Stuck at the Chinese Border

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Thursday, July 7, 2005

We leave Kathmandu in the truck bound for 'The Last Resort', a stylish (by Nepali standards) activity centre close to the Chinese border.

On board the truck its really pleasant as there's room for 22 and there are only 13 on the trip. The sides of the truck are a see-through tarpaulin which during dry weather can be rolled up so that you can experience the countryside at close hand.

As we drive along gangs of Children shout 'hello' from the roadside in a frenzy of activity. We see steeply terraced hillsides where people are growing their crops despite the adverse topology of the land. Everywhere is very green because its the rainy season.

Helen, one of our UK guides is driving. I am amazed how she can handle the 20- ton Mercedes truck because she's only a sparrow-like 5ft 2inch tall and has to deal with the onslaught of the heavy border traffic.

After 4 or 5 hours driving we reach our destination, and head off across a spindly wire bridge 150m above the raging river below. Half way across is a platform for bungy jumping, and we're offered a jump for US$65. It doesn't take much to convince me that this is definitely too scary for me, and Rachel thinks its too expensive! Two of the lads on the trip, Matt and Tom, sign up for it. Later we watch them jump off and it only confirms my suspicion that I could never do it.

We are camping that evening, and the grounds in The Last Resort are really pleasantly laid out with flat green lawns and loads of flowering shrubs all around. It all feels quite tropical as its a warm day and it starts to rain. We go for a a walk through a local village and see Nepalis working in the fields planting rice, harvesting sweet corn, and collecting grass for the buffalo. Walking up and down the terraces is absolutely exhausting and you can see why most Nepalis are so fit.

We take a sauna after the walk; the plunge pool is really refreshing and is fed from a mountain stream. A couple of the guys complain about leaches, there are definitely a lot of them around and it makes everyone think carefully about what they do to avoid being another victim.

That night it rains very heavily and in the morning the river in the gorge below the bridge is a murky brown and frothing in the full spate of a flood.

We set off for the border, this time with Nick, the other UK guide, driving. The road becomes increasingly rough and it takes us about 4hrs to do the 25km drive. At the border we park on Friendship Bridge built over the River and seperating China from Nepal. Our Chinese guide has not arrived and the Chinese authorities dont want to let us in without our Tibetan Permit which the Chinese Guide has.

As we wait dispondently, it starts to rain and the day turns quite miserable. Eventually after 6hrs Nick manages to convince the guards to let us through to the Chinese side so we can get a hotel for the night. In return the authorities keep our passports and charge our tour company US$10 per hour to hold the truck. We wind up the steep road to the town and we are pleasantly unsurprised to see that it is a bit of a dump. Our hotel also turns out to be a dirty, damp, and ugly concrete structure. I am feeling a bit under the weather with my bowels giving me grief every few hours and Rachel is not too excited when we find out that a bridge has been washed out, our Chinese guide is stuck on the other side, and we may have to stay in the town for several nights. This was not how we planned to spend our 3rd wedding anniversary.

Next day we are resigned to spending it in Zhangmu again but we learn about midday that our Chinese guide has managed to wade accross the river and is on his way, hiking 15km down to Zhangmu. Nick and Helen, our UK, leaders also arrange for jeeps to transport us the other side of the washed out road. We just have to wait one more night and then we can leave.

Morning comes and we're on our way. There's a bit of last minute negotiation as the taxi drivers taking us up to the last passable bit of road decide to double the fees. We just wait around and eventually they decide to go for the original price. The group divides into 4 cars and we speed off up the road. The road winds through a spectacularly steep valley passing under waterfalls (a first for Rachel and me in a Taxi) and bouncing over rocks, streams, and big patches of mud.

Finally the car can go no further due to a massive landslide and we grab our rucksacks and set off on what we think is going to be a 12km up-hill hike (starting at 3000m). We cross over the landslides and see why no-one has been down the road for 3 days at a couple of points along the way. Further into the Chinese side we see a complete building wiped out and bits of cars poking out under the landslide - we hear that several people were killed in the incident.

To our surprise the hike is over after 1hr and we take Jeeps up to the next town - Nielamu. The last 15km is amazing as the landscape turns from green to brown in only a few kilometers. We are now at 4000m on the Tibetan Plateau. Helen will bring the truck through in a few days once the road is open again and in the meantime, we'll be using hotels for the next few days instead of camping. We stop at a really nice Tibetan Hotel in the town which has beautifully decorated rooms and colourful prayer flags flying in the courtyard. The sun is shining and everyone is on a high because we've finally gotten out of that ugly Chinese border town into the real Tibet
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