Monday, 5 March 2012

Two Things You Don't Want to Happen on a Trip to Everest

We are leading an Everest Base Camp (EBC) charity trek later in the year, which we will of course report back on in a future blog. 

This got me to thinking about the first time I ever went to see Everest and got into a few spots of trouble:

The trip was to be unusual on two accounts; firstly, both Steph and I were travelling overseas together, rather than me leaving Steph at home while I ran off on expeditions or recces or overseas First Aid training; secondly, that we were visiting two countries that neither of us had previously visited – Nepal and Tibet. The trip became unusual on two other accounts that I will get to later.

We first flew into Kathmandu. Thamel, Kathmandu, in Nepal, is a mountaineers’ shopping paradise.  It is also an incredibly relaxing place to sit on a roof top terrace, drink an Everest beer and watch the world go by. 

The flight into Tibet from Nepal was the most amazing that either of us had been on with continuous views of the Himalayas out the left hand side window, where we had asked to be sat, and an amazing view of Everest’s South Face.  I swore I saw someone summiting!  To fly that close and to see Everest was a boyhood dream come true.

Our first major problem encountered was in Tibet. As we attempted to pass through Customs, our Chinese visas were incorrect and we were held in a small office with imposing guards watching over us. Let me explain the reason why the visas were incorrect.  I had returned late from my previous overseas trip, and so there was no time to send off our passports to get the correct visa, and have it returned in time to set off again. Therefore I ingeniously (or so I thought at the time) got a basic Chinese visa and then added the extra Chinese figures to the visa for permission into Tibet with the same colour pen as the visa stamp.  Strangely, this didn’t fool the Chinese border staff and we inexplicably found ourselves locked in a small room with Chinese guards threatening to send us back to Nepal or keep us in a cell for tampering with the visa. Luckily, however our other papers were in order for the visit and with a few ‘cash gifts’, aka bribes, all round, we were eventually let through.  It was with great relief and lots of speed that we ran and jumped into our booked Toyota Landcruiser with driver and guide before they decided to change their minds.  Off we bounced on our way to the rarefied air of Lhasa.

3 days in Lhasa visiting the sites and then an 8 day overland trip to Everest Base Camp and onto the Nepali border was a story all of itself – maybe another blog?  Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side was amazing and fulfilled a life time dream for both of us.  To stand looking at the 12,000 foot North Face of Everest in perfectly clear weather was truly awesome, especially accompanied by the mother of all headaches.

Anyway, on to the second unusual event – the attempted return to Kathmandu! 

We were dropped off on the Tibetan side of the Friendship Bridge, waved goodbye to our driver and guide and walked across to Kodari, Nepal.  It was now just a simple 4-5 hour taxi ride to Kathmandu, or so we thought.  We soon realised we may be in trouble when we saw the number of people waiting at the border car park – over 100 people.  It was then we found out that the Maoists were blocking all transport to the capital and there was a curfew in Kathmandu.  I had thoughtfully (luckily) brought along a satellite phone so phoned through to the UK to ask for an update on the news from their side; it was not very encouraging.  The strikes were to go on for 10 days and our flight to London left in 4 days.  We spent the next day phoning everyone we knew to see if we could solve this issue. On one of these calls to a “contact”, we heard that there was a Russian pilot, who worked for Shree Airlines, who was willing to chance the transport strike to fly from Kathmandu in a helicopter to the border and pick us up on a private flight.  As long as we could fill the helicopter, we could then pay our way to organising the flight.  We instantly jumped onto this idea, confirming that we could certainly get another 20 people to pay and were told the helicopter would arrive tomorrow. 

Tomorrow came and went, so did the next day and the next..............

The Imaginery Helicopter Turns Up At Last!!

It was now the day we were due to leave on a flight to London and we were stuck on the border, still 4-5 hours drive away.  We undertook the customary daily activity of walking down to the huge car park, where there were now over 200 people, to sit and wait for the imaginary helicopter. 

At about 10.30am, there was a huge commotion in the crowd as the noise of rotor blades was heard and suddenly we saw a Sikorsky military helicopter start to descend right in the middle of the car park.  The rotors were still turning as 200 hopeful people rushed to the door, reminiscent of a scene from the evacuation of El Salvador. We literally had to fight our way to the door to get a place along with the 20 other very lucky people.  45 minutes later and we were standing on the tarmac of Kathmandu airport. We then walked straight to the departures to wait for our flight to London.

The moral of the story is always carry a satellite phone and remember to keep all your “contacts” as you never know when you may need them. Oh – and we would *never* sanction tampering with your visa....


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  2. It will be dangerous journey but trekking lovers will love this place.