Crossing the border between Tibet and Nepal

After days in a desert-like landscape, we are overwhelmed by the green of the vegetation that unfolds around us as we drive from Nyalam to Zhangmu, the last town on the Tibetan side of the border.

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.

Nepali truck drivers seem to be infinitely fond of colors.

Nepali truck drivers seem to be infinitely fond of colors.

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.

Accommodation in Tibet
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.

View of the Kathmandu Valley

View of the Kathmandu Valley

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.

The suspension bridge that leads to The Last Resort.

The suspension bridge that leads to The Last Resort.

Welcome!

Welcome!

Time of visit: September 2013

Liked this post? Then why don’t you try ..




 
This article was published on perelincolors.com

13 thoughts on “Crossing the border between Tibet and Nepal

    1. perelincolors

      In other parts of the country, we saw signs to announce that a closed waste water system or other sort of infrastructure had been established to prevent that people do their business in the open. This one must be either a poorly done copy of those signs, or a satire.

      Like

    1. perelincolors

      Thank you! I really enjoy taking photos, so it means a lot to me. For this article though, it was really difficult to choose pictures. The whole thing of crossing the border, negotiating our visa and the ride to Kathmandu got me so stressed out that I took only very few pictures that day. Plus, it’s of course not allowed to take pictures of the actual border.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. lexklein

    Funny, I’ve been to Tibet twice and Nepal once, and even drove almost to the border once in Tibet on the Friendship Highway, but never made the crossing (drove back to Lhasa and flew out). I’ve always wanted to do that whole trip, although the idea of the steep muddy slopes made me nervous. Did you go to Everest Base Camp on the Tibet side? Now those were some interesting accommodations!

    Like

    1. perelincolors

      Those slopes made us nervous too! We didn’t go to Everest Base Camp; I had read that we wouldn’t have much of a chance to see the mountain at the time of the year we were traveling. And I think that information is probably true, we met an Indian family (several times during the trip) and they went and didn’t see anything but clouds. But just on the day we drove past the Everest, we had blue sky and excellent views ..

      Like

  2. lexklein

    We were pretty lucky. The day we arrived at low base camp and hiked up to high base camp, the north face was pretty obscured by clouds. But that evening it cleared and we got a fantastic view! One of those photos is actually my header photo on my blog because it’s probably the coolest thing i’ve ever done! The next morning the whole range was in clouds again. I am so thankful that all that time, effort, and money resulted in at least a short view!

    Like

    1. perelincolors

      That’s a very impressive view! I didn’t recognize it the first time I visited your blog because it was all white in snow when we saw it from the road and I stupidly assumed it was always like that. Did you have problems with the altitude when you were there?

      Like

  3. lexklein

    No, we were OK with the altitude. So far (knock on wood), I’ve done well at high elevations, and my daughter and I surprised our guide when we slept like babies for 8 hours at almost 18,000 ft at base camp. We did have a few headaches and we panted a bit hiking up to high base camp, but overall we did well. When we awoke from that sleep, we learned a 22-year-old healthy guy had DIED in the tent next to us during the night … THAT was a little sobering as we left in the morning! (On my last few trips to the Himalayas, I took Diamox and loved it. No side effects except tingly fingertips.)

    Like

    1. perelincolors

      That’s so sad about the other traveler. Altitude sickness is so treacherous and so easy to underestimate when you feel healthy and fit. We did have heavy headaches on the first day in Lhasa and didn’t sleep well at all in Tibet. When I was at the South Pole I got nausea on the third day. Luckily, it didn’t get worse than that. But we saw some people with severe altitude sickness on the ABC trek, and I have a lot of respect of high altitudes since then.

      Like

We love to see your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s