As the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the conquest of Mt Everest, I’m reminded about my own special audience with the big E back in 1994. Special because it involved driving not climbing. As a member of the Central Asia Cultural Expedition, a 13,000km voyage across Central Asia and Tibet, we drove in five Mahindra Armadas right up to the base camp of Everest. The gruelling drive from the Lhasa highway to the foot of Everest was a rollercoaster ride across a barren, tree-less landscape that could pass off as the Sea of Tranquility. There was no road or track in parts and you drive through gushing streams and river beds that dried up centuries ago. The fascinating bit is that you can see Everest nearly a 100km before you reach it, rising out of the desolate landscape looming larger, filling your windscreen and beckoning you with every approaching kilometre. When you finally reach the base camp you are greeted by an unforgettable sight that makes it worth every kilometre of the torturous drive. The white, snow-covered north face of the highest point on earth is much bigger than you think, towering above you and piercing the unnaturally blue sky.
To make a road right into Everest’s shadow is a marvel of Chinese road building, especially when you consider that, on the other side of Everest in Nepal, the base camp is a good two weeks' walk from the nearest road ahead.
For the Mahindra Armadas we drove in, the Everest base camp provided the best photo op in the world. And the Armada is possibly the only Indian vehicle to have gone there.