|Way before the crack of dawn we all piled on to the bus as Gelu had informed us we needed to get an early start to avoid the numerous construction road blocks present on the only road to the Nepalese border. So in the pitch black at 5.30am we set off, all swaddled in jackets, blankets and sleeping bag and tried to get a more more sleep.
About 9.30am we were jolted awake by the bus stopping suddenly and an animated conversation taking place between Gelu, Topten and the driver. It seemed we had reached our first roadblock. We had met another larger tour group last night in Tingri and Gelu had made an arrangement with them as follows; we would say we were all one group spread out over two buses and if we hit a road block the guides would say that there were sick people on the bus who had to get through so we wouldn’t have to wait.
Well….it worked fine for the OTHER group. Their fake sickness story worked perfectly but we were left behind in the lurch. Topten again proved his uselessness by refusing to talk to the guards or to attempt to bribe them as he was too shy. So we settled in to wait….for 10.5 hours. At first we chatted, then read then walked up and down the 20m that was the town we were stopped at, then watched the only movie the driver had in English Terminator 3, then eventually just tried to sleep.
As we were first cab off the rank we were conveniently stopped outside a restaurant (or sorts) so not only could we get 2 minute noodles for lunch to stave off hunger, we could also get beer passed into us through our window so we didn’t have to brave the cold. But more beer meant more trips to the toilet…and the only toilet in town was a long drop that was full to the top, if you get my drift. Up there in my top 5 worst toilets ever I think.
Finally at 8.30pm we set off again but after a very short time, as the bus swayed wildly from side to side, we reaelised that the driver had gone the wrong way and was heading down the road under construction; not the by pass. It was touch and go as he engineered a u-turn, nearly planting us upside down in a ditch and there were water bottles and other paraphernalia flying everywhere. We were stopped again at the road black where the army guy in charge made the driver and Topten get out and rebuild a section of the road with cement blocks.
We forged on for another hour or so along a dusty, bumpy road before hitting another roadblcok, where we were stopped for 2 hours. Then carried on down a treacherous, winding road with 1000m sheer drops to one side and no guard rails. Fortunately by this stage it was dark so we couldn’t see all the way to the bottom. It was very slow and there was still construction going on as we srove down. It took an hour for the last 5km.
Finally we arrived at the border town of Zhangmu at 1.30am having travelled a total of 180km in 20 hours. The hotel was pretty basic but the squat toilet was the most repugnant thing I have seen in a very long time, so bad I cannot even begin to describe it; suffice to say it made everyone gag who went near it. I vowed to just hold on til Nepal.
We left at 8am for the Chinese border, a long and winding drive, then waited an hour to get through immigration. I glanced at the group visa as I went through and saw that we had all been given fictitious occupations; mine was accountant. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat as we were stamped out of Tibet and into Nepal, I haven’t been so happy to leave a country since the time I snuck out of New Zealand…
I must add that the Friendship bridge between the Chinese and Nepalese border was anything but friendly, I wanted to get a photo of me kicking up my heels in glee as I crossed the thick, red line in the middle of the bridge but judging by the reaction of the Tibetan guards you would think I asked them to sacrifice their firstborn!
It was another 6 hour drive back to Kathmandu by which time I had built it up in my head as some kind of mythical Shangri-La, a veritable paradise for weary travellers. I had my fantasy diminished somewhat by realising on arrival that there was no power in the city and therefore no hot water, laundry etc. Paradise can’t have everything I suppose. It was the last I would be seeing of my tour group and we all went out for dinner and drinks to celebrate our return.