Taking Tibet By Motor Home: Two Houstonians RV On The Roof Of The World

Houstonians Harriet and Dr. John Halkyard love to travel in motor homes. They are also good at it. In 2005, the couple recounted their adventures in Mexico and Central America in the book 99 Days to Panama, but a more recent trip was much more exotic.

Two years ago, the retirees flew to China, rented an RV, and drove it across the top of the world, on the gravel Tea-Horse road, with its sheer, 2,000-foot plunges alongside, all the way up to altitudes of 17,000 feet and all the way to Lhasa and the very foot of Mt. Everest.

That's right. They drove an RV. To the foot of Mt Everest, along a road that Lonely Planet calls "the most dangerous [and beautiful] in the world."

Let's go to a Q&A...

Hair Balls: How did you think this would be possible, or a good idea?

Harriet Halkyard: Yes, well, we didn't know how hard it was going to be. We knew it was possible, because it was a road. So duh, there's a road. We actually had more trepidation about driving in Central America eight years ago because it was harder to get information about it. So we weren't worried about [this trip].

Were you scared once you started on the trip?

Only by the road conditions. The road we were on is hardly paved and was covered in landslides. At one point we were told the road would be closed for eight or twelve hours because there had been a landslide. Most of the rivers [along the road] were about 20 feet across and brown with silt. This one was the same, and you could see how the landslide had come from the other side of the river and crossed it, and the horrifying thing was that two vehicles had been buried by the landslide. One of them was a mini-van with half a dozen people in it. It was never recovered. So yes, there were some spooky moments.

Y'all rented the RV over there, right?

Yes, and that was a bit of a laugh because it was a pure-Chinese company so we had to get someone to translate for us on this end. We asked if it had supplies. "Oh yes, yes, of course it has." Not quite. You could forget about knives and forks, and even chopsticks were considered "personal items." So we went to, believe it or not, Wal-Mart [in China] to buy a chunk of the so-called personal items that you can't live without.

Y'all managed to avoid altitude sickness, I understand.

Yes, we truly did. We had some medication from our doctor. He had just come back from Tibet and had a terrible time. But we think the key to it was that we went up very slowly. We climbed about a thousand feet a day, which was really nothing. By the time we got to Lhasa, we were acclimated. The people who get sick are the ones who fly in or come by bullet train.

I guess it's like scuba diving. You don't want to come up too fast...

Yes. Yes. People who live up there are quite comfortable with 65 percent of the oxygen we get at sea level.

Well, I've asked you about the scary parts. What were the highlights of the trip?

The ultimate was when we at last got to Mt. Everest. We camped on this high plateau, actually a valley...Completely flat land with these little huts where the nomads had settled for the summer. We couldn't see which one of the mountains in the distance was Mt. Everest, so we asked a guy going by on a horse, "Which one is Chomolungma?" And he pointed to some clouds and said "That one." Well, gee thanks. We put blankets down and we're sitting and watching, and suddenly the clouds parted and we could see it, and just then a rainbow appeared! It was amazing.

(The Halkyards had to sign a customs form with the Chinese government when they entered Tibet. They didn't know what they promised not to do when they signed it, but they later found out they had pledged not to bring in religious items or fishing gear.)

Fishing gear?

They don't want people fishing in Nyak Tso Lake, which is incredibly beautiful. It's Carribbean-blue and there are all these yaks running around. I said to the guide there that it was so beautiful there that it would be wonderful to go sailing. And he looked at me absolutely straight-faced and said "No, you can't sail here. The dragon would get you."

Where does that trip rank among all your travels in your lifetimes?

Very interesting question. We really encourage people to go to Central America because it's so fun and so close. I wouldn't encourage other people to do this trip. Go to Lhasa? Yes. We just went on a bad road. There are far better roads. The whole thing of buying food, and what to eat...It was a really interesting challenge but not something I would recommend to the average guy.

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