Tibet 2014 - Kathmandu to Nyalam

Patan, Nepal, 6am, 4 September

We load bags and ourselves into the 4x4 and set off for the road journey to Tibet. We climb up from the Kathmandu Valley to Dulikhel. A few minutes past Dulikhel we stop for breakfast of masala omelette, toast and organic coffee. Forest pineapples that resemble durian fruit are on sale at a stall by the roadside.

The road comes to a sudden halt where a huge landslide has taken away half the hillside. Porters are waiting to carry bags across the muddy slope. Bulldozers work on the hillside to create a new road but are hampered by people crossing on foot, mostly Chinese tourists and local Nepalese. Part of a house has been swept away while two thirds remain standing. Three well-dressed girls with parasols, ankle deep in mud, are carrying their shoes; a Nepalese businessman with a brief case is clearly exasperated by the affect the conditions are having on his smart suit. A smiling man passes saying ‘welcome to my country’. In the valley bottom the lake formed by the landslide has been breached by the army to carry away a dangerously high level of water but the water level is still high enough to reveal mostly submerged trees; rooftops of houses can be seen. Huge rocks are perched dangerously above and small landslides still occur at night, so a new road is being constructed on the opposite side of the valley. About 150 villagers were killed when the hillside gave way in the heavy rain, valuable farming land has also been lost. After the landslip we walk through hot and humid jungle, after two hours the path suddenly descends back to the road.

We climb into a new pick up and drive to Kodari and lunch on the Nepalese side of the border. The portering seems to be done by women and our bags are quickly allocated and carried away. Dal bhat in a crowded restaurant which is too busy to make coffee. We walk up through Kodari which is pretty much as I remember, a ramshackle single street, people sitting on the pavement next to diesel fumes belching from the trucks. Women come down from the Tibetan border carrying huge bales of fabric. We pass through some basic Nepali border controls, our passports are exit stamped and we walk across the Friendship Bridge, a yellow line in the centre marks the border between China and Nepal. Strictly no photos!

The Chinese side is totally different, a large concrete border post with dress uniform guards and modern buildings - all say authority. Four Ukrainians are awaiting help, their papers say they’re Russian - ironic since Russia and Ukraine are currently at war - but then they get clearance and move through. Our passports are taken for a few anxious minutes of scrutiny but after studying a list of names on the computer we get waved through and meet our new Tibetan guide. immediately through the gates we’re approached by young women money changers - there is no paperwork - at first we’re suspicious but we finally change $200 for 1200 Chinese yuan from a young red cheeked Tibetan girl who can't count, she seems to be an apprentice chosen for her pretty Tibetan face. Her friends have to help her with the numbers.

Hundreds of lorries are parked at the side of the road snaking up the hillside waiting to go south to Nepal but unable to cross the border because of the landslide. We drive past on a good road through low cloud and rain towards Nyalam and, though we have tents and the rain has stopped, it's cold and wet and we decide to stay in the guest house.

The long narrow Pilgrim guesthouse, sitting at the side of the road, is newly built with red walls and blue metal roof, it’s very basic but actually much better than we expected. It’s the first building in town and opposite a newly built petrol station which is not quite open. In normal times it would be a busy truckstop but tonight we’re the only people here. The dining room is set out Tibetan style with carpeted benches round the walls and low painted tables. Smiling women are playing cards and fussing with a tiny kitten.

A new concrete road is being laid outside the hotel, metal girders form the frame for the concrete which is brought over from the mixer in several small dump trucks and levelled with a circular metal boom that keeps getting moved - it’s connected to something electrical, not clear what, maybe an agitator. It's then spaded into flatness and handfinished when dry. It makes a good surface but it's slow progress. Dinner is rather disappointing, we have soup followed by chips and spaghetti with sauce and grated cheese, tinned fruit cocktail. A cold night but we sleep well.

September 5. We decide to spend today at Nyalam to acclimatise to the altitude. After porridge and paracetamol we’re okay and walk downtown along the fresh concrete road, find a basic coffee shop and look at the new Chinese buildings with amusing shop signs. When we passed through here 12 years ago there was just a few old houses, some still remain but they’re dwarfed by the new Chinese town lower down the hill. Bright colourful supermarkets sell all the modern things you expect to see in a hardware store.

A man is learning to ride his motorbike by placing bottles in a courtyard to weave in and out of - rather like the old cycling proficiency test we did as children. After lunch I climb the hill opposite the hotel, it's further than it seems but I’m breathing okay. I thought it might be a sky burial site but it's just a plateau with water storage and pipes decorated with prayer flags. White clouds and blue sky. Bev and Guy take a look downtown at the old gompa. The tiny kitten wants attention at dinner.



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