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Paul & Luiza´s World Tour

Nepal to Tibet – The Crossing – Can someone please turn the bloody heater on?

CHINA | Saturday, 30 April 2011 | Views [1184]

On the way

On the way

Destination – Nepal to Tibet – The Crossing...

Day 1 – Kathmandu to Nyalam (3750 metres) 

Well, the day (Friday) before the trip, at 7 PM, we finally get our passports and “Chinese group visa” back from the agency.   All confirmed, we get up at 6am and get picked up at 6.30am by a driver from the agency in a Land Cruiser.  Before we continue, it’s good to explain that the Chinese government cancelled all group visas for budget tourists into Tibet, now you can only visit Tibet overland as part of a Land Cruiser private tour.

They explain to us the immigration procedures and what can’t be taken into Tibet (political books, free Tibet T-shirts, images of the Dalai Lama and the like).   

The first part of the trip is a 4 hour drive to the border.   The road is bad but beautiful with mountains, rivers, waterfalls, villages, gorges… yeah, you get the idea.  

We stop for a nice breakfast and continue on to the border.  A guy from the agency is there waiting for us, we get our stamp out of Nepal and walk across the “Friendship Bridge” to Chinese Immigration.   We reach customs but have to wait for our guide to turn up with our Tibetan permit (yeah, besides your Chinese visa you’ll need one of those).  We also have a young porter carrying our stuff. Not that we need it but apparently, it’s good for the economy.

There’s a bit of a commotion when our guide turns up and we can’t get through because apparently he doesn’t have an official guide’s license yet.  So, the Chinese officer politely but firmly tells us to step back behind the yellow line.  Suddenly, there’s a young woman talking to us, she’s explaining the situation and that she’s also a licensed guide. So, she gets us through the border after a few tense moments.  They go through our bags but nothing like the Nepali agency prepared us for.  All very casual and we even get some smiles from the officials.   On the other side, we meet our guide Tashi, a clever and friendly 27 year old guy who will be with us for the next five  days (apparently you are not supposed to waltz around Tibet without a guide. We obviously do, but more of that later).  We also meet our driver, a very tall Tibetan bloke, with a huge moustache and a not so small kind of a cowboy hat.   He really looks like a Juan Jose Garcia or Jose Juan Vargas, and he doesn’t speak a word of English but has a smile a mile wide

We hit the road (Friendship Highway – an amazing road in extremely good condition especially after India and Nepal) in a very nice, new and comfortable Land Cruiser and the journey begins.  We drive through high mountains, amazing waterfalls and typical Tibetan villages, the temperature drops dramatically, inversely proportional to the climb in altitude.   We are both taking Diamox, a medication to help control altitude sickness.   

Believe me, you really want to minimize it and the symptoms aren’t exactly a blast.  Way worse than your worst hangover.  After some hours we finally reach Nyalam.  The town is basically a street and it’s so cold and high, we just want to jump into bed.  We were warned before there were no showers at the hotel, no drama, we have no energy at all, and did I mention it’s freezing anyway?  So, to make matters even more interesting, our guide suggests, even encourages us to “go for a walk to help acclimatize”, is he freaking kidding me? Too weak to fight, we go for a 1 hour walk, come back and crash.  I try to go for a pee and come back with a mild case of hypothermia, with Paul throwing all the blankets on top of me, so I can stop shaking.  The hotel is the worse we stayed ever, as I said not even a shower, but we crash into the tiny bed at around 6pm and hope for the best.     

Day 2 – Nyalam to Xigatse (3900 metres)

We wake up and we leave early with our new friends Tashi and “The Driver”.   As we don’t know how to spell his name anyway, let’s agree to call him Raul (you can call him Elvis if you want). Before we continue this story, we have to say one thing: we are really loving Tibet!!   From the minute we set foot in this place we really liked the people, they’re genuinely friendly, a bit shy and can look serious and then can give you the biggest smile at the drop of a hat.   They are so nice and gentle and the kids have red cheeks from the cold.  And don’t even get us started on the puppies!!, we’ve never seen so many, so cute (little balls of fur – to quote Sheldon), anywhere else in the world.   The landscapes are incredible and the architecture is also very interesting.   People are always saying “hello” (most of the time, that’s all they say…) and trying to help out.  They still think western people are interesting so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Back to the road.   As we go higher and higher, we are just dazzled with the lakes, snowy mountains and the prayer flags blowing in the wind.  We see more gorgeous villages and go through amazingly high passes – 5240 metres.   At each pass there are lots of prayer flags and all the cars stop so you can get out and take photos.  Freezing and amazing at the same time.   By this time, besides the Diamox, we are also making good use of some oxygen bottles (really cheap - $3 each) we bought down at the border to help us cope with the altitude.   We stop for lunch, order some noodle soup but can’t really eat.  We are surviving on chocolate and biscuits, whatever we can keep down.  The road trip is really amazing and the scenery keeps changing all the time.  It’s our first time at such altitudes and you really understand the feeling of being on the roof of the world!!  I haven’t even touched my book, which I usually open as soon as I get into a car and hit the road.  We reach the hotel and it’s not great, however obviously much better than the previous night.  We have a “cup of noodles” for dinner and again, crash really, really early.

Day 3 – Xigatse to Lhasa (3650 metres)

We wake up and manage to have some tea and sweet bread with jam for breakfast, awesome! In the morning, we visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery.  The monastery is huge and very beautiful.   It’s also very busy with pilgrims as it is May Day, a 1 week holiday in China.  Tashi is a cool guide, and because he is Tibetan and a Buddhist, we get a very good insight into the history, culture and religion, however, it’s not going to be in this lifetime (maybe in the next one or two) that we are able to remember the names and manifestations  of all the Buddha.  Hope they don’t have a test for us at the end. Anyway, me and “Mr Paul” are quite happy.

We leave the monastery and have a very long drive ahead of us.  On the way, we have some glimpses of Mount Everest.  Bit of a letdown to be honest but so what, we’re happy enough with our awesome scenery all around us.  We decided to minimize the effects of altitude and because of our limited concentration span to cut the road trip short so we are doing a five day driving trip in just three days.  Doing anything for too long stops being fun after a while.  Apparently, even the Buddha thought so.  So, we will be reaching Lhasa by day 3.  Ahead of us we have loads of snowy mountains, impossibly high passes, lovely traditional villages, snow storms – turning everything so amazingly white and cold – yaks, snow covered yaks, wild deer, snowy lakes and river… The scenery is really picturesque, postcard perfect, so we ride along, stopping for some snowballing along the way and we reach Lhasa by nighttime. By the way, if it looks like we've only got one set of winter clothes (ie wearing the same thing in ALL the photos), it's cos its true!!


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