Feeling on Top of the World…


When you’re sat in the centre of Sheffield at a travel agents, planning where you are going to go, you don’t really imagine at that time that you are actually going to be there.  It’s a little hard to describe, but akin to the feeling of it being too good to be true.  Then five months later I’m at the base camp of Mount Everest.  Insane.

The adventure to base camp starts at the Harmony Hotel in Beijing, where I met some of my group.  We had Jan (from Norway), the elusive Terrance (New York), Jonas (Swiss), Alzbeta (Czech but living in London).  The next day I would be introduced to the founder of ‘Chrisma’, Chris (Australia), Team Trouble, the chicas Silvina and Maria (Argentina), and Team Canada, Amanda and Ally.  Our group was led by Drujal a Tibetan who was employed by GAP to be our guide for the entire trip.

Our second day took us to the great wall, which was really impressive.  It’s hard to imagine that the despite the few kilometers we walked along it there was another six thousand kilometers of wall to go.  One highlight, if not childish, was the tabogon that transverses you down from the wall back to the car park.  It was pretty cool, but nowhere near as fast as one would like.

Photo by Silvina 

Photo by Silvina 

Photo by Silvina 

Photo by Silvina 

Later that evening we hit the markets to try and endulge on some specialist foods.  On offer was snake, beetles, scorpions and really dodgy looking spiders.  Ally and I decided to go for the scorpions and to tell you what, they tasted pretty good; however I cannot see myself buying them from Tesco’s anytime soon.

I later learned that night that one of our group, Amanda, was having her 25th birthday whilst we are travelling on the train to Lhasa.  Now I think it’s a bit crap to spend your 25th on a train with a bunch of strangers (plus her sister Ally of course!), so my mind began to plot a surprise party for her.  I called Michele (the one who I woke up with my rendition of the circle of life) and we arranged to meet up the following day to go shopping for party things.

The third day of the trip took us to the Forbidden City and to Tiananmen Square.  Walking around with Chris I gave the biggest understatement of the year…’it’s not as big as I thought’.  How wrong could I have been.  The place was enormous.  It’s the largest open plaza in the world and I’ll be honest, you hear about secret spies dotted about ‘lifting’ people, but there was none of that (from what I could see, and I was looking!).


This is the thing with Beijing and China in general.  You hear a lot about some dodgy things about China (from human rights violations to clamp downs on free speech – all of which I do not tolerate), but that’s not saying something about the Chinese people or China as a whole, that’s just about the government of the day. 

Okay, you don’t get access to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, but there are many ways around it everyone knows of.  There are times when your emails get changed when you send them, details about certain places you visited or views of China in general can be omitted (seriously!).  But again, that’s the government of the day being scared of their own people.  The people themselves just get on with things very happily.

As a tourist I didn’t feel I was in a repressed regime, or felt I was constantly being watched.  I think this has a lot to do with the Olympics back in 2008.  Whilst many people protested at the thought of this country hosting this worldwide event it really worked out for the good. 

Many of the police and customs were extremely friendly and of course taking pictures of military people will get your ass kicked like it would anywhere in the world, but on the whole it challenged my preconceptions of the nation.

Drujel our CEO

Throughout our day I was still planning the surprise party and I roped in Drujel our guide (which gap call CEO, chief experience officer) to help me source a cake.  We managed to get hold of a bakery that would be able to deliver the cake to our hotel and our hotel will keep it cool and under-wraps for us so we can sneak it onto the train without Amanda knowing.

I then shared my plan with Amanda’s sister Ally, who warned me that she was useless at keeping secrets and might tell her sister.  I must say to her credit, she kept it secret very well!

In the afternoon I met up with Michele, who was fashionably late by an hour!  But it was well worth the wait. We had a fab afternoon hunting down balloons and cards and Starbucks croissants (for Amanda’s breakfast in the morning as train food was dire).  We then chilled out once we got them and had an incredibly honest, insightful and truly amazing discussions. 

Michele (stolen from her Facebook page)

There is something I would like to say about Michele.  I would happily describe her as the most resilient person I’ve ever met who has overcome events in her life that many of us would struggle to comprehend and deal with ourselves.  She is an incredibly inspirational person whose motivation and her intellect is infectious.  I must also say that her Chinese is very good too, despite me mocking her for the whole afternoon that despite the years of study her Chinese was rubbish! Haha!


Maria on her bunk and me stretching the legs

That night we boarded the train we sneaked the cake on, wrapped in a plastic bag and under the guise of it being a glass bowl bought by Drujel to take back home.  We also had Ally (or known to Amanda as the 'weird sister') on distraction duty so her sister wouldn't catch on.

The train was slightly better than the one I took to Datong.  Each cabin slept six and my cabin (from bottom to top) was shared with Jonas & Amanda, Silvina & Maria, and myself and Ally.

At about 10pm, right on cue, Amanda fell asleep and began snoring, this was verified by the recording we had ready to mock her.  Amanda reminds me of a cat.  She can sleep all day (and often does), can sleep anywhere and sounds like one purring whilst she’s asleep (but to save her embarrassment I won't post the recording...for now). 

So, it’s 10pm, and I tell the other group of my surprise party plan.  The aim being that due to the heat of the train, the cake would go all bad so we had to surprise her bang on Midnight.

The group gathered along the corridor towards the washing room areas and began to blow up balloons and for the moment store them in another cabin.  Boy where they a lot of balloons!

Operation surprise party gets underway

Once done, I handed out the birthday card for everyone to sign, but one of the rules I gave was that everyone had to write their message in their native tongue rather than in English.  Absent of any Chinese people in our group – but being in China, earlier that day I asked a Chinese person to teach me to write ‘happy birthday Amanda’ in Chinese.

11pm.  Members of our group formed a line and began to load the balloons into the top two bunks (mine and Ally’s) in the cabin ready to push them over for her birthday.

1130pm.  Amanda woke up blurry eyed and earlier than I hoped.  I was a little worried that she would see the balloons on the top two bunks as the train jostled down the track but miraculously they stayed put.

1155pm.  I sneaked out with Drujel to get the cake and affix the candles to it.  And then we lit them all, whilst the group all of sudden became gathered around our cabin.

1200am.  I enter the cabin with the cake and everyone is singing happy birthday.  Amanda, thankfully, was totally surprised by it all and the balloons rained down. 

Happy Birthday !!!
Drujel brilliantly brought some plates and forks for everyone to tuck in and the cake was delicious. 

I love it when a plan comes together :)

The next day we awoke to some fantastic views of China and some strange ones too.  These being the huge cities under construction.  I think Chris put it brilliantly, “we’ve just stopped at a train station in an unknown town that has more people than our cities, and we know nothing about it”.

Photo by Jonas 

Photo by Jonas 

Photo by Jonas 

Photo by Jonas

Photo by Jonas 
There is just tons of construction out there, everywhere you look.  The Chinese government has a fifty-year plan, 50 years!  Blimey I know of companies (particularly one) that struggle-keeping buy in to a three year plan together, imagine sticking to a 50 year plan.  Apartment block after apartment block, it truly is an incredible infrastructure program .

A few of us headed to the dining car and grabbed some food, which wasn’t that good, but the plain rice was okay.  We also had a good game of Jungle Speed too!  I really think I need shares in that company as I must have doubled the sales of that game already. 

Photo by Jonas

Photo by Silvina

Photo by Silvina

Photo by Jonas

Photo by Silvina

Photo by Silvina

Maria reading the menu in the dining car (Photo by Silvina)

Late in the afternoon as the train began to ascend rapidly some started to get the effects of AMS, Acute Mountain Sickness (or altitude sickness).  Symptoms can vary greatly in individuals, from strong headaches, vomiting, nausea, and dizziness. 

The best advice to prevent this feeling is to keep well hydrated as altitude exacerbates dehydration and ensure that you get enough oxygen into your system.  Our trains were pressurized and to compensate for the deprivation there were oxygen vents that pumped the gas through to aid comfort.

That night I went to sleep feeling pretty good.  I then remember waking up, unsure what time it was exactly, with an axe-piercing headache.  It was pain like no other.  I also felt quite suffocated and needed air on my face.  I stumbled off the top bunk aiming for the toilet where I knew there was the only open window on the train.

The next thing I remember was waking up somewhere along the corridor on the train.  I had passed out. 

I don’t know how long for, but I still felt dreadful.  I staggered to the toilet, sat on the sink and wrapped by arms in knot through the window bars to stop me falling over if I pass out again and then I stuck my face to the tiny window slot for some air. 

At first I couldn’t comprehend what it was.  I thought it might have been travel sickness, but I never get travel sick.  I also thought it couldn’t be AMS as I go snowboarding every year and this train doesn’t go that high up.  Well it turned out it does go that high up, higher in fact, that night it went up to over 5,000m.

So let’s comprehend 5,000m.  It’s 16,000ft.  I have been on flights that don’t go that high.  That’s why we were recommended to sleep till as late as possible so we wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night and for discomfort to begin.  My problem is that I rarely sleep straight through a night, unless I’m trying one of my failed power naps.

So after a period of time, probably an hour I’m not sure, I managed to go back to bed and sleep till the morning.  I awoke a little confused by the events earlier that morning but feeling a lot better.

I felt like I was one of the lucky ones as a few of our group were still suffering the effects of AMS right till the point of getting to Lhasa, with some still being ill as we left the train.  After a few days we all acclimatized but it’s something we all truly respected.

At Lhasa Train Station (Photo by Silvina)

Photo by Silvina 

Photo by Silvina 
We spent three nights in Lhasa, an incredibly spiritual city with a population of 300,000 and settled in a valley 3.7km above sea level (12,000ft in old money).  Lhasa is the capital of the Tibetan region, but still under the control of the Chinese government, you very often see troops of four parading up and down the streets.  This was the only moment that felt a bit weird and fuels any preconceptions you have with the Chinese government.

There were troops on roofs of the buildings watching people…just watching.  Waiting for a little bit of disorder, or a little bit of a protest to start.  It’s pretty sad really and whilst it doesn’t sour the trip, it’s there and it’s a bit weird.

At one of the candle rooms by the side of a temple

Amanda and Ally talking to Drujel

View of the prayer wall

One of the many prayer wheels

A woman walks past the temple chanting

Chris working on the master shot

Cute kid who was stood by a wall near the temple

A mother helps her young daughter pray against the prayer wall

Flowers with the prayer wall in the distance

A woman prays via an elaborate and exhaustive routine

Chris enjoying the view 

A monk debating at the monastery 

 Photo by Silvina (and I think her best)

 Photo by Silvina

The next day we travelled 270km in our coach to Gyantse.  Taking eight hours we saw some spectacular sights along the way crossing passes at 5,000m and stopping off at the beautiful Turquoise lake.

Team Canada:  Amanda (left) and her sister Ally

Me with an amazing glacier behind me (Photo by Silvina)

Ally drinking from the river - you can't get water any fresher than that! (Photo by Silvina)

Photo by Silvina)

Photo by Chris

By far Chris' best photo he has taken of some prayer flags by a lake

Day 10 we were two hours down the road in a place called Shigatse which, is Tibets second largest town.  And Day 11, after a five hour – 170km trip, we were in Skaya; a place that played a dominant role in the political and religious history of Tibet.

Day 12 was the day we were all looking forward to.  This day was our trip to base camp.  We arrived at the place we were staying a few kilometers from base camp called Rombuk, the location of the highest monastery (and post office!) in the world.


The Post Office

Chris and I excited about base camp!

Silvina, myself and Chris

The nine hour, 300km, drive from Sakya was met with a sense of giddiness and excitement primarily form Chris and myself.  We were like kids in a sweet shop, totally stoked about what we could see on the horizon.

You see this is another one of those things that I can’t seem to explain.  The emotion, the raw feeling of seeing, with your own eyes, a monument of nature – one that you’ve seen a thousand times on the television before.  Your mind harks back to Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzin Norgay in the 50’s, the first to climb this beautiful structure.  The struggle they had on their expedition, a world first, using technology that in our world today would seem prehistoric.

You gaze up at the mountain wondering who’s up there now.  Who’s up there following in the footsteps of the greats; from those that defeated the mountain and those that were defeated by it.

You are truly in awe of its wonder, its magnificence, and its incredible beauty.  It’s hard to articulate what that emotion is like.  But it’s one that you feel that everyone should experience.

From the accommodation we were staying in you could see Everest from your bedroom window.  The accommodation was very basic, but surprisingly comfortable.  There was no hot or cold running water, and no heating; so at night it was 14 blankets or freeze.

The view from our room

Once we offloaded our bags that afternoon we went straight up to basecamp.  One of our original plans was to hike our way up, however the wind was way too strong and it was felt to be unsafe by our CEO.  So we hopped onto our coach and proceeded to make our way towards basecamp, changing busses halfway up.

As we got to the basecamp checkpoint (about 100 meters away) we were told that we were not allowed to proceed all the way to basecamp.  One of our group discovered that a previous day an American put up a Tibetan flag.  This was a sign of protest again Chinese authoritarian rule, and they get into a huff about stuff like that and so closed access to the centre of basecamp.

This was fine really as we had a spectacularly beautiful view and made it to the outer part of basecamp.  I recorded a video on YouTube from here that you can find on the A Ginger Abroad channel.

Myself and Amanda smoking a cigar with Everest in the distance

Jonas, Drujel, Chris, Myself and Konchok (our other guide)

Ally having a secret smoke!

Amanda and Everest

Jonas brought a load of cigars (which were real Cuban cigars from his visit to Cuba) and Chris the whiskey, so we all lit up and drank whiskey (not the best idea at altitude!) and enjoyed the view, with friends.

Group Photo!

The following day we proceeded with the next stage of our trip, getting to Kathmandu in Nepal.

Taking 9 hours to get to our next stop, Zhangmu we stopped off at a farm where a I plodded into a field to meet some of the locals and plant some seeds with them.

Me helping to plant some seeds with two farmers

After our stay there and taking in some breathtaking scenery and I mean valleys and waterfalls that I’ve never seen before, we arrived at the Chinese border ready to head into Nepal.

The view from my hotel window by the Chinese border

The process to get across took a few hours but was relatively straightforward.  We discovered earlier in our trip that Team Trouble, our Argentinian chicas’ visa had expired and calling them The Fugitive’s for a few days as they worried they would get lifted, a quick bung (sorry I meant fee) and crossing a bridge acorss the valley and we were through.

We took a scenic 200km trip by bus through sunny Nepal.  It really is stunning and I can understand the appeal to many trekkers to go there.  Half way along our route our tire burst so we pulled over.

Across the road to us was a lorry loading apples and a few people peering over this hill.  It turned out that the night before a lorry had rolled down the hill spilling all it’s apples and the logistics company was there to recover it.

Photo by Silvina

So while we waited for the tyre to be repaired Chris and I tucked into a few apples and took some snaps before heading back onto the road to Kathmandu.

Arriving at Kathmandu you are met with very busy narrow streets filed with bikes cars and pedestrians all sharing the same tarmac - but nothing overly exciting or incredibly fascinating.  Asking Jonas how he would describe it he said “it’s a mix between being in India and Paris, with the artisan European coffee shop signs and narrow streets.”

One of the highlights and fascinating parts of my trip was a visit to the Pashputinath Temple.  This place is regarded as one of the most sacred Hindu shrines in the world and is also a world heritage site.  Dating from 400 AD and located on the banks of the Bagmati river, you witness cremations of people – but not in the same way as we would see it in the western world, there’s no curtain; no coffin, to shield your eyes.

Instead they lay the body, after being exposed to the river, on a bed of logs.  They then cover the body with hay and mementos and light it.  Standing beside it are the male family members – it appears that women are not allowed to be there during the actual ceremony.

It’s strange but there’s not just one cremation-taking place, there is about eight of them, continually happening most of the morning, side by side.  Once the ceremony is over for each body the ashes are then brushed into the river.

My time in Kathmandu ended with some kick-ass food poisoning that lasted a good four days and well into my Vietnam trip, but that’s all cleared now – no more being sick!

Ally getting excited about wiggly apps!

You've seen it, now you can drink it!

Another cool pic by Silvina

Kathmandu (by Silvina)

Amanda and I at a traditional Nepalese restaurant with the gang

Jonas, Me and Maria

Chris, Silvina, Ally and Amanda

Silvina's arm with the words "I love Dave and Chris!"

Silvina, Maria and Chris tucking into some food
(turned out to be a bad idea for me though!)

Right now I’m heading on a bus with Jonas to the Cambodian border to visit some truly devastating places where tragedy struck the local people, but more on that in the Cambodia blog update in a weeks time.

Also I want to say a big thank you for the comments and emails some of you have been sending.  I do read all of them, whilst not always easy to reply straight away I will get back to you.  If you have any questions about any part of my trip, or on any of the places I’ve visited (or that I would recommend) then just get in touch either via here or Facebook.

All the best.


  1. I -aeh- have -aeh- a cuestion?
    I -aeh- find this -aeh- blog not quite -aeh- satisfying?


  2. Ha ha ha thanks Jonas, I do miss Jan already he was a legend!

  3. Hi Dave, Great read as per norm.The photo's are really interesting. I must agree that I was quite taken by Silvina's photo's too.I think in time you should publish a book of your trip and all the photo's . I would certainly buy it.A belated "Happy Birthday Amanda".Love Mum.Dad n Daniel.xxx

  4. i was quite taken with some of jonas'photos too - it seems he can almost take them in his sleep...
    nice tales mate

  5. giblin .. rocking the free world

  6. wow, sounds fantastic :-) Some great photos too - you should invest in a DSLR whilst you're away, I'm sure you'd be able to pick up a great deal!

  7. great post dave. finally getting a chance to read your blog a bit... glad you had such a fantastic experience at everest, it is hard to explain. that train ride is nuts but beautiful


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