|Sweet, but definitely not Everest|
|Everest and Lhotse (back), right before the camera croaked|
I got out my camera and started taking some pictures. As we grew closer, the views got better and better. I studied the peaks and tried to remember the names from my trek 5 years ago up these valleys. And then, without any doubt, appeared Everest. It was so much taller than the others, the famous black triangle peak piercing the clouds below. A plume miles long streamed off the top. I zoomed in... and my camera beeped and turned off. The LCD said "battery low." Aaarrrrrgggggg!!!!! I couldn't believe my luck. It was the picture of a lifetime, and my stupid battery had run out of gas after saying it still had a quarter tank.
|From the Space Station: Everest on right with plume streaming behind, Makalu on left|
|Makalu seen from Everest summit|
Now I wasn't sure what to expect of the Tibetan "plateau", but I suppose I pictured it like the American West: a high flat plain, brown and dry. I imagined Tibetans riding their horses over a vast open range, moving from village to village like nomads. When the clouds parted again, I was very surprised at the view. There wasn't any flat. None. The peaks continued on and on in every direction, the Tibetan "plateau" was apparently an endless field of high mountains. My vision of riding the high desert on horseback, yelling "Yeehaw" in Tibetan, was toast.
The only difference it seemed from the Nepal side was that instead of lush green forests below these huge white peaks, it was brown and lifeless. I couldn't see a single tree or living thing anywhere. Even the clouds seemed a little dead. They had a brown tinge reflected from the earth, and look thin and worn out from their journey scraping over the Himalayas. Yet there was plenty of snow on the peaks. It was an odd paradox, the water in seeming abundance up high but no life below.
|The Zangbo gorge|
We started our descent and I wondered where the hell we would land. Then, a broad valley carved out by a river appeared. It was the most meandering confused river I'd ever seen. It split and re-split, only to merge back together in countless threads. As we descended further I realized that this was a major river, the Yarlung Zangbo. I read later that the Zangbo originates from one of the holiest mountains on earth, Mt Kailash. It cuts right through the Himalaya and the vast gorge I was looking at from the plane window is considered by some to be the deepest canyon in the world. It eventually becomes one of the biggest waterways in India, the Son of Brahma (Brahmaputra) river.
After typical Asian bureaucracy (1 cranky lady did what appeared to be nothing very slowly), I was on to Chengdu. Because China is a place of wisdom, even though I was headed for Tibet it was illegal for me to enter China there. So, I had to book a much more expensive flight onwards to Chengdu, "enter China," and then pay for another flight or train all the way back to Lhasa. Even though I had already landed there and could have easily walked out of the terminal and found a taxi.
As we flew east into proper China, I couldn't believe the view. Huge unknown peaks abounded everywhere. I stared at strange fields of ice, glaciers pouring down valleys and disappearing into the clouds, avalanche scars in the mountainsides. Had anyone ever climbed these remote foreboding peaks? Did anyone even live out here at all? We were flying directly over these wonders, and as stared down upon them I realized that this must be the view enjoyed by gods.