Everest

By narlap

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Quick overnight stay at Hotel 1929, 50 Keong Saik Rd in Chinatown. Tiny tiny room with shower actually directly above the toilet. Noisy air con. Small balcony looking over a very cool street and apparently a good coffee place across the road according to my uber driver this morning. Chinatown at the end of the street, small mosque across the road too. Woke up at 3:30am with Kathmandu and the big adventure about to start . Want to get to the airport early to beat the post F1 rush...

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Early start today, woke at 3:30am amped for my first taste of Nepal. Uber driver took me at F1 speed to the airport, 5 hours fly time and then the Kathmandu valley opened up to me. It was a hair raising landing but I had been warned. Humid, gritty , dusty were my first impressions of this this town. Funky smells. A crazy ride through hell traffic to get to my hotel ( how will I ever negotiate these roads on the Royal Enfield???). Quick turnaround, grabbed a taxi and was straight off to Pashupatinath temple to view the cremations. Smoke, corpses and ash. Naked children swimming amongst the debris. Tried to be respectful and not wave the camera around too much. Polite hassling, sore red eyes from the smoke but the smell quite sweet, lots of incense mixed with the cremation pyres. Bought the girls jewelry. The taxi became my afternoon driver of course and next stop was the Bouda Stoupa, a major Kathmandu Buddhist shrine and clockwise walking square. Scouted the perimeter and will come back here for singing bowls, magnets, Buddhas and teeshirts for the girls on my last day. Tried to get some decent pics but not easy. Did go to the inner of the temple and had a monk pray for me and give me a mantra , small donation of course. Polite beggars asking for food not money. The hustling here has been bearable. Meeting the biking crew tonight, bike touring starts tomorrow first thing.

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All I can say is that 8 months of kickboxing training in prep for this trip, paid off in full today. We were meant to travel 120km in 6 hours and ended up doing 30km in 6 and then had a grueling trip home and ended up being out for nearly 12 hours. So so much happened today. First up, on bikes that we had never ridden, we had to negotiate Kathmandu traffic in peak hour, with 9 bikes and no one getting lost or knocked over. This is the most congested city I have ever experienced and it was absolutely nuts. It then started to rain and with a quick turn left and right, we were out of traffic and heading up a rocky track climbing a mountain. Banjan Switchback. Shale, rutted and rocky. Heavy climbing on heavy bikes not designed for this type of terrain. Riders falling over left right and centre. More rain, amazing scenery. Then, out if the blue, numerous soldiers with big guns walk by. 15 minutes later volley after volley of gunfire. We forge on and eventfully make it to the top. Hot tea in a little shed on the side of the road and out mechanic tells us his wife just phoned to say there was another earthquake. We never felt it. 10km ride through jungle and 10 foot high marijuana fields , deep scent of sweet buds. Lunch at 3pm, eating curry with my right hand. We are at the 30km mark and are told we have 70km to go. Slippery, wet and muddy. More people falling off bikes and it's getting very very tiring to keep the bike upright. Lakes, Himalayan valleys, huge mountains all around and I realize that very few people would get to see this as you just can't get in or out easily. Military checkpoints, more machine guns and more dangerous roads. Finally bitumen but noes it's dark and we still have 30km to go. Some of the team cry mutiny because they can't go on. Fair call because it's pitch black, the road is potholed, often just mud and dirt, there are trucks coming head on, no lights and most cars and trucks don't use lights either. Stood by the side if the road in the dark and the leader calls the boss. Tries to make us keep going but the team refuse. Ended up riding single file through heavy traffic back to Kathmandu. All made it back in one piece, everyone exhausted. I didn't fall off once and although I'm baked , I'm no worse than 60 mins of sparring and conditioning. Big day, really big day.

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3 people down this morning, yesterday took its toll. Today we really got to see the Valley. Mainly bitumen, a bit of mud, not too tough. My butt is sore from the bike yesterday so it was never comfortable today. First stop today was Nama Bouda, a Buddhist monastery up in the mountains. Hard work getting there through some thick muddy sections. An active monastery and we were allowed to enter and walk through pretty freely. Lunch was on the road, rice, vegetables, dahl and a tiny amount of mutton. Good flavours. Mountains of water as its hot and humid. Then a cruise ride across the valley to a Hindu shrine called Changu Narayan. First time I really saw the impact of the big earthquake 4 months ago. Many damaged buildings, bricks everywhere, cracks and scaffold. Bought the girls handmade yak sock things. Wanted to buy a big mask but would never be able to carry it this early on in the trip. Cruised the afternoon on good roads, through some pretty earthquake damaged villages. Then more hill climbing to a country town high on the cliffs overlooking an enormous valley. My room is right at the top, has a balcony and tomorrow's sunrise will be magnificent. Will make sure I'm up super early to sit out there and watch the day unfold.

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The bikes may have killed us in past 2 days but today it was payback and we killed them. After a grueling fire trail on a rutted and dusty road, I snapped my bike in 2. Had to walk away from it, hop on a spare ('yes, we had one) and let the mechanic limp down to the nearest village and try to weld it back. We also blew out a set of brakes and had another puncture. This meant a lot of sitting around tiny villages, hanging with the locals, giving the kids pens and lollipops and just doing nothing. It was so good to get the gift of time today to just sit and do nothing. Sat under a tree with some old folk, sat on a street corner with my homies, sat on a ridge looking over a beautiful lush valley. Today got really hot too and really dusty. We ended up doing the final 50km battling trucks on a windy road. No casualties other than the bikes. Made it back to Kathmandu safely with no injuries. The Royal Enfields are gone, tomorrow we leave for Tibet and Mt Everest.

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It's mid autumn festival day in new Tibet so upon our arrival I was politely singled out, handed a wrapped moon cake and smiled for the cameras. We all entered the country politely and I will continue to be polite. It is very convenient that there is a high speed train that takes people directly from Beijing to Lhasa too. We were greeted, ushered into our van and drove at precisely the speed limit on a brand new road past many grand new buildings, for the 50km trip from airport to the city. Lhasa sits at 3500m so we were all a little lightheaded with a tinge of headache. It's barren out here. I may have seen Everest from the plane, will compare photos later. So excited to be here with Everest closer by the day. It's sunny and warm with the forecast for more of the same so I'm really hoping for grand Everest views from base camp. Numerous motorbike dramas and the hotel car park looks like a mechanics workshop. We file out at 8am tomorrow though. Took the men on a night walk to Jokhang temple, my internal GPS working well through the backstreets. Hoping that a night stroll, Snickers bar, no beer and around 2 liters of water will ward off further altitude sickness. We will be at 5200m in 3 days time.

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Learnt today that you need to make an appointment to get petrol here, very civilized, however we didn't have a booking...eventually got on the road with today being predominantly highway roads. We did 3 mountain passes with the highest being 5200m. A few weird sensations at that altitude and an on again off again headache all day. Passed by a huge glacier but then back to barren lands. Spectacular but often very stark scenery. Saw yak, ate yak in many ways today. I think there will be a lot more yak in the next few days. The roads here feel fat more dangerous than Nepal, far more aggression and higher speeds. Again, need to be very careful. Staying in a very regal hotel here in Gyangtse. Small town, big hotel.

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A royal breakfast and I eventually psyched myself to a cup of yak butter tea. It was all familiar tastes of oil, salt and milk. Not unpleasant but I didn't finish the cup, nor will I seek it out again. A farmland ride this morning with plenty of farm animal dodgem going on. Plus it's getting cold and my open face helmet doesn't help things much. We had one section of the road where we had to check in with some officials, set the timer and then 50km or so later stop at another checkpoint and ensure that we had done that section within a certain time frame. Very important stuff. Arrived in Shigatse and had to do a lot of paperwork to get into a special monastery called Ta Shi Lhun Po Monastery. The 6th Panchen Lama comes here to study sometimes. The remains of several other Dalai Lamas are located here too. Everest tomorrow!! Oh yeah, one more thing, the toilets here can be BRUTAL.

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Woke up to absolute perfect weather. No clouds, big sky, cold but not icy. A solid day on the bike was the plan. Early part of the ride was more farmland. A few logs on the road to keep you on your toes. Then the first mountain pass- nothing too serious. We were all fully kitted up for the cold so no dramas. More yak for lunch, please, no more yak. Then the excitement stated to build. A 40km hill climb to the highest mountain pass in Tibet, 5300m. No views but still feel on top of the world, literally. Decided to stretch out the legs and climb to the highest pony up some concrete steps, two at a time to unfurl. Muscles were strong, so I decided to sprint it up. Bad, bad mistake. My heart and lungs exploded at the top but guess what, no air. Scary feeling to be taking in deep sucks and not get the relief. It was almost overwhelming and I had visions of a heart attack. All good after 90secs or so. Idiot. Back on the bike for a tension fueled 40km to the Everest glimpse. I had no expectations other than just seeing it. So, I've got my eye on the odometer , counting down the kms, cruising through a canyon with pretty solid mountains all around. I could feel that we were almost through the mountain range and that it was going to open up any minute. A sweeping left and then BAM!!. Directly ahead, north face of Everest, a shining, silver pyramid. Full view, far closer than I had expected. Full dominance, no mistaking it. A few quick turn, the valley open up in front, we stopped the bikes and just stared. Clear blue sky, a few fluffy clouds thrown in for effect and Mt Everest! Cell phone coverage, 4 bars. Call the family to share the moment. Couldn't take my eyes off it. Eventually back on the bikes, a few more turns and the mountain completely obscured from view until tomorrow. Gone. Accommodation tonight is pretty basic but the water is hot and I have my own room. It gets more basic again tomorrow .

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The day started early. Pitch black, ice cold, 5000m above sea level. On the bikes, through some serious military checkpoints and then 35km of switchbacks to get out first big taste of Everest and its surrounding peaks. My hands started getting very numb very early in the ride. We hit the first peak for sunrise and spent around an hour trying to fire off shots with crippled fingers. Then down the other side and into the valley. Another 30km before we reached Basecamp itself. Wow, Everest was right there , huge, glowing. I could not believe how close we were, you could see the glacier fields that the climbers have to cross. The mountain was smack bang dead centre. We churches into our monastery guest house in dormitory accommodation. Very basic and one step up from camping. Then it was back on the bikes to get even closer still. A 2km ride on a dirt track to a series of tents. Leave the bikes and hop on a small bus for another 2km or so. A police checkpoint this time, off the bikes and a slow climb up to a viewing area. A rocky field directly below, merging to ice and the glacier field. Huge granite colored mountains on either side and Everest front and centre, glowing arctic white, fully iced. Blue blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Maybe 10 people there. Absolutely awesome! Spent an hour, made phone calls of course, many photos with cold hands. Headed back to the monastery for an ice cold and well deserved beer. A chance to reflect. A year in the making and a dream come true. One hell of an adventure to get here and today the mountain delivered in all its glory. Spent the evening in simple surrounds, kept warm by a fire fueled with dried yak dung. at sunset Everest delivered its final show in full gold . I'm now sitting in bed fully dressed, covered in blankets, hoping it's not too bitterly cold tonight. The long journey home starts tomorrow.

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Not surprisingly, it was a freezing cold night and I started this mornings ride out wearing 7 layers of clothing. I had my mask and goggles on so my eyes were fine but it was my hands that suffered. Within minutes they were hurting from the cold and then they just went numb. I held on for around 30mins and then started getting worried. I ride at the back as I am the least experienced and am not comfortable riding as fast as the others. Just as I was about to stop I saw that the group had stopped and that each person was huddled around their engines, warming their gloved hands on their engines. We were all suffering. Nearly all our stops this morning were to get the blood back into our fingers ( which hurts by the way...). I had never really thought about just how cold and exposed I was going to be but riding a motorbike to Everest, duh!! Anyway, the trio home is exactly the same route as getting there so today was nearly all cold and windy mountain passes but with all the good stuff behind you. We all just wanted to get moving and stay warm. So, I was cold for half the day, really comfortable for about 3 hours and then getting warm for the last few hours as we continued our descent. Survived another long day on the bike, one more riding day left and tomorrow will also be a long haul.

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Today we completed the 1400km round trip back to Lhasa. Another long day on the bike but nearly all fairly decent bitumen. The traffic was still diabolical and unlike Nepal, here the drivers are aggressive and selfish. It's very scary being on a bike in this country. The final 50km back into town was on a horrendous stretch of road that was dusty, potholed and loaded with trucks. It was every person to themselves and we dodged and weaved our way through a wasteland of heavy vehicles. With 13km to go, I went down. Front wheel hit a big rock, handlebars twisted and I got launched. Forward judo roll on the dust and dirt and fortunately didn't get run over. The mechanic was riding right behind me so he quickly picked the bike up and got me to the side of the road. Other than a sore wrist and a sore hip, I was fine. Not once had I fallen or even dropped my bike this whole trip and I got unstuck so close to home. Then to make matters worse, when we regrouped and I checked my pockets for breakages, I snapped off a photo of the trucks and didn't realize I was photographing a police checkpoint too. 2 min later an armed police officer has bailed me up and is going through my phone. Our tour guide was not impressed and I was completely embarrassed. Said photo was deleted, a few earnest stares and I gingerly hopped back on my bike and limped the last few km back to the hotel. Parked the bike, never to hop back on again. Bike tour complete. To be honest, I'm surprised that we didn't have any serious casualties, the riding conditions and traffic has been utterly crazy. Still I did sign up for this and I got exactly what I asked for. Ate Western food tonight- a yak burger and fries. Happily drank a long neck of Lhasa beer too. Tour of Potola Palace tomorrow - getting there by van.

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Today, my ego got a thorough massaging and it felt great! We were full blown tourists today visiting the Potala Palace and the Jongkur markets. To begin with, there were very few Europeans about and the majority of the people were either Tibetan pilgrims or one of the many different types of Chinese tourists. My 194cm frame stuck out like a lamppost and today I was a star attraction. There was giggling, a lot of staring, requests for photos and conversations. I felt like a celebrity. Sitting down on a bench was the best because I got to watch people watching me. Some tried to take sneaky photos, others treated me as if I was an exhibit and they boldly just snapped away. It made it a lot easier for me to snap pics straight back at them. I also blew all my money today. I had always hoped that I would be able to buy an antique Tibetan treasure for my office and I had assumed that a bargain was there for the taking. So wrong, so so wrong. I ended up having to tell the antique dealer just how much money I had to spend and then let him show me what I could afford. It came down to only a few items but fortunately one of them was perfect. It's a good thing that we leave Tibet tomorrow because I don't even have enough yuan to buy a bottle of water. We fly back to Kathmandu early, hopefully getting a seat on the RHS of the plane so that I get one more view of the great mountain.

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For those of you who get travel alerts, you will know that Nepal is in the grip of some protests. We arrived this morning to a fuel crisis so there are little or no cabs on the road and all petrol is black market at 4 x the usual price. This meant that my final day of adventure needed to be restricted to within walking distance of the hotel. Armed with 3 cameras, about 20 Bic pens and 10 Chupa Chup lollipops I headed out the door. Nepal is friendly, Tibet not so friendly ( Chinese forced occupation tends to dampen people's spirits somewhat). I wandered the back streets until I found an area which really had suffered from the April earthquake. I sat down, watched, offered the workers some water and let it all just happen around me. Then the camera came out much much later and some really great portrait shots were had. Did a similar thing later where there was an entire family from grandchild to grand mother all doing their thing in a small square. Lollipops and pens to break the ice and next minute the old grandmother was trying to convince me to take her 2 year old grandchild out of the country and to a better life. Hours passed, it really was special. Kathmandu is mad crazy but soft as well. The people here are welcoming and I will certainly look forward to coming back here with my family. Had our final dinner with the Extreme Crew and tomorrow, after some morning poolside time, it's Singapore and home.

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