Saturday 22nd. April Day 54
We had been told to be at a hotel in Thamel at 2.40am to get a bus to the Tibetan border so we got up at 2.15, gave Karen a wake up call, then walked up through a deserted Thamel - well not that deserted there were Israelis coming from somewhere, probably a party and various cows in the street munching at rubbish. We arrived at 2.30, waited for our guide who arrived at 3am, and fifteen minutes later two other travelers arrived. We then all walked back through Thamel to another travel agency and waited there an hour for the bus to arrive. Eventually there were 20 of us waiting but at last we set off through KTM towards Bhaktapur. Shortly after, we did an abrupt three point turn, dropping a Nepalese guy off momentarily for what looked like his wallet, then back into KTM to a garage for diesel, but amazingly it was shut. Loads of banging was then heard, what sounded to me like a hammer and chisel then the shutters opened and the sound of fuel being transferred! We never knew if it was stolen or they had just forgotten the key. Five minutes later our first check point, then another in a further five minutes and then a long wait - seemed that this one only opened at 5am. Just why we were dragged out of bed at 2.30am we don't know. This trip is really going to be a real adventure! Onward and upwards we drove gradually leaving the urban areas, passed another town with burnt tyres and trailers blocking the road, some discontent heard from locals at us strike breaking, then into the countryside and then up into forested areas. The road eventually entered a river gorge where the bus broke down, a strong smell of diesel, it turned out to be a leaking fuel filter which was repaired by covering it in plastic padding and then hardening it over a fire. The road gradually started to deteriorate to nothing more than a crude forest track or quarry road, it reminded me of the Coniston Walna Scar Road - no kidding! and this is the main road to China! Six and a half hours after starting off we had traveled 100 km. and had reached the border town of Kodari where the bus stopped, well the road was too bad after that anyway! We walked the next mile, through immigration control and finally onto the Friendship Bridge where I was told off for taking photographs. It was 10.30am and we had arrived in Tibet but the time on the other side was 12.45pm - must be the only land border crossing where you get jet lag!
Now you might think that all our troubles would now be over - no way! First we had our visas checked (1 hour), then our passports checked for names against the visa details (another hour), someone on the visa had not turned up (another problem!), finally we were let into Tibet to be hustled into land cruisers by our very assertive Tibetan female guide. (Karen said she was a bossy cow!) The road ahead would you believe got even worse, it was like contouring out of the Elterwater Quarries for 8km. up a sheer mountain face to the border town of Zhang-Hou. Here we had to go through Chinese immigration, customs and an obligatory X-ray machine. After another hour we were all through except a Polish lady and a Romanian, it took a further two hours to clear them through immigration and we never ever found out what the problem was. At 17.50 we set off on our journey through Tibet! The track continued uphill and was amazing steep, only ten or twelve feet wide in places, very rutted, covered in snow and ice and all the time were overhanging sheer cliffs! This went on up for a 1000 metre climb when it eventually leveled out onto a normal mountain track, muddy with deep pools, ruts etc. The snow then got deeper and deeper then it started to snow again as we passed many avalanches across the road. At one point we came across one that was about 100 metres wide and someone had cut a way through - the sheer walls towering nearly eighty feet above us. Needless to say we met two lorries coming in the opposite direction at this point. As the evening progressed we encountered more snowfall which became heavier and heavier - the drivers were amazing for their skills and for their speed. We reached the col as darkness fell to meet a large empty petrol station with yaks on the forecourt, then it was only a few minutes into the nearby town of Nyalam where we stopped for the night. The streets here were piled high with snow and since it was already late we went to a nearby hotel for some food. Sandra was very tired by now, we had been up since 2am so excused herself and went to bed. The room was surprisingly warm but smelled of urine, and there was four of us in it with no toilet except outside on the roof - but we slept well!