Saturday, 26 April 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: The Long & Winding Road

It was the exact same road down to the highway (approx 3 hours) but once again spectacular views adequately compensated – both Everest and Cho Oyo were visible for much of the way. Another 4.5 hours to Zhangmu crosses one of the most spectacular of passes topped with prayer flags and wind-driven prayer wheels. One last moment of feeling on top of the world.

We wound around and around to the scruffy border town of Zhangmu. We had jokingly called it Xanadu before arrival. Yeah no. This place gave me the heebie jeebies and I don't think I'd have felt safe here alone. Oh how I hate border towns. There was definitely NO sightings of Olivia Newton-John nor any spandex, which may be a good thing. Although the opening line to the title track of Xanadu is "A place where nobody dared to go...."  Hmmm.

Getting in was tricky as the entire two-lane road was a giant parking lot for the many Nepalese and Chinese trucks. Only one lane was active, basically because the other was parking, and this one lane had vehicles going in both directions. Still, we did get saluted by a Chinese soldier when he came to check our passports.

The climate also suddenly changed with the drop in altitude. It was a lot warmer, almost tropical, very lush and green. It was almost kind of pretty, until we drove past a man squatted with his pants around his ankles by the side of the road. I guess if you've gotta go....

Getting into Nepal was actually relatively quick, all things considered. Then again we made sure we were practically at the front of the queue a good 50 minutes before Chinese immigration opened. On your way to the Immigration building there are several check points, then inside the building there are several more. By now you will be so used to it that you will merely go through the motions. You put your luggage in the X-ray machine and then you're asked if you have any "reading material". I was prepared for this and hadn't even bothered bringing my Lonely Planet China guidebook. They have been known to confiscate it because it mentions the 14th Dalai Lama and Tibet. If you absolutely need to bring it then may be get the PDF version on one of your reading devices. They didn't even ask me about my iPad. They went through both books I did have (Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra and Tokyo). Everything else was so tightly packed that I suspect they gave up. I think if you show co-operation (I already had my books in my hand for them plus opened all compartments to my packs) then it goes a lot more smoothly. The other option that seems to work is if all your underwear falls out onto the table (thankfully didn't happen to me).

You then walk cross the Friendship bridge, an odd name for a bridge housing several solders with big guns and where photographs are forbidden, into the Nepalese border town of Kodari. Sometimes borders don't make sense, I reckon someone in a government office somewhere drew a line on a map with their eyes closed. Other times, it is very clear. The immediate difference was felt as I entered Nepal. It was night and day. The precise, strict Chinese border police made us go through several checks but on the Nepali side you walk around and have to seek out the visa office.

Immigration wasn't super fast but it wasn't nightmarish either, took about 15-20 minutes as we were one of the first. It was kind of nice to be able to sit and chill for a bit. You must bring with you 1 passport photo and $25USD cash for your Nepalese visa. All told the entire process from when the Chinese immigration doors opened to getting my Nepalese visa was about 50 minutes.

Crossing from an impoverished region of one Asian country into another impoverished Asian country all whilst sticking out like a sore thumb is like those fairground shooting galleries where you win a prize (granted usually a oversized stuffed teddy which, let's face it, only a pubescent teen would want to give to his girlfriend at the time). "Hit me and win!" Everyone takes aim, you're the one wearing the target. The entire town seems set on separating you from as much of your money as possible especially when it comes to trying to arrange transportation to get out of it. Thankfully I didn't need to worry about this, my transportation was already sorted. Travel websites are full of warnings: nobody will tell you when the bus leaves, touts sell tickets for busses that don't even exist, and the prices demanded are at least 500% of the local fare. I was so intent on not getting ripped off or losing any valuables that I took only one picture of Kodari. Thankfully if you act ignorant and avoid eye contact, the touts who had followed you down from the border will soon give up on trying to take advantage of you and skulk back up to the border to scam new arrivals.

The difference between Zhangmu & Kodari and the road from Kodari to Kathmandu through a 9842 ft Himalayan gorge is jaw-dropping. You drown in the beauty of the landscape, overpowering aromas of curry spices in the air and the Nepalese locals adorned with bindi, the sacred red dot marking of the Hindu, & vibrantly coloured clothing. Waterfalls pour from the sides of the cliffs. About 100km from Kathmandu there's the Nepalese version of Capilano  Suspension Bridge. It has a 500ft drop to the Bhote Koshi river below and if you're mad enough you can leap off it, whilst attached to a harness and bungee cord, at Nepal's first bungee jump site. Walking across it was more than enough for me.

It took about 4.5 hours to get to Kathmandu along what was primarily a long, winding, often bumpy road. There were several police checkpoints and they were certainly different to the previous ones. These people actually smiled!

"Where are you from?" asked the Officer
"Germany" replied SuperGerman
This prompted "Which town?"
Upon giving a reply the Officer replied "Dankeschön".

I suspect he'd been waiting months to try that one out.

No comments:

Post a Comment