along with it. UGH, YUK !!! A terrified look at the scene appeared to reveal that so much dirt fell
in that my foot was mostly on top of earth, instead of poop. I moved it so fast out of there, I couldn’t be
sure. After exiting the miserable toilet tent, I inspected my foot and was relieved to see little, if any,
“brown evidence” of my mishap. A narrow escape, indeed!
Elated at my good fortune, I shared my mini-adventure with Bob and a few others who were milling
around. Sagely, Bob confirmed that a pretty wide stance was indeed necessary when using such facilities.
I thanked him for this bit of information and asked whether he had any other “words of wisdom” to bestow
on me, a novice camper, as I preferred such info before incidents/accidents occurred. He wryly apologized
and said that, unfortunately, he only remembers such valuable information after such occurrences!
After a delicious and satisfying breakfast of cheese omelettes and oatmeal, we set off on our land cruisers
through the valley. The roads were bad and, once, one of our cruisers got stuck in a ditch. Our excellent
driver, Lee, kept us out of any serious trouble as we tousled up and down and side to side for hours on end
while we maneuvered across the Tibetan terrain. In the morning, we went through a golden brown 16,225
ft. pass (the name escapes me). For lunch we feasted on tasty Tibetan bread, a couple of “flour tortillas”
and salami, crackers and ½ a pear. We passed roads constructed of rocks and small towns with scenic rock
At about 3 PM we reached Zhaxizom. We caught up with the “Quebec cult” group at about this time at the
Bading Am Dao Restaurant where a few people got off their cruisers to walk for the rest of the way for a
bit of exercise. Those who chose to drive in to camp (at approximately 14,200 ft.) tried to help the staff set
up camp. It was extremely windy so every tent was a challenge to do! When I returned from a walk along
the road to the nearest town, I learned the dining tent had fallen. So we just had dinner (crème soup, pasta
with green vegetables and vanilla pudding) alongside the supply truck to protect us somewhat from the
After dinner, the majority of the group settled in for the evening. A small group joined Patrick on his
evening “walkie-talkie” to look for some action. They found it: at the guesthouse where the drivers were
staying, the small group joined the drivers for a drink and were entertained for the evening by a singing
man who seemed to be practicing a nightclub routine!
Day 12, September 26
The morning started in a drizzle. We are camped in a valley from which we can see the mountains through
the clouds. People in the group are feeling various symptoms from the high altitude. We had to put Bob in
the gamaw bag which is supposed to maker the altitude in the bag lower than that outside. We are
somewhere around 14,000 ft. today.
Addendum from Kathie
Bob’s bronchitis precluded him from going up to the Rongbuk (16,500 ft) and Alison stayed behind with
him in the local guest house. The rest of us piled in jeeps and, about 8 km from camp got out and started
walking. The group included Jean, Mike, Donald, Dawn, Patrick, Ruth and myself. A fierce wind came up
and it was slow going (for me, anyway) climbing into the higher altitude in a headwind, until a young girl
appeared out of nowhere and took my hand. We walked together for some time.
The jeep came back for us at one point to see how we were faring, and we learned that Renee was back at
camp. She had become ill at the high pass (18,500 ft.) and had hitched a ride to camp.
We are here at Rongbuk now, Everest is shrouded in mist and clouds before us. The Rongbuk Monastery
(the highest in the world) behind us, and everyone huddled in their tents because of the wind which must be
blowing at least 40-50 mph.
Stephane has arrived and reports that it’s a damned hard hike over the pass.
Day 13, September 27
At 8 AM when we got up, it was 28 degrees and snowing lightly. We had a breakfast of porridge and cured
ham (or something) and potatoes. At 11 AM we all departed for Everest Base Camp. Janet and Jwalant
had left a bit earlier to go to base camp and then to go back to see if Bob was OK. Janet was to replace
Alison and stay with Bob the rest of the day so that Alison could see base camp and stay with the group
tonight. The rest of us got to base camp around 11:30 AM. We were really in luck as the mountain, or at
least the last 3-4,000 ft was in plain view. Between us we probably took 6 rolls of film. It was, however,
very windy and cold - some of us snuck into a warm teahouse, had some tea and waited while Patrick had
his PM snooze.
About 12:30, Patrick, Kathie, Ruth, Don, Jean and I started the hike back to Rongbuk, while the others rode
back in the jeeps. The six of us did a little cross-country toward the road. When we returned to the main
highway, a land cruiser went by, then stopped. To our surprise, it contained Bob and a driver. He was
feeling much better and had been up to Everest Base Camp and was headed back to his guest house. We
got back to Rongbuk about 3:30 PM. Alison and Jwalant arrived back about 4 PM, also having hiked from
Everest Base Camp. We had tea about 4:30 PM. Dawn has been feeling quite ill so another jeep was sent
down to the guest house. Renee, Dave and Bulak also went. We will pick them up tomorrow on the way
Dinner will be at 6:30 PM for those of us nine remaining trip members in all plus Jwalant. Assuming that
nothing else happens tonight of interest, I will turn this back to Kathie.
OK, so at 6 PM we all went to the Rongbuk Monastery, not that old, but the highest monastery in the
world, both nuns and monks, all very friendly and seemed pleased that we were there. It’s a tantric order
that believes in sex for anointment, 24 monks and 10 nuns.
Day 14, September 28
The day began with tea and cookies in our tent at 8:00 AM and a chilly breakfast in the open air at 9 as the
crew broke camp. We proceeded to the Pesum Crest House (4300 meters) where we picked up Janet, Bob.
Renee and David who had spent the night at the lower level. We then proceeded to Tingri, a long drive
through the gorgeous Tibetan countryside, dominated by gigantic brown hills, some pastureland, a
switchback dirt road that cut an undulating ribbon up to Dola pass (5000 meters/16,400 ft.), and all of it
overseen by the snowbound Himalayan Range to the Southeast. This land is truly unbelievable.
At Tingri several of us showered and were then treated to the daily tea hour, an incredibly wonderful ritual
that I may try to adapt at home. I’ve not had coffee since Bangkok and may try to kick the habit.
An evening walk after dinner to a local watering hole with Patrick and Donald prompted a lively exchange
of bartering between “east and west” and the term “made out like bandits” might have been coined from
this exchange. The Tibetans ended up with Donald’s cowboy hat, Patrick’s mittens and my bracelet and we
got ……… oh well, never mind.
Day 16, September 29
The day began at least an hour late. After a tiring trip to the Rongbuk Valley, everybody needed some
extra time in bed. Frankly, this was the only night everybody had a sound sleep (on the camping portion).
It took us about an hour to serve breakfast and break camp. I must admit that after about 9 months break
(last trek was in the spring season), things were quite difficult in the beginning. Even my hardy kitchen
boys admitted that they had gotten lazy.
We were back on the road a little before 11:00, passed Tingri town, seeing ruined buildings in the distance.
I recalled having read in a guidebook that my forefathers had invaded Tibet in the early 19th century. Back
then, Tibet was renowned for being rich in gold deposits. The Nepalese, from their Tibetan invasion, had
brought back a lot of gold and with this gold, had gilded a lot of the temples in Kathmandu.
Today was a double pass day. Both passes were known as Tong La. The first one was at 4950 meters and
the second was 5200 meters. At the first pass there were several nomad tents and their herds of yaks. By
the end of October these nomads would move to lower grounds. From the second pass, where we stopped
for about ten minutes, we had a 180 degree vista of the eastern Himalayas with Shisapanyrna, the last of the
17-8000 m. mountains dominating the view. Everybody was busy trying to capture the entire range in their
minds if not in their cameras.
The path from the pass was all downhill. We lost elevation quickly. Despite signs saying that vehicles
were not allowed to divert from the main road, all the drivers were more interested in being the first to get
to the bottom. We had lunch beside a river.
About an hour after lunch, we stopped to visit the Milarepa cave. Milarepa, who had murdered many
people early in life, through an event which changed his lifestyle, had attained enlightenment in one
lifetime. He had spent most of his latter years meditating. A lot of the “Milarepa caves” can be found in
Nepal even today. Driving 10 kms from the cave we reached the ugly looking Nyelam. Our drivers got out
and entered their names at the checkpoint. About 2 kms beyond Nyelam town, we reached our camp site.
Off came the tents and the camping gear. As it was not too windy, we did not have a hard time pitching
tents. David was kind enough to help us. Unfortunately, the spot we chose for camp was a yak pasture.
There was a lot of yak dung around. When the yaks finally arrived they gave us the look, suggesting that
we had invaded their sleeping grounds. All in all, this was a good day and people didn’t have any
complaints, for a change. I guess it was the rough terrain and the high altitude which had provoked them to
display behavior contrary to the “easy going” American behavior I have been used to.
Day 16, September 29
So here we are in Nyalem
For this town I don’t give a damn.
The campsite is shitty
Although it’s quite pretty
In 36 hours we can scram.
Day 17, September 30
On second thought, this is great
The crew and the food are first rate.
Each one is a friend
The trip will soon end
We’ll remember the yaks and the peaks, mate.
Day 17, September 30
After a late tea and breakfast, most of the group decided to take a hike over the mountain into the town, led
by our esteemed leader, Patrick. They left about 10:30 AM and had a challenging but satisfying hike. The
hikers ascended 1300 ft. and had lunch overlooking the town of Nyalam. They then hiked into “The
Gateway to Hell” which one of the guidebooks says Nyalam means. After finding Bob & Janet in their
comfortable guesthouse, the group returned in the afternoon.
There was also a hotly-contested hearts game, lasting most of the gorgeous afternoon, as the goats, sheep,
cows and yaks strolled by the campground.
I had a relaxing day, walking into town where I greeted many of the residents on the way in with sports
cards. I made new friends and had fun taking some photos. I ate lunch at the Nepali Restaurant (which
was recommended by my guidebook). The waiter was extremely friendly and I sat with the locals, eating
at the same table with them. The phone lines were out and none of us could call home to say we’ve
survived (so far).
This was a final camping dinner with the usual tasty food with a surprise cake for dessert. Then we had a
brief ceremony when we showed our appreciation to the cooking staff with our thanks and tips. Despite the
howling dogs, we fell asleep, ready for tomorrow’s border crossing. (Disclaimer: this was written in the
tent with bad lighting, so I have some excuse for any content or errors.
Day 18, October 1
Ram woke us at 6:00 with the usual hot tea and cookies. After breakfast we had a brief ceremony where
Kathie presented Bulak and the drivers with their gratuities. As we ate breakfast the sun started to light up
the snow capped peaks above our yak pasture campground, while Ram and his crew packed up our tents.
We left at sunrise for the trip to Kathmandu. On the way, our land cruisers negotiated their way around
many landslides leaving boulders in the road and stopped under a waterfall from rocks overhanging the
road for a “Tibetan carwash”.
The road went along the Pachu Gorge above the Po Chu river and provided views of many waterfalls. We
marveled at the change of scenery from dry arid brown to lush tropical green with many poplar trees as we
dropped 4760 ft. in 20 miles. The Chinese built this section of the Friendship or Armiko Highway in 1969
and extended it all the way to Kathmandu to develop good relations with Nepal. (Military objectives are
We got to the Chinese checkpoint at Zhangmai where people negotiated exchange rates for their yuan with
the many street money changers who descended on our land cruisers. Ram’s crew unloaded and reloaded
our luggage after it and we went through the Chinese customs. As far as I know, no one had any restricted
goods (e.g fossils)confiscated.
We continued 5 miles to the Friendship bridge marking the border where we encountered a traffic jam with
dozens of trucks backed up. Here we said goodbye to Bulak and our Chinese drivers. We walked down to
and across the bridge while porters carried our luggage. Just across the bridge we went through Nepali
customs and got on our bus as Ram and his crew loaded our luggage on the roof.
We continued to follow the river, called Bhote Koshi in Nepal. The road was paved starting at Barabise,
which we were thankful for after 10 days on dusty, bumpy dirt roads. We stopped for lunch at a small town
just south of Lamosangu, which marked the starting point for the trail to Ram’s hometown several days into
When we arrived in Kathmandu we had to squeeze into a smaller bus because our original bus didn’t have a
permit to operate in the city. As we arrived back at the Tibet Hotel everyone rushed for the showers.
We almost didn’t recognize each other with clean hair and clothes as we boarded our bus for the ride to
Thamel and dinner at Fire and Ice, an Italian restaurant with pizza, spaghetti and lasagna. A few of us
walked around Thamel until the many shops aimed at the tourists closed.
Everyone enjoyed the luxury of clean sheets and not having to step over the yak dung on the way to bed.
The Last Day, October 3
Our trip is almost over. In a few hours we will be soaring high above the Katmandu valley with the
sprawling city falling away far below us while the massive Himal will rear up through the swirling clouds
one last magnificent time -- and then we will be gone!
Was it three weeks ago that I sat in the lobby of this hotel, surveying our group for the first time, wondering
what lay ahead of us on our Tibetan Odyssey? Now we know. All the little quirks and idiosyncrasies of
personality have been laid bare. We know each other a bit better now. Most importantly, we ALL got to
the Everest Base Camp AND -- nobody died!
Meanwhile there is still the morning to spend preparing for our departure. Post trip blues are coming early.
A bit sad, sorry to leave, yet looking forward to getting home.
We had our final breakfast together in the dining room. Then Mike and Jean and Ruth left for their trip to
the Terai. David left for his early flight, and now all the remaining duffles are piled up in the lobby. I have
paid the final bill, left a good tip for the staff.
From experience I have an idea what to expect: Ram and Jwalant will come by and give us all the
traditional white Buddhist farewell scarves. Then our bus will be here. We’ll load everything in, cram
ourselves in and with final waves to the hotel staff, we’ll be whisked away through the narrow teeming
streets to the Katmandu airport. And the madness will begin.
But not yet, I have an hour in which to do nothing…
Now it’s nighttime. The Amari Hotel in Bangkok. I drank several shots of good whiskey and feel a bit
numb. Our trip is really over! I’m going to be alone in my big empty house in La Honda.
(Even the friggen cat left me! Ah well! Self pity is no pity, you paltry old fart. Quit feeling sorry for
yourself. You’ve had a great ride in this life and if you were to croak tomorrow morning you really
Meanwhile, sleep. Blessed sleep! Filled with many fond memories. Many faces. Randy, Mike and Jean,
Ruth, Stephane, Alison, David, Dawn, Donald, JANET!!! And
Renee and Robert. And Kathie.
You’re all in my dreams tonight!
Addendum from Ruth, November 5, 2002
Ha, I got a kick out of reading your email. My goodness, so many questions! Yes, the trek is over but I’ve
decided to continue traveling until my $ runs out! I’m in Vang Vieng w/Jim Sumrall on a whirlwind tour
of Laos (we’ve been to Vientane and Luang Prabang - which is so beautiful and interesting). I’ve been
meaning to write and email u my page of the journal but I didn’t have access until 31 Oct and it has been
non-stop since then…
Anyhow, my goal is to email u my journal page tomorrow. Today, I’ll briefly answer yr questions since I
know yr dying of curiosity and hv been patiently waiting over 30 days!
I LOVED the trek - I hated the fact that it was coming to an end. Can you believe it got sown to 6 degrees
F at Gorakshep! Man, I hated when I had to go out and tinkle. Brrrr! But, we saw the most beautiful
sights - Kalapathar was my favorite peak. It was a tough climb but it was exhilarating at the top. So
breathtaking - like u were surrounded by snowy mountains. I hated coming down that peak but the silly
Sherpa rounded us up, saying he wanted dal baht! I started laughing, threw him a Cliff Bar and told him to
sit down and relax a bit longer (we became buddies).
We all did well w/ the altitude and did not get sick (just colds -- I stayed healthy and strong, much thanks
I’m sure to the cook who got a big fat tip and thanks from me). The porters weren’t so lucky - at
Gorakshep they had to take one down because he was so sick. The others all commended me for holding
up so well on my first camping trip. So I guess I did OK. Oh, another highlight was the Cho La pass -
another tough climb but worth it for the scenic beauty. AND I got a permanent souvenir/reminder of it - a
big fat scar on my right forearm from the rope burn (Jwalant installed a rope for us on the descent because
it was so slippery and icy). Also, on the way to Gokyo, we passed some awesome landscapes - sandy
desert-looking areas and glacial mounds/grounds that were melting as we stood - that was unbelievable! In
sum, it was an awesome trip.
I thought GS was great. He is so nice and polite. He invited us to his house for lunch (all 4 of us). How
nice, huh? Then we visited his store and bought some stuff (I took a picture of the scene). Thanks to GS I
made it to Everest Base Camp (he took my hand and quickly pulled me along the boulders and saved me
from many a fall). He’s a great guy.
Finally, no, by the end of the trip I was not curling my eyelashes EVERY morning … only when time
permitted! I chose sleeping in whenever possible!
If u want, I’ll tell u more when I get home (hopefully, this will be in early Dec.) Gotta run (it’s 11:00 PM).
I know you’re done with the trek because I heard from GS. Are you back home in the states yet? I want to
hear all about it!! How did you survive? What were the high (and low) points? How was the altitude?
What did you think of GS? Were you still curling your eyelashes every morning by the end of the trip?
Tell me EVERYTHING!!
Addendum from Randy, November 10, 2002
I’m not very good at sending an email to the entire group, so I’d appreciate it if you would pass this
on…after the group left Kathmandu, I had almost a month by myself and I had some real adventures.
As I mentioned when we were together, my ultimate goal was to reach Mount Kailish before I returned
home…I called every travel agency in Kathmandu and had hard time finding a group in
October…however, one agency said they could take me by myself with a driver and two guides; but it
wasn’t cheap, but they simply acted like there were 4 other people in the group who didn’t show up, so I
was able to obtain the visa. While I was waiting a week for the visa, I decided to go trekking in Annapurna
and I told Jwalant that I wanted an easy 5 days as an introduction to the region. Well, instead, I got a 5 day
circuit that included enough trekking for Sir Edmund Hilary (or Stephane)…the first day was over 1000
meters up the mountain and afterwards I couldn’t walk…luckily, Dawa was there to take care of
me…unluckily, the first day I was run over by a donkey that knocked me head over heels onto the
stones…when I got up I thought the top of my head would be gushing blood and I thought I had also
broken my bad left shoulder or arm…but amazingly, I was OK…I had many angels and spirit guides and
the divine watching over me!
So I decided that there was no way I could walk up another 1000 meters straight up the mountain the
second day, so we rented a horse…the only problem was that it had rained a lot so it was slippery and the
horse was used to people half my size…so he fell twice, luckily not on top of me, so after that I decided no
more horses…we were almost to the top, so after 2 days of climbing I spent the next 2 days coming down
the mountain, and we made it back safe and sound.
After a few days of good food at the Radisson and great service at the Tibet Hotel, we had our 2 week
adventure to Kailish…it was a 5 day drive out there to Western Tibet, staying in guesthouses with dirt
floors, no heat and no showers…I had 1 shower in 2 weeks, but you get used to it…the roads were slightly
worse than what we experienced and the weather was iffy, but we made it…we had 5 days in Western
Tibet before heading back for 5 days’ drive…we had 4 days doing the kora around the mountain and 1 day
at the sacred Lake Manasrovar…I don’t know how I made it around the kora…many times I didn’t think I
could take another step and we went over the highest pass over 18,000 feet, but we survived snowstorms,
bad food, no legs left and the altitude…so now that I’ve returned, it seems like a surrealist dream…it’s
good to be home in all the luxuries of the good old USA but we certainly all had a time we’ll remember
I lost 20 pounds from the exercise and lack of food…I have photos of many of you and I’ll send them
directly to each of you…thank you for all the memories and maybe some of us will get together again…
Addendum from David, November 11, 2002
Hope your return trip went well. Mine, of course, was the trip from hell - one of the worst trips of my life.
Supposed to leave at 8:25 AM. Took off at 3:30 PM. Landed in Qatar in mid-evening. Finally, after great
effort, convinced them to send me on to London the same night. Landed at Heathrow at 6:00 AM and the
hydraulic steering system quit. The plane was on the runway but couldn’t move. Had to wait 45 minutes
to be towed to the gate. Fortunately, I made my connection to Chicago where I collapsed (after being
driven home by the way of Iowa by a cab driver who appears to have gotten his cab license with box tops).
But I’m home and back into a reasonable routine.
Stay well (and warm),