Eva (a friend for 30 years) and me decided around Christmas 2008 to make a trip to Tibet and do the Kora (Kora is performed by making a walking circumambulation around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site. Some traditional kora important to the Tibetan tradition include circumambulating Namtso Lake and Mount Kailash, both sacred sites in Tibet) around Mt.Kailash and visit Mt.Everest Base Camp and go from there via Shigatse and Gyantse to Lhasa, visiting the most important monasteries on the way and in Lhasa.


We flew to Kathmandu (you apply there for the Tibet Visa) and spent 3 days there visiting
Bhaktapur District, the Monkey Temple and Pashupatinath Temple, Durbar Square and of course Kathmandu, especially Thamel with its 1000 shops, cafes and restaurants.

On the way to Mt.Kailash

On day four we left Kathmandu direction to the Chinese border (Zhangmu). There we met our Tibetan guide Dolkar and Lob Sang, the driver, and we soon became a real team for the 3 weeks. After passing the border with tight checks especially on the books we carried, we went on to Nyalam (3700m) where we stayed 2 nights for acclimatising. Then we went on to Saga (4600m) on our way to Mt.Kailash. Here the mountain sickness hit us hard in the night as the ascent of 900m is too much actually, but you don’t have a choice as Saga is the next town from Nyalam. From my last visit I knew the symptoms of the AMS pretty well but Eva was really disturbed. But as the next 2 days we would stay on the same height I could convince her to move on and we were better off the longer our bodies could acclimatise without getting higher.
After 1200km on mostly bumpy roads we finally arrived in Darchen after 5 days travel from Kathmandu. Here we had a relatively nice guest house (at least we had a bowl in the room, where we could wash ourselves in privacy) and we finally had a little time to wash our clothes. Also the food in the Restaurants was pretty ok.
As far as I did not feel strong enough to already start the Kora next day we decided to stay 2 nights in Darchen to get more used to the height. After the first night we went with the car 30 minutes to Lake Manarasovar (muddy banks and hordes of gnats - so we did not even get off the car at the lakeside) and that nice little Chiu monastery.
On the morning of day 2 in Darchen we wanted to start our Kora. We first wanted a Yak for our luggage (but we were told they are stubborn) and porters were better. We also thought about having a horse with us in case one of us would be too exhausted, but as they said only one person is allowed to ride the horse (not like one 2 hours and then maybe later on the other person 2 hours) we denied to have a horse. But that morning the horse and the horse man came and a boy (supposed to be a porter) maybe 14 years old (Eva even thought he was younger and did not agree to have him as a porter).
So we finally sent the child home and put all the luggage on the horse and with an hour of delay we finally started.

The Kora

Day one:
The first day is approximately 20km and a total ascent of only 300m total, but the way winds up and down and even on that first part I was in the end too exhausted to even take some pictures. So we arrived totally exhausted at Dirapuk Monastery in app. 5000m height and we were happy to lay down in the dormitory. I went down to the guest house with Dolkar to eat something and we at least got one of the Chinese instant soups. Our food in these 3 days was mostly the power bars I had taken with me.
The worst was the very steep stairs to the monastery you had to go up and down for the toilet.

Day two:
18km - 550m ascent - 600m descent
We slept like a log and the next morning I was still so exhausted I thought I am not gonna make it (we were told that directly the steep ascent to the pass starts). But what was the choice?? To go back all the way the 20km?? No way - so I forced myself to go. No matter how (I thought) you will go up there. In that height your body gets only about 50% of the oxygen compared to sea level. So we ended up in going up 10 or 15 steps and then rest for 2 to 4 minutes to have enough breath to go on. After endless stops the pass came in sight. What a feeling - we finally made it. Drölma La - 5630m altitude and getting rid of all sins of your present life.
We rested a while and then I started fixing the prayer flags (hey Sabrina - here it is now - spreading prayers for a better world) and I really would have liked to stay longer and sit and enjoy, but the others passed me and I joined them after a short while as you should not stay too long in that altitude.
The most annoying on the Kora was, that a lot of Tibetans hurry past you as they do the Kora in one day (I think you must be borne in that altitude to do so).
Now the way leads down - steep descent for the first 30 minutes - I always wondered how the horse would do that (by the way - our horse man has done the Kora alone this year already 60 times). After a while stepping from rock to rock in a moraine of a former glacier the way got smoother, but we were tired and hoping to see finally the Zutul-puk Monastery. After every hill and every curve you appealingly expect it to come insight. Then in the late afternoon we reached it. We again were not able to move any further. We even refrained from getting rooms in the guest house down the hill and preferred to share a room at the monastery with a German woman as we did not want to move any more.

Day three:
14km - 150 descent
Almost all the way easy going a little downhill and at noon we reached back to Darchen. In the afternoon Mt.Kailash showed up in the bright sun and without a cloud. That was the only sad thing that during our Kora Mt.Kailash was hiding in the clouds. In the evening we had some great food in one of the Tibetan restaurants (first real food in 3 days) and we enjoyed it a lot.

Everest Base Camp

Back into the car. An incredible 500 km drive on bumpy roads back to Saga (for Gods sake no stop in Paryang). I think it was 10 hours total. Saga - a dirty place under construction. But the Hotel was ok (at least a shower with warm water in the morning and evening and an own bathroom with shower and toilet - big room and Chinese TV). Next day the road got worse and most of the way was a real off road drive. In the evening we finally arrived at Rongbuk Monastery. Again a hotel (Chinese) with at least a toilet one floor down (washing was a problem though, as there was no washroom or even a basin, but Eva found after a complaint a shower behind the kitchen which was obviously built for the managing personnel. Either way - an own room and a toilet with water (not just a stinking hole in the ground) - that’s luxury. Who the hell needs to have a wash every day? (Eva solved the problem early by buying a small plastic bowl which she carried with her all the time). Hot water in a big thermos you get everywhere (not for washing - for tea - but who cares). Again 5000m altitude, but this time it was ok. After sorting our rooms we went out to walk a bit after all that driving and I went down the street a bit where there was the small river burbling, the wind was blowing in my face and the mountain of the mountains was there, almost no clouds in changing light, so beautiful that I sat at the side of the road for an hour doing an Everest meditation. This picture is burnt in my brain for ever. Now I can understand, that there are people who want to be up there at the summit at any price.
Being slaphappy I decided on the way back to the hotel to climb behind the monastery at the highest of the green flags (when I reached there, there was one even higher and I got there, too). Was a bit tiring, but still ok. So, I went to bed with a feeling of complete satisfaction.
The next day we started to take the walk (app. 10km each direction ) to the Everest Base Camp. As mentioned before that is an easy walk at 5200m almost straight away. After app. 2 km you reach the final destination for cars, where they have a small tent village with every tent having names like “Everest Hotel” a.s.o. People can sleep there in the heated tents. And of course the unavoidable souvenir stands.
At the Base Camp itself there is a check point again 50m away from the closest point you are allowed to go as a regular tourist. And it is a relatively ugly place with a small hill you are allowed to climb to have the view on the mountain. Taking some pictures (and yes - there were some British Mountain bikers - how crazy is that - they said, in 3 days or so they will be back in Kathmandu) and returning direction Rongbuk Monastery. At the small monastery on the way Eva hang her second prayer flag and we had some lunch in one of the tents (fried potatoes - one of the best meals in Tibet).
Getting tired on the way back we were glad to be back at the Hotel (the altitude takes it’s toll). I rested a bit and then had a look at the monastery where there were 2 guys carving small stones with Om Mani Padme Hum and to make peace I bought one from each of them and sat for quite a while in the yard of the monastery in the sun. What a peaceful place.
Back in the Hotel the weather changed and dark clouds covered the sky and it started raining which gave us a beautiful rainbow as a last view before darkness.

On the way to Lhasa

So we started next morning to Lhasa. This time the bumpy road was only for a shorter distance before we hit the real road again. This way led us to Shigatse first, where we had a proper hotel (bathroom with hot water and shower and toilet in room). They have a kind of a shopping street there with loads of souvenir shops but also all other kind of shops and I bought here (like last time) a beautiful Buddha statue. We strolled around and found a local vegetable and meat market and also a kind of Chinese market with mostly products from there, where the locals were looking for a bargain. Accidentally we also found a cafe with real cappuccino.
We stayed two nights here as we visited Tashilumpo Monastery the next morning which was pretty crowded with a lot of Tibetans. So I had the chance to take a series of pictures of distinctive looking Tibetan people. After visiting the monastery we made the Kora (circumambulation) around the monastery and I turned ALL the prayer wheels which I think were at least a couple of hundreds so that my hand was hurting a bit in the end. I spread thousands of prayers for a better world. As the girls were mostly behind me they lost me out of sight (I went another way down than they did). So I thought I go to the big place opposite the entrance of the monastery to meet them there. When they did not show up after more then 30 minutes (they were looking for me everywhere but there), I decided to slowly walk to the hotel and maybe meet them there. But on the way I passed by the Nepalese Restaurant we were the evening before and stepped in to have some nice Yak steak. I sat down and tried to send our guide a SMS to tell her where I am, didn’t work so I sent the same to Eva, and 5 minutes later they showed up with Dolkar (the guide) being very excited (Eva told me they were looking for me everywhere) and happy that she catched me in the end (I always thought I a am grown up boy and can spend my afternoon also on my own).
Later on I went with Eva to the Tibetan market where we were the only tourists at the time and all the mostly women there wanted to sell us something (they finally succeeded).
Next morning we went on to Gyantse visiting the Kumbum monastery there which is wellknown for the huge beautiful Stupa they have.
After staying at a Hotel again we left in the morning next day to Lhasa via the glacier and Yamdrok Lake. We then finally arrived at Lhasa.


Finally arrived in Lhasa. This town already has the flavour of a multiculti town with a lot of people from different corners of the world. Barkhor Square is the place to see them all. We had a really nice and comfortable Hotel (Thangka Hotel). So, after checking in we directly walked around and got the feeling of this vibrant area with all the shops and restaurants and people. As this was my second time in Lhasa I remembered me and my son had that favourite Cafe and I found it - Summit is the name - THE relaxed place in Lhasa to have a real cappuccino and relax in nice chairs (if there are not taken). We went there same afternoon (as far as I remember) and came back each day for a cup of coffee and relax a bit.
In the evening we were to meet Tony, the manager of the agency, which offered us a perfect service for the whole period of time. We were invited to the Mad Yak House, where we had dinner and some Tibetan folk art performances. Eva in the end was dancing with Dolkar on stage.
There were four things on the list to do in Lhasa - Drepung Monastery, the Potala, Jokhang Monastery and Sera Monastery. As far as one monastery per day is far enough, we went the next morning to Drepung which is situated a bit outside Lhasa up a hill and which is my favorite one (it’s more like a village than a monastery as it housed up to 10.000 monks). Although there was light rain I enjoyed the atmosphere there very much.
After being back in town we strolled around looking for some (yes guess) shoes for Eva (I think I have seen ALL the shoe shops in Lhasa) and Souvenirs and envelopes to pack a little farewell present for Dolkar our guide and Lob Sang our driver we spent so much time with and had a nice relationship with.
2 years ago, when I was in Tibet with my son, we met Yuden, a Tibetan young women managing her father’s restaurant and we stayed in touch via email and I promised to call her in Lhasa, which I did. She invited Eva and me for Dinner at her home, where she lives with her friend, and we had a good dinner and a nice evening there with a couple of most Chinese friends which unfortunately could not speak English. As Eva asked for some recipes especially of Momos (the Tibetan version of Dumplings or DimSum) Yuden suggested to cook them together the evening after the next day.
Next morning we had the tickets for the Potala and unfortunately they give you only 1 hour to visit (as there are so many people visiting the Potala). So we ended up in hurrying through the different rooms you’re allowed to see and Dolkar did her best to give though all the explanations. We made it in 50 minutes (when you stay too long the agencies are fined).
After this run through visit (which is a pity, as last time we spend more time there and it was not so crowded and we had more time to get the spirit of this holy place) Lob Sang took us to Norbulingka, the summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas, which is a beautiful gardened area (ok - needs some restauration) whith a couple of small Palaces and temples. All over sudden Dolkar came running to us. She was told by Tony that she cannot leave us alone visiting a place like that without the risk of getting into trouble (not us, but the agency). Eva was pretty pissed by that dictation, but what to do.
We had our coffee afterwards and went shopping again and had a whale of time in Lhasa.
Jokhang was next. We were there early morning when they opened (as I did not want to stay in line as this monastery is always very crowded) and we were lucky as the monks just had prayer time. Unluckily the were some Chinese groups whose guides ignored the praying monks completely making a lot of noise with their shrill voices which sound as they have a megaphone built in. That was a shame.
In the evening we again for dinner at Yuden’s home (very much and delicious Momos with Yak meat and vegetables and we had a nice conversation with Yuden and her friend.
Last but not least the program ended with the Sera monastery (which I did not know yet, as we decided last time to have seen enough monasteries - memory overflow - that’s why I this time only wanted one monastery per day). Also a very big monastery where we went in the afternoon as you then can attend the monks discussion exercises. In the morning Eva met with Dolkar and they sent a package with Eva’s sleeping bag, shoes and some other stuff to Germany with China Post, as Eva only was allowed 20 KG on the way back to Germany and she also had some souvenirs ad the did some girlie shopping.
Our last day in Lhasa.

Back in Kathmandu

On the next morning we flew back to Kathmandu where we had 2 more nights before we went home to Dubai and Eva back home to Germany.
On the last evening we went to a restaurant directly at the hotel where you can sit outside in the garden and when we sat down for dinner a small band did their set up and we stayed all evening (although I thought in the beginning it might be too loud as they were right in front of us). It ended up in a kind of jam session with a couple of young guys sharing and changing the instruments and we enjoyed a lot of old blues and reggae songs played pretty well. A really nice ending of this beautiful but in the beginning extremely exhausting journey.
I think we both had a very special holiday.