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Himalaya

Day 62: Rongbuk to Everest Base Camp

Michael Palin - HimalayaNow, in early November, the camp is all but deserted though the legacy of the summer lies around: discarded brandy bottles, playing cards, batteries and bits of sodden, scrumpled clothing.

A couple of motorbikes are parked beside a caretaker's tent, outside which a young man sits in the sun, having his hair cut by two ladies. Nearby, the yak herders with whom we shall be walking up to the glacier have set up two or three small tents of their own, while the yaks graze nearby, nibbling at the scatterings of wheat and dry grass laid out for them. One has made a small hole in the ice and is drinking from it. Their hair is mostly black, though some have white faces. All have the soft eyes of cows and the same sad, long-suffering look, as if resigned to whatever's going to happen. Despite looking eminently embraceable, they don't seem at all interested in my friendly advances, and I'm warned that they can turn very truculent.

I learn, too, that though yak is their generic name, it refers only to the male; a female is called a dri and a yak crossed with a cow is a dzo (this is a useful word to know when playing Scrabble, as my ever helpful Bradt guide points out). They are the preferred carriers at this height, stoical and persistent, sure-footed on the rocks. They thrive at altitude, protected from the cold by a thick saddle of insulating fat across their backs, and the big expeditions rely on them to transport heavy equipment up as high as 21,500 feet (6550 m). It's on the lower slopes that the yaks suffer. Anything below 8000 feet (2440 m) can be very uncomfortable for them, as they tend to overheat.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 62: Rongbuk to Everest Base Camp
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Everest Base Camp
  • Book page no: 147

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