Jan 27, 2014
Any Age is Right for The Trip of a Lifetime.
Traversing the extreme on and off-road terrain of Tibet – with its dizzying altitudes and glacial temperatures – is the sort of challenge usually taken up by daredevil explorers in the prime of life. But a couple pushing 70 and their 13 year old grandson set out this past summer with an entourage of MINI to prove that it’s never too late – or too soon – to achieve a lifelong dream. Read on for the full story of their remarkable journey below.
Throughout his career as a Beijing-based television photographer and screenwriter, Demei Cheng made many trips through the vast badlands of Tibet, taking a different route each time. Having travelled first as part of a scientific expedition with his father in the late 1960s and most recently with his son in the early 1990s, Demei and his family have cultivated a deep-rooted connection with this famously unforgiving landscape. “This family’s love for Tibet continues to stretch through the generations,” he told us.
Despite many unrivalled experiences and decades of trekking on top of the world, the most extreme of the five famous Tibetan routes had eluded Demei. With wanderlust still unquenched, he set out to conquer the final frontier.
In August 2013, a convoy of MINI pushed off from five different locations in Tibet with a single destination: Everest. The month-long journey, which would cover a collective 70,000 km, would make MINI the first car to drive all five routes through Tibet. Cheng and his wife were 67 and 66 years old respectively, but more ready than ever for another adventure. Having already travelled the Sichuan-Tibet, Yunnan-Tibet and Quinghai-Tibet routes, they decided to personally tackle the daunting Xinjiang-Tibet road in a MINI Paceman.
While every road trip comes with its challenges, The Xinjiang-Tibet route is the highest, most oxygen-deprived and coldest route on the planet. Needless to say, Demei and his wife were in for the ride of their life. Joined by their son – himself an experienced traveller who makes annual trips to Tibet – and 13-year-old grandson, Pubu, this would be a rite of passage for all.
On August 6th, with odometer set to 0, the family departed in their MINI Paceman from Kargilik County, Xinjiang. The following three weeks of driving took them over perilous desert terrain, through the sharp peaks of the Kunlin mountains, across glaciers in Aksai Chin and finally to Tingri, Tibet on September 1st.
As the highest set of lanes in the world, the Xinjiang to Tibet road leaps to 1,300m above sea level within one day of driving. As the road stretches on to visit ten different mountain peaks, the altitude exceeds 5000m – over 3 miles into the sky. Amidst an awe-inspiring panorama, it also passes through a desolate, 900 km zone with not a soul in sight. It was along this road, with nothing but vastness in every direction, that Demei and his family made their journey into Tibet.
The MINI Paceman braved the severe topography and treacherous roads without trouble, and the Cheng family boasts not a single incident of the altitude sickness that brings so many journeys to an end for mountain drivers. Not forgetting to enjoy themselves along the way, at the highest point of the road on the summit of the Guge mountain, Demei and his family celebrated his wife’s 67th birthday.
At the start of September, the family regrouped with the rest of the MINI pack in Lhasa, at a pre-arranged rendezvous under the Lhasa Eye. From here, after some time for refuelling and much needed rest, they set off for their final destination: Everest’s Base Camp.
A landmark on the road to Everest is Rongbu Buddhist Temple - the world’s highest - where colourful prayer flags flutter against a vast mountainous backdrop. At 5,248m this was the perfect opportunity for the team to pause for reflection, regroup and make preparations for the final push. Not before letting some of the resident monks have a test drive, of course.
For Demei, Tibet is much more than incredible landscapes and ancient folk traditions. As three generations of his family gathered under Mount Everest, humbled by their long journey and shared experience, he recalled expressing simple, yet infinite gratification. “This is good,” he said, “pretty good.”
MINI in Tibet pushed their intrepid explorers to the limit, but each made it to Mount Everest Base Camp successfully with muddy hubcaps and dust-streaked bumpers. After 70,000 km through everything from the burning sun of the plateau to the bitter winds of the world’s highest mountains, this party of NOT NORMAL frontiersmen arrived home with a deep knowledge that while it may be a destination that gets things in gear, it’s the road that writes the story.