November 9, 2006

Mail delivery to 17,200 ft

(Photos to come!)

Superlatives attached to any ordinary object make it instantly a “must see” in a guide book.

Boring items such as a post office, a mountain and a monastery become really cool when they are the World’s Highest Post Office, Mountain and Monastery!

We had a spectacular view of Mt Everest, and 3 other snow capped peaks, with their summits poking through the cloud layer. It was really quite beautiful from afar, with what appeared to be wisps of snow blowing off the very summit of Everest. It looked serene from where we stood -though the guides were quick to point out that there are over 120 dead bodies on mountain, the consequences of failed summit attempts.

A few miles from Everest Base Camp (EBC), Rongphu Monastery stands as the highest monastery in the world at 16,300 ft. My first and very gut reaction was “These people must be nuts!” I imagine that they must be snowed in for months in the winter, unreachable to the world and bitterly cold, making a Boston winter seem like a walk in the park. However, unlike the other monasteries we visited, they did have a huge satellite dish in the courtyard…perhaps HBO makes the long winters pass?

We trekked the 5 miles from the monastery to EBC , situated at 17,200 ft. We had been stuck sitting for the last 3 days in a Land Cruiser, and were excited to get some excercise, and thus decided to forgo the donkey cart ride to the top. It was hard work walking up at altitude (having spent the last night at only 12,800 ft) but well worth it. The landscape was mostly barren and brown and rocky, punctuated occasionally by a gushing stream, some deer and birds. I was surprised by the presence of wildlife at such altitude, and yet at the lack of even lichen on the bare brown rocks.

We arrived base camp, and passed the world’s highest post office, making me wonder what poor Chinese civil servant got outposted there. The view was spectacular. We rested for 5 minutes in some of the tents that comprise Base camp (quite cozy, large walk-in tents where you can have tea and spend the night) and turned immediately around to make sure we got back to the monastery before the sun set. At the end of the 10 mile walk, we were exhausted, and ecstatic to have some hot tea and to dig into the bowl of ubiquitous Tibetan soup noodles.

While we were not expecting the Four Seasons, the “accomadations” were the most “basic” (read as code word for “total crap”) we’ve seen yet. For a whopping 240 Yuan ($30) we got 3 twin beds, no water (running or otherwise), no heat, and an outdoor “bathroom”, the worst I’ve ever seen.

I have now drawn a line. Once upon a time I was irritated when there was no toilet paper. Now, I discovered I require only one thing in a bathroom – a hole .

The women’s “bathroom” was a concrete enclosure with a tin roof and a concrete floor. That was it. There was shit piled up everywhere, and the entire surface was wet, with a few crumpled tissues scattered about. Jonathan happily informed me that the men’s side had not one but two holes in the floor. Did someone screw up where they put the holes? Or maybe just where they put up the dividing wall? The mind boggles…and who has to clean up that biohazard of a mess?

On advice from a French biker, we hung up blankets from the third bed across the windows to keep the wind out. I wore long underwear, socks, a hat and two sweaters to bed, and waited for the one electric bulb (which we paid extra for) to go out at 11:30pm (there was no control, and no way to unscrew the @#!@ bulb). We spent an odd, fitful night sleeping, booby trapping the door (which had no lock) with some crinkly plastic bags which would give us warning if someone tried to enter in the middle of the night. With our extra insulation, we managed to keep the room at around 40 degrees.

So, in addition to the “World’s Highest” mountain, post office and monastery, and some of the “World’s Most Beautiful Views”, I can also say I experienced the “World’s Most Ridiculous/Pointless Bathroom”.

Somehow, I doubt that it’ll make the guidebooks…

2 Comments

  1. I must concur, that is the worst “bathroom” I have ever been in as well…but you can’t beat the view from bed!

    Comment by Seth — November 9, 2006 @ 9:16 am

  2. Yech, we saw some pretty nasty “bathrooms” during our trip, but nothing approaching your unfortunate experience.

    But while I don’t envy your experience with the facilities, I am jealous of your overland treks and visit to Base Camp. During the planning stages of our trip, I was hoping we’d get the chance to see Qomolangma, if only from a distance. But as it turned out, the furthest we could manage to get out of Lhasa was a day trip to a nearby mountain lake.

    Comment by Mike E. — November 13, 2006 @ 4:25 pm

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