We are descending quickly, and as the amount of oxygen in the air rises, so does the humidity. While we walk around the small town, we see the first monkeys of this journey and our first Nepali trucks ever. As far-away and out-of-the world this place may seem to us, it is still right on an important trade route.
There is little do apart from walking around, observing the monkeys and having Indian food for dinner. Everything in town is wet and damp, and so is our hotel – there is not a single wall without black mold in our room. In the morning, our guide and driver take us on a last, half-hour rush through winding curves and waterfalls to the border. When we arrive, it is still closed.
Foreigners cannot visit Tibet individually. Permits are only handed out to those who book their trip through a tour agency. The standard packages include a guide, a driver, a car and accommodation along the way. While most hotels/hostels are fairly simple, there are still large differences. Our hotel in Lhasa (which we booked without our agency) was lovely apart from a small problem with the drainage and slow breakfast service. The places where we stayed in Gyantse and Sakya, both booked by our tour agency, were simple yet clean. Our room in Nyalam (also booked by the agency) however was quite dirty and did not have access to gender-seperated washrooms or, in fact, any water that didn’t have a suspicious brown tinge to it. And in Zhangmu (not our choice), well, I told you already about the mold.
Tip: do your research before you go and don’t let your tour agency choose the hotels for you.
The Tibetan side of the border is a modern and airport-like building with X-ray scanners and Chinese military all over the place. Our luggage is scanned and checked, and we’re asked to present any books we may be carrying with us for inspection. It does not make any sense but yes, the Chinese make sure that Dalai Lama pictures and Lonely Planet guide-books do not leave their sphere of influence. (We did not have our luggage checked for those when we entered China!)
When we finally leave that building, we are sure we have left China/Tibet. But we are less sure if we are in Nepal yet. There is no sign to welcome us and no one to check our passports? But there is a bridge across the canyon. On the other side, everything is different. The people look different from their Tibetan neighbors, the women wear colorful saris, children and chicken are running around on the unpaved street. It is a mess. The checkpoint is a small, easy-to-miss building by the side of the road. We do not have the required photos or the required amount of American dollars to pay for our visa; internet research told us that Euros were fine and pictures not necessary. Internet is right – if you are willing to accept an exchange rate of 1:1 between Euros and American dollars.
We negotiate for at least an hour until we get a jeep to drive us to Kathmandu for the price listed in our Lonely Planet. The representative of the jeep drivers only gives in when T starts to team up with a bunch of Chinese travelers to share a jeep. Nepal’s capital is not far but it takes a few hours to get past muddy roads on scary slopes and villages blocked by demonstrations. The food of Kathmandu and the comfort of our hotel there however are worth all the effort.
Tip: Not far away from the Tibetan border, there is an adventure resort (The Last Resort) which offers bungee jumping, rafting and many more activities. Their packages include transport to Kathmandu and may spare you the trouble of negotiating a jeep ride to the capital if you are in for any of the things they offer. We did a rafting tour on the Sun Kosi river with them later on this trip and enjoyed it a lot. During that tour, we also had the chance to walk across the 160m high suspension bridge leading to the resort – a real challenge for Mr. Colors! The place looked very clean and nice and we wished we had stayed there right when we came from Tibet.
Time of visit: September 2013
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