"That was the greatest whiz view ever" Tanya beemed as our driver took one last snort of his mysterious yellow powder before taking back behind the wheel to finish off the remaining 20 bone crunching km of the Friendship Highway!
I guess a little background detail is in order....
The Friendship Highway (which runs from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal) is anything but friendly. The Chinese government makes it ridiculously expensive and difficult to enter Tibet in the first place, but they seem to make it surprisingly even more difficult to leave by way of another country. Apparently, once you're in, they want you to spend all of your money before you leave! That said, we needed to get our Nepal Visas so we dropped off our passports at the Nepal General Consulate in Lhasa before heading out to Nam Tso Lake for an overnight trip...and thus begins our complicated story towards reaching the Nepal border.
We had dropped off our passports on a Tuesday and before leaving spoke with a gentleman from Germany who was heading straight to the Nepal border on Saturday or Sunday. He was going to make arrangements for a jeep and we told him we were interested in joining him. Then, we were also booked to travel out to Nam Tso lake ( a holy lake surrounded by some 7000m peaks) with a group on Wednesday morning to stay over one night at the lake. Unfortunately,the evening we were out at the lake, the monsoon rains of Tibet decided to wash out a section of the road back to Lhasa. Normally this would not have been such a huge problem, however, since we were forced to spend another night out at Nam Tso (Thursday Night) this would mean that we would not be back in time to pick up our Passports and Visas by 4:00pm on Friday and thus be forced to pick up our passports on Monday, August 20th. Again...this would not have fared to be a problem but our Chinese Visas ran out on Tuesday, August 21st!! A complicated mess.
We pleaded (with the help of a translator) to be let on to the solitary bus that left Nam Tso on Friday morning and were able to get back to Lhasa in time to pick up our passports and although the German fellow arranged transport not including us (since we couldn't contact him from the lake) we were able to arrange transport to the Nepal border for a very reasonable fare. And so, at 6:00 am (after accidentally sleeping in until 5:56 am) on Sunday, August 19th we were headed down the Friendship Highway towards Nepal.
The Friendship Highway ( for a comprehensive look at some of the details check out http://www.tibetmap.net/Maps/rdLXA-KTM.jpg ) is essentially a great highway all the way up until the town of Tingri, at which point the highway begins to deteriorate badly!! It is the final 200 km or so of bone-crunching, spine-breaking, headache-inducing, pothole-laden strech of road that makes you want to shoot yourself in the face with a slingshot. However, it is also one of the most majestically, brillant scenery on the face of the planet. Needless to say, we were in awe during our 16 hour drive to the tiny village of Nyalam near the border. We slept here for the night and continued at 7:00am for the border on Monday.
Let me paint the picture of the remaining 30km of "road" between Nyalam and Zhangmu (Chinese border town). First of all, the trip takes about 2 and a half hours to travel the 30km...this should give you a sense of the road conditions. It is next to impossible to travel over 10km/hr as the driver bounces around mountain curves while trying to not let the tires fleet to the edge, which by the way, holds a staggering drop down through a gorge to a river that seems to dare anyone to try rafting it. Our driver would religiously pull from his pocket, a non-descript bottle full of yellow powder, place some on his thumb and then snort it, exhaling some dusty fumes. As we had seen many other Tibetans perform this ritual, we felt little concern for our lives...and since we had a French man, who was the spitting image of Jesus (complete with an inquisitive yet calming demeanor), sitting to our right in the jeep, we knew we were in good hands.
About 10km from Zhangmu we stopped one last time for a break. Tanya and I had decided to make mental pictures of all the amazing places that we may be relieving ourselves throughout the year. Tanya went to whiz and I had to agree with her when she said that it was one of the greatest "whiz views" ever. The mountains towered over us, lush and smelling full of life from the monsoon rains. Several waterfalls were falling on both sides of the swelled up rushing river only several feet from where we stood. Truely, one of the most picturesque views either of us has ever seen! The driver had one last snort of his yellow powder and we were on our way.
We made it to Kathmandu form the border, by way of jeep, and are currently staying at the Kathmandu Guest house ( http://www.ktmgh.com/ ) probably one of the absolute best places in the world to stay for a mere $10...and since an enormous steak in Kathmandu costs only $5, we may be here a while.
We are buying a camera today so we will post some pictures as soon as we can!!
D and T