Mountain Sickness. Near Death Experience

7 a.m. ?

I looked through the broken window.  The sky turned from jet-black to dark blue. Stars changed from sparkling white to faintly visible white. The other travellers in the room started to move around on their benches. One of them said energetically, ‘Finally! Let’s go out to take some photos.’ He sounded as if he had had a very comfortable sleep. Maybe he did. Maybe it was just me.

As I looked through the broken window, I smiled to myself. Finally. It was the longest night in my life.  I could imagine how hard it’d be for patients who struggled to breathe.  I was truly thankful that I was still alive! Morning was here!  The sun was rising!  A new day had begun!  And most importantly, I could see it…

Peak of Mt. Everest in the morning

I was struggling with mountain sickness so I didn’t sleep much at all last night. I had a slight headache this morning. My other friend texted me (it was SMS back then) and advised me not to ascend if I had any headache or any sign of mountain sickness. Even though I was like 500 metres or so away from the base camp, I decided not to go there.  My two travel companions went up and I stayed at Ronghbuk dining room for the morning and took some more photos of the clear sky and Mt. Everest while I waited for them to come back.  

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the peak of Mt. Everest couldn’t be easily seen. Some people had to wait for a long time, like hours or even days, just to have a glimpse of the peak.  Most of the time, the clouds covered the peak.  I was fortunate enough to be able to see it – the sacred and mysterious peak of Mt. Everest.

Another photo at a later time
With the morning sun, I finally saw what the surrounding area was like.
Another mountain beside the peak of Mt. Everest
The reception area or dining room of the guesthouse. The white jug was filled with water and the other one was filled with butter milk tea which I couldn’t drink. The little white cup beside the red jug was the one that I used to drink the water. The room that I stayed at last night was similar to this one except that it was not as grand as this.  You can see cushions against the walls in this photo but the one I stayed at didn’t even have cushions. There was a little kitchen where we bought the instant noodles from last night and a store room on the right.

I didn’t expect to see so many travellers at the guesthouse. That was probably why some of them and the three of us stayed in that wooden house instead of a proper bedroom. It could be full last night.

One group after another entered into the dining room. And then one after another took a vehicle to the base camp.

I could finally find an empty seat at an empty table. I didn’t have much to do while I was waiting.  A thin guy with little hair and some beard then sat next to me. He didn’t say anything which was quite weird because usually backpackers chatted with each other just like the other groups that I met this morning so I said hi to him. He was rubbing his hands or something to keep himself warm so I said, ‘it’s cold. Isn’t it?’ He said something (irrelevant anyway). Then he said he’d order some food and that he would be back.

He went to the kitchen, placed his order and then sat at another dining table opposite to mine by himself. That was weird and… pretty… rude. What kind of person was that? I thought to myself and I looked at him.  

He caught my gaze, probably. Then he came and sat next to me again.  We started a more proper conversation. He told me he ordered pancakes. Hang on. Pancakes?! At the monastery?! In that remote part of the world?! He said, ‘yes.’ he then started to tell me how delicious it was and I should try them.  Another backpacker came and ordered the same. She said, ‘I came all the way from my room to here for the pancakes.’  

So, dear readers, remember, eat pancakes at the highest monastery in the world before you head to the base camp of Mt. Everest. 😀

While he was waiting for his food and I was for my travel companions, he saw my camera and he started asking me about it. We then looked at each other’s photos we took over the past few days. In fact, he took a similar one that I did in Tashihunpo Monastery, the one with a monk walking towards the monastery. In retrospect, I remembered I saw some other travellers standing beside me taking photos. That could be him but he said he was there a day or two before I did.

The pancakes arrived. It looked very nice and smelled good too. He offered me some. How could I resist it? 😀  

He started drinking the butter milk tea and seemed to enjoy it. Seriously? He even said the tea was good. I later knew that he was probably lying to me.  He didn’t really like it.

He told me he had a very good night’s sleep. I complained. When he described his bedroom to me, I knew he was sleeping in a proper bedroom. No wonder he looked so refreshed and energetic. Actually, he looked like the guy who told me to shut the door of the dining room last night but I didn’t ask him to confirm it.

‘How many days did you stay in Lhasa before you came here?’ He asked.

‘Three days. I arrived here last night.’ I answered.

‘Three days? Wow! You’ve been doing pretty well.’ It was supposed to be a compliment. It took him a slightly longer time to acclimatize but I could reach this high altitude within such a short time. I should say ‘thank you’ to this compliment but instead, I said, ‘it may have something to do with the age.’ 😀 Another backpacker who had been sitting close to our table and listening to our conversations for quite some time laughed when he heard me saying that.

‘What?! I am only 31 years old!’ He pointed at himself and protested. I was quite surprised because he looked a lot older than that. 😀 (Sorry, if you are reading this but that was really what I thought back then. :P)

My travel companions came back and I said goodbye to that 31-year-old guy and left. The three of us were waiting outside the dining room for our driver. They told me about the base camp and that I didn’t miss much. They said it looked prettier at the monastery than at the base camp. They then showed me their photos. I think it wasn’t really about the scenery. It was more about the ability of oneself. I knew my travel companions were just consoling me and I was happy that they cared to do this for me. 🙂

It was already noon. The 31-year-old guy came out of the dining room, took a few photos and showed them to me, ‘I got inspired by some of your photos.’ He said. For one of the photos, while he took it, some birds flew past. He caught that moment on his camera and was excited about it. I had a feeling that he wanted to stay in touch with me so I asked him, ‘do you want to leave your contact with me then?’ ‘If you have pen and paper.’ He said.

We have been friends since then.  15 years of friendship (and many more years to come). 🙂 And we are still bantering with each other, first in email, then now on another social media platform. 😀

Our driver came to pick us up and took us back to Shigatse but the journey wasn’t as smooth as we expected. I wasn’t referring to the roads. I was referring to the health conditions of one of my travel companions.

I had been sitting at the front seat and the two of them at the back.

All of a sudden, I heard some commotion at the back. My female travel companion said, ‘he is feeling very sick.’ The driver pulled over and examined my male travel companion and asked me if I could swap my seat with him which I did.

As I looked at him from behind, I could see he was suffering a lot.

He was a strong, sturdy and well-built man. But he looked so weak now.

It was mountain sickness. He gave me his oxygen last night. Now, we had none left. He didn’t have much sleep last night and he smoked (which is not recommended at all when you are at high altitude) but he ascended to the base camp despite all that.

The driver drove as quickly as possible, non-stop.

He skipped all the scenic spots. He just kept driving and driving.

We needed to descend quickly.

But we were still on the rough and winding road.

My travel companion was getting worse.

He couldn’t even hold his head up.

His lips turned blue or purple. I had never seen this colour on a person’s lips before.

For the whole time, his eyes were closed.

He looked like he was dying.

It felt like hours in the four-wheel drive.

We were all worried.

Fortunately, we had a very experienced driver. He knew what he was doing and he knew the vicinity well.

We finally reached a little shop.

The driver quickly got out of the four-wheel drive, bought the oxygen and put it on my travel companion’s face.

Lucky that he hadn’t lost his consciousness. He could hold the mask on his face and breath in the oxygen.

We all focused on him.

His lips gradually changed its colour.  The blue or purple colour started to fade and the normal red started to reappear. We were all relieved when we saw that.

It must be a near death experience for him.

He continued to inhale the oxygen while the driver started the engine. The driver took us safely back to Shigatse.

My travel companion started talking at night at the dining table and he gained his appetite. It was so good to see that. The restaurant owner joined us for dinner. The driver must have told him about the incident that we had on our way to Shigatse. He must also have blamed my travel companion for insisting on ascending to the base camp. But I could see on the driver’s face that even though he was blaming him, he was happy that he was safe and sound now. His feeling was genuine.

11 October 2005

One thought on “Mountain Sickness. Near Death Experience

  1. Pingback: Return To Lhasa

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