A compulsory stop
The Friendship Highway connects with the track leading to Everest's north face base camp. The Geu La pass is here. Its 5,100 metres are the 'high point' of the trip, with a panoramic view of five 'eight-thousanders', including the highest in the world, Everest.
The highway consists of two roads, the 318 in Tibet and Arniko Rajmarg once in Nepal. Some 900 kilometres of landscapes and nature await. The route starts in Lhasa, the ancient ‘forbidden city’, so called because there was restricted access to foreigners until the 1960s. The three-day adaptation period required by the 3,650 metre altitude gives travellers the perfect opportunity to explore the area. The last residence of the Dalai Lama was here, in Potala Palace. Its thirteen floors seem to be embedded in the mountain, resulting in an impressive two-colour building formed by the White and Red Palaces. It is a World Heritage Site, together with Norbulingka Palace and the Jokhang Temple. The latter is where the ‘kora’ takes place, with thousands of people walking round it in circles while they pray and chant their prayers. The air is heavy with the smell of yak butter candles.
Tibetan architecture can be seen all along the way in the shape of temples and monasteries like the Gyangtse Kumbum, the first stop after Lhasa. Its 108 chapels are decorated with paintings of Buddha and house more than 3,000 statues. It’s known as ‘the Stupa of many Buddhas’. To get there you have to cross valleys and mountain passes. They are also part of Tibet’s ancestral architecture. The first pass, Kamba La, is over 4,794 metres high and affords the best views over lake Yamzho Yumco, ‘jade lake’ for Tibetans, although it actually reflects all kinds of hues, from navy blue to turquoise. The highest pass is Gyatso La (5,248 metres). From there, the snowy peaks of the ‘eight-thousanders’ seem to be just a little closer.