AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Tibet Tour: Day 1

We were told that the minivan would pick us up at 6:30am. We had asked the night before if 6am was too early for breakfast. The manager had assured us that was fine, just come down at 6:15am. After a pause he repeated this, but added, “maybe 6am”. On a usual day, at around 9-9:30am breakfast takes 45 minutes to be cooked and eaten, so we weren’t entirely convinced. I decided 5:50am I’d go down and get the process rolling.

We woke at 5:45am after a bad nights sleep and put the last few things in the bags. We went downstairs at 5:55am and found the manager was awake and sat in the lobby. It took until 6:20am before the scrambled egg and toast was brought through. 25 minutes to make scrambled egg, toast and coffee! He then brought our cornflakes and milk. That must’ve taken about 30 seconds, why not do that first?

Just as we were finishing at about 6:30am a guy came in looking for us. He said the rest of the group were eating breakfast at a nearby cafe (we hadn’t been told about breakfast) and that as we’d already eaten we’ll be picked up from the hotel once everyone had eaten. That would be at about 7am. Dammit, we could’ve slept a bit longer and not rushed our breakfast. We finished eating, got our bags and sat in the lobby reading the newspaper.

At 7am two men arrived on motorbikes. They had come to collect us and take us to the cafe where the rest of the group was. We had a huge rucksack each (we bought a lot extra equipment in Nepal which we wanted for Tibet and we had souvenirs weighing quite a bit), plus a day sack to be kept with us containing money, passports, books, phones, etc. Then we had a canvas bag with bottles of water in (it was 37°c outside, sitting in a minivan all day would be hot). We were told to get on the back of the bikes with all these bags. We argued, can’t we walk? The guy responded it was a 10 minute walk, or 2 minutes on the bike. They pressured us until we agreed. Annemarie got on one bike with her rucksack and the guy rode off. I had the rucksack on my back, the day sack on my front and I wrapped the canvas straps around my hand as best I could and held on to the handle. This was the first time I’ve ever been a passenger on a motorbike (except a couple of minutes letting Annemarie ride slowly on a straight, flat road in Thailand). Every time he accelerated I fell back and my feet came off the foot rests. I really hoped he wouldn’t accelerate hard or I’d fall of the back! That was a terrifying few minutes of swerving through Kathmandu traffic and potholes, but we arrived at the cafe safely.

We sat down and waited about 30 minutes before we were told the minivan was coming. It was now about 8:15am. There were 11 of us in the minivan. After quarter of an hour someone asked for the air con to be turned on. We were told the air con, and the blowers didn’t work. We opened the windows and sweated it out.

The drive to the border was pretty uneventful. We drove along the Araniko Highway to Kodari. Nepalese people have no road sense, so although I say uneventful there were many near crashes. Other drivers will drive onto a main road without looking and assume the traffic on the road will either dodge them or stop for them. This meant that every so often the driver would have to slam his brakes on for an emergency stop. There might be rules for driving in Nepal, but I don’t think anyone knows what they are! Our driver wanted to drive in as high a gear as possible. On downhill sections he had to brake constantly, on uphill sections we would loose speed and judder. He stalled the minivan a few times on steep hills.

We reached the border town of Kodari at about 1pm. Just as we approached the town it started to rain. Heavily! To make things more annoying the minivan parked at the bottom of the town. So we all got out into the pouring rain. We put our ponchos on quickly, then followed everyone else up the hill to the Nepalese immigration office. It took only a few minutes to complete the departure card and get our passports stamped. We’d officially left Nepal. Now to walk further up the hill to the Chinese immigration building.

At the top of the town is the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge, linking the two countries. On the bridge we had our passports checked, then we could go into the building. Our bags were scanned exactly the same as at all airports or train stations. Then we had a bag inspection. They were looking for books. The immigration staff will confiscate almost any Lonely Planet guide book and anything about the Dali Lama or Tibet. We had a book we’d bought in a monastery hidden well away and the Lonely Planet China (which we weren’t sure would be confiscated) in our day bag. When it got to our turn the officer asked if we had any books. I replied “no books”. I opened the top of the bag which had toilet roll and sunglasses in and luckily he didn’t dig deeper into the bag. Phew, we just got away with that. It’s quite funny in a way to think that a country as large and powerful as China is afraid of books. When we think of banned books we think back to Nazi Germany. But afraid they are. Anything that mentions a sensitive area is banned.

Because we are on a group visa for Tibet we have no stamp in our passport. And that was it, we were in Tibet! As we crossed the border the clocks jumped forward 2hr 15m. All of China is on a single timezone which is GMT+8. Nepal is GMT+5:45. Hence the large leap in time.

To our surprise we had a bus to pick us up. Two people had a private tour, leaving 9 of us. 4 Brits, 3 Germans, an Aussie and an Argentinian. We had a bus to pick us up. It seats 30 so it’s spacious enough!

We were taken just up the road to the town of Zhangmu. Here we were shown to a hotel. We were given shared rooms, 6 of us in one room. It was a bit dirty but not too bad. We wandered the town and found a restaurant to eat in. After that we had a short wander then went to bed. We were very tired from the lack of sleep the night before.

Posted from Rikaze, Xizang (Tibet), China.

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