We headed off on the Sunday morning from Lhasa to Shigatse which was to be a slight increase in elevation but transiting through a serious elevation bump. As it was a holiday weekend the Everest ticket office closed early so we took the long route to get there. This saw us leaving at 9am and arriving in Shigatse at around 8 pm that night.
The entire time was not spent driving but rather we stopped off at three of the most spectacular sights that we have seen thus far. The first was the Khambala Pass at 4794 metres above sea level. This was the passage to pass over the mountains and from the top you had a magnificent view down over the Yamdrok-Tso lake which is one of the three holy Buddhist lakes. While perched high on the hill I managed to get Jill to ride and be photographed atop a yak.
Heading down from the pass we stopped at Yamdrok lake for some more photos and the ever present trinket selling. Alas having seen the placid yak atop the hill I tried to pat the one at the bottom of the hill…while he was eating…bad mistake. Tip for young players if an animal is eating…leave them alone…especially if they weigh about as much as a car and have big horns. Anyway…after a minor goring and some serious threatening gestures later…I learnt a lesson.
A bit later on we made a stop at the Karola Glacier which was happily at 5020 metres at its base where we were but was 7191 at its peak. A few photos and some more locals pestering us to “looky looky… Cheap cheap” at the now ubiquitous trinket shops and we were off again.
After this we went to the Pekor Chode Monastery which was built in 1914 and was the first monastery that allowed photographs inside (for a small fee). One monastery is very similar to the next and the key images, layout and structure are all pretty much the same. This one was one of the few that allowed photos or at least did not charge extortionate rates to allow any images within. All of the monasteries have been stunning although due to the burning of incense and yak butter candles I have had shortened adventures prior to choking on the fumes. We paid the fee and Jill went crazy.
The standout feature to this place was the sand paintings. The monks sat in a circle on the floor and poured coloured sand onto the ground. Not that impressive you may think…but they did it in an artsy way…a seriously impressive 2.5-4 metre diameter intricate as all get out kinda artsy way.
We got into Shigatse, had a meal and crashed. Well sort of…I spent about 90 minutes hyperventilating as I could not get breath into my lungs. At 12:30 am I went to reception in an attempt to purchase oxygen…as I stepped into the hallway I nearly fell over as it was choked with cigarette smoke and incense. As a long term former smoker I am not opposed to smoking but when you are at altitude and every bit of oxygen is precious…copping gobfulls of smoke and the incense they use to try and mask it is debilitating. No oxygen in reception but a short time later the drunks went home and the incense stopped burning and I could breathe again.
The next morning saw us visiting the Tashilump Monastery in Shigatse while the guide got us our Everest passes then we did the big drive to Mount Everest…or Qomolangma in the local lingo. Along the way we reached the highest elevation that either of us had or will ever likely be at at 5248 meters which was at Gyatso La (Ocean Pass) which is actually about 50 metres higher than at base camp.