After returning from my first trip to Nepal several years ago, I asked my six year-old nephew if he knew where I’d just been. I gave him a hint: “It’s where Mount Everest is.” He was a smart boy, so I knew he would get it.
“Tibet!” he announced, proudly.
It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but of course he was right. Mount Everest is sort of in Tibet. It is also sort of in Nepal. But reaching Everest Base Camp in Nepal and China are very different undertakings. Everything—from the approach, the stamina required, the amount of time it takes, the accommodation, the food and the views—is different on the Nepal and Tibet sides of the mountain.
Reaching Everest Base Camp in Nepal is a big deal. First, you need to catch that infamous flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, which is actually far more exhilarating than it is terrifying. The excitement from that trip buoys trekkers along the first part of the path towards Namche Bazaar. It’s necessary to stay in this heartland of Sherpa culture for a day or two to help with acclimatisation. Then, you trek to higher and higher altitudes, passing through interesting towns such as Tengboche and Pangboche, and stopping at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries along the way. The whole trek can take up to twenty days.
What is perhaps most surprising to many trekkers in the Solu-Khumbu region of Nepal is that Everest itself isn’t the highlight. In terms of singular, spectacular mountain views, that is. The pointy Matterhorn-esque peak of Ama Damblam (6812 metres) is often called one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, as it resembles a child’s drawing of a mountain. It is Ama Dablam that draws much attention from trekkers to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Everest itself—called Sagarmatha by speakers of Nepali, and Chomolungma by Sherpas—is set back from view, overlapped as it is by surrounding peaks that are almost as high, such as Lhotse.
Reaching Everest Base Camp from Tibet is no less of a big deal, but for different reasons. Tibet has long been a travel destination of almost mythical proportions, a reputation cemented by the relative difficultly of getting there. Independent travel in Tibet is not allowed, and special permits are required. Many travellers fly to Lhasa from Kathmandu, rather than other places further east in China, because gaining access this way is more straightforward.
From the main city of Lhasa, Tibetan Everest Base Camp is a two-three day drive. The roads in this part of Tibet are very good (especially noticeable if you’re coming from Nepal!) so it is a comfortable journey, but long and winding nonetheless. The landscape along the way is very different from that experienced in Nepal—it is much drier, browner, and many of the mountains less jagged. That is, until you cross the high passes (5000+ metres) that take you down into the Qomolangma National Park. Layers and layers of undulating brown hills comprise the Tibetan foothills of Everest, and then there it is—unmistakeable, imposing and impressive.
You can drive all the way up to Everest Base Camp in Tibet, should you wish, but many travellers choose to make the two-hour hike at the end of the paved road (I tried, but the altitude was making anything more than a snail’s pace too difficult). You’ll stay overnight in Rongbu, which cannot really be called a town as it is so small, but it has a basic yet tidy guesthouse with electric blankets on the beds and the most spectacular unobstructed views of the mountain.
As I first saw Everest from Nepal, I was never especially enamoured with it for its own sake—it’s the whole experience and the surrounding landscape that makes the Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal so memorable. After travelling to Tibet, I better understand the lure of the singular mountain, the highest in the world. Yet it is still the excitement of the journey—whether walking or driving—that makes a pilgrimage to Everest from Nepal or Tibet so worthwhile.
Want to go there? Have a look at what Royal Mountain Travel can offer you in Tibet and the Everest region: