The Third Lane refers to an imaginary path in the center of a road between the two directions of opposing traffic. It is used by impatient drivers to pass cars even though they are overtaking vehicles on narrow mountain roads or blind corners.
Darren writes about some of our most memorable road experiences while in Asia.
It had been our dream for some time to visit Everest. We are intrigued by Everest and have watched every documentary on the subject that we could find. While in Tibet, we included a visit to the Mount Everest base camp on our itinerary.
Being early June, the monsoon period would begin soon, bringing more precipitation and reduced visibility. We knew that the summit could be covered by clouds for days and even weeks at a time. Would we even be able to see the mountain after traveling all this way to get here? To find out, we would need to drive about 62 miles (100 kilometers) on a dirt road to the base camp, located at 17,060 feet (5,200 meters). We were told that the road was very rough and slow going and it would take hours to cover the distance.
We left our hotel early in the morning, almost immediately after breakfast. After only a few minutes, we left the paved highway and turned on a poorly maintained single track dirt road. It was surprisingly crowded. It turns out that this was a special day dedicated to children. So it was not surprising that we saw many locals in their national dress on their way to a grassy field near our turned off. We saw an elderly husband and wife riding on an old, run-down motorcycle in traditional clothes. We also saw a young man struggling to ride a bicycle on the deeply rutted road. Later, we saw an entire family in a dilapidated wooden cart being pulled by a donkey, their bodies being tossed in every direction as they moved along the rough track.
As the miles passed and we started to climb, the terrain became starker. We could see small villages in the distance, barely struggling to survive it seemed. We came across a herder with goats and another with yak. There was very little, if any, vegetation. How could anything survive out here? And if the summer was inhospitable, we could only imagine what it was like in the middle of winter when the temperature drops way below zero.
It was strange to see a large river in the distance, given that much of Tibet is in a natural rain shadow created by the Himalayas. But there it was. We held our breath as we crossed the river on a wood and cement bridge. Soon after, our guide told us that we had just joined the main road. This one was also dirt and only slightly better that the one we had just left. In the distance, we would see a long train of Toyota Land Cruisers driving at high speeds towards us. As we pulled off to let them pass, we could see that they contained climbing gear and spent mountaineers returning from base camp, as it was the end of the climbing season. As our car continued to slowly climb closer to the base camp, we both felt a little of out of breath.
Finally, after over three hours on the road, we turned a corner and to our surprise and delight, we saw Everest’s summit come into full view! Even though the mountain was still miles away, we could see it clearly in the distance with just a few clouds around it. We quickly snapped a few photos through the car window… just in case. As we got closer, we passed Rombuk Monastery which has had an open door to mountaineers for years. Here again, we got a glimpse of the summit…. still perfectly clear and now much closer.
Finally, we made it to base camp. We quickly ran to the corner of the area reserved for non-climbers and snapped five or six photos from different angles as clouds began to form near the base of the summit. We usually refrain from taking very many photos of each other. But, in front of Mt. Everest, we could not help it. “I was here” is exactly the statement we wanted to make and a photo in front of the tallest peak on the planet seemed appropriate in this case.
We did not climb Mt. Everest, but we did have the opportunity to rest on eyes on it. The road there was slow and bone jarring, but was well worth it. The photos will help us remember the day.