moist and early in the border town of Xangmu. It was time to get out.
were on the dirty third floor of the Gangyen Hotel, not 50 meters from the
Chinese immigration. After spending a month on the Tibetan highlands where it
was dry and cool, the warm dampness did not feel welcome.
our side hotel room showed the 5-ton transport trucks queued up to cross the
border, all lying dormant since dusk last night. The trucks formed a ribbon
down the center of this one-lane town that zig-zagged up the mountainside.
was the normal fare served across the street, upstairs in one of the many
dirty restaurants there. The same dog that had accompanied us for dinner
watched us eat, a faint glimmer of hope in its eye.
climbers from basecamp were located, and after they ate lunch our party was
reassembled. Most of us had only day packs with a few possessions, as the bulk
of our gear was on the basecamp truck which would be coming days later. It was
not so comfortable wearing greasy, dusty fleece that we had lived in for a
month into the humid, warmer environment. But as we say, "climbing is not a
some endurance to deal with border crossings, dusty roads, long, rough Land
Cruiser rides, and immigration lines. No problem for the climbers, we had time
and nothing much else to do. There was an air of resignation, letting the
process take what it takes.
gathered all the visa information for Jamie's crew. They made sure they were
all in a line in the same order as on the visa form, so as to not get some
border authority bent out of shape. They all went through past the immigration
desk with no problem.
I had an
individual visa, which allowed me to travel independently, so I simply needed
to fill out a customs form. The guard gave me a good looking over, then waved
immigration exists a strange "no-man's land" between the two countries. You
take some method transport (we had vans) down to the "Friendship Bridge",
which is the actual border. But this distance takes about 20 minutes to cover,
down a rough, muddy road to the actual bridge itself, and the Nepali
immigration on the other side. One more passport check at the bridge, and we
were waived through to Kodari, Nepal, and walked the distance across the
bridge. I was feeling a little liberated from the Chinese just getting out of
there. Not sure what it would feel like to live there. I definitely had my
fill of the Chinese, their bureaucracy, and their policies.
could be accurately described in about the same terms as Tingri, a dirtbag
filthy strip of a town, the only difference was it was on the border.
We had the
opportunity to eat at a tiny restaurant. Daiula were clearly at home, big
smiles, chatting with the restaurant owner. He dived into a huge plate of dhal
bhat, eating with bare hands, as is the Nepali custom.
inquisitively into the shop, especially interested in the digital cameras
where they could see their own pictures. Expeditions passed by, with a Sherpa
in front and half a dozen locals in tow carrying the trappings of expeditions
- barrels, packs, crates, anything they could carry for a marginal pay.
A young guy
hired by the expedition handled our visa applications, and took all of them to
the office for us and returned with the visas. The form which I had so
carefully downloaded from the Nepali embassy at home, attached my picture, and
filled out, he declared as the wrong form, and I started again. I had carried
the damn thing 10,000 miles, just for use here at the border. Oh well, so it
the business of the upper border town, we walked a few blocks and got onto a
small white bus with a white "TOURIST ONLY" sign in the front reserved for
Jamie's expedition. I was just hitching a ride here, and was grateful for the
accommodation. It was good to travel with the other climbers. Scott had been
here before on an Everest attempt, and Warrick had been through here as well,
but nobody seemed to know exactly how long the ride would take. We settled in
for the rough voyage.
was spectacular, as the river that passed under the "Friendship Bridge"
plunged deeper and deeper, eventually forming an awesome chasm through steep
granite walls. The road switchbacked down and down, past nearly-ripe terraced
barley fields and steep granite cliffs. The water had that translucent
turquoise look that is found only in mountain rivers.
The air got
thicker, now there were trees and bushes and lushness. For a month we had seen
only rocks, short dry grass, snow and ice.
several checkpoints along the way where the bus needed to stop. Rough bunkers
of sandbags and razor wire appeared out of nowhere, then it was obvious:
Maoist activity had required protecting certain valuable assets, like hydro
installations and transmission lines, so the police concentrated on these.
Shooting a photo of one of these places could get you 10 years in a Chinese
passed bumping and thrutching through this rough road. There were many places
where it had washed out and was dug out from the rubble, and the bus bumped
along through these places. Interestingly, these were used as a sort of slate
quarry, and stacks of rectangular, uniform pieces of slate occurred at each of
these landslide areas.
descent and the hills got larger, and more broad, descending to where the
river was very broad. A crossing at a city, then up into the hills toward
hills revealed themselves, and the small rivers were used as gravel quarries,
with various-sized stones in separate piles near the road.
It was now
apparent our bus driver was fond of passing on the outside lane and honking
into the nothingness to warn anybody coming. This mostly worked, no accident,
just some near-misses.
After a few
hours of this bus tag, around a bend revealed a gaggle of buses, cars,
motorcycles, stopped dead in the road. Our tour bus creeped up, and the
problem was revealed: a bus with a broken axle blocked the road. The axle
protruded from the rear wheel like a greasy, dead appendage.
there were probably 40 vehicles, dozens of people outside blocking the road.
Somehow it all got sorted out without the help of any police, with giant 5-ton
trucks passing within centimeters of each other at a crawl to get by. Then
back to the same game of "honk around the corner, motorcycle tag,
pass-the-transport, don't hit the guy walking."
gaining altitude, soon we were in the midst of small barley plots with houses,
getting more populous, then into a small town. This was Bhaktapur, a small,
interesting city. Lots of the houses here looked more prosperous, they were
larger, with the distinctive three-level, rectangular-looking Nepali
along the pastoral road, green fields, lots of people walking, and soon we
entered Kathmandu, the eastern side of the "Ring Road" that encircled the
city. It was not long before we were deep inside the city, at the edge of the
tourist district called Thamel. It was some place resembling civilization, as
we knew it.
goodbye to the other climbers and got a cab to the International Guest House,
where in a few days my father would join me for a bit of further exploration.
This is the
end of the journey for now. To those I may have forgotten to mention, I
apologize, and hope to seen you on some trail, basecamp, or destination
mountain town in the future.
to the climbers which made the journey more interesting:
Warrick, Scott, Greg, Bob, Simona, Dawa, Daiula, and
Camilo Lopez (US), Carlos (Spain), Silvio (Italy).
my team: Monty Smith, Val Hovland, Dave Lew, Bemba Tashi (our Tibetan porter),
Dorji Sherpa (fantastic cook), Pratap Nachhiring (basecamp manager), and David
Christopher (in the U.S., logistics).
I wish you
all well, Namaste.
to Pratap for several days' interesting travels through the streets, byways
and temples of Kathmandu, and for his hospitality in his home, and his wife
Sabita and daughter. It is a great pleasure to be welcome in a strange,
wonderful country. Perhaps some day I can return the favor.
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