May 22, 2009:
The next morning we woke early to get a start down the friendship highway to Nepal. We had to get an early start to hopefully beat the road crews who were working in several different locations all the way to the Nepalese border.
We made one last stop in the early morning to get our last glimpse of Qomolangma and take a few photos. From Shekar to the Nepalese border the roads were mostly gravel with intermittent stretches of freshly paved roads. We beat most of the road crews but as the day got later we had a few delays.
Most of the Tibet that we had seen was desolate with hardly a tree or any type of greenery in site. That all changed as we descended in altitude and reached the town of Nyalam. Suddenly it was lush green with many water falls on the mountain sides. If you have every crossed over from Nevada to California on Interstate 80, this was a similar experience and we knew we were close to Nepal. We had been mostly lucky at this point, as our longest road delay was 45 minutes. This time, in the photo above we were told one hour. Well that time passed and two hours later we were still sitting there. Notice the fog, and to the right there was a cliff where we could not see the bottom, but could hear a rushing river below. 2.5 hours later we were allowed to pass, but then we reached a gate that was locked. Apparently, the Chinese guard had gone on his lunch break and left with the key so we had no choice but to wait for him. One hour later he returned and we passed through the gates only to stop 100 meters past the gate. This time we were told that a vehicle carrying metal rods for the road construction had dropped its load on the dirt road. We waited one more hour and the situation did not clear up so we opted to leave our driver and we left on foot with our guide to walk to the border town of Zhangmu which was about 4 kilometers down the hill. Before we reached Zhangmu we were stopped one more time to show our travel permits and passports to the Chinese guards. Our driver would show up later that night with our luggage.
The next morning we set out around 8:30 AM, hopefully to beat the traffic as there are many tourists in Zhangmu who use the place as a launching point to either Tibet or Nepal and there is only one main road in Zhangmu. We were too late and were stuck in a traffic jam for 45 minutes before the police made all the vehicles going up hill retreat. Lucky for us we were going down hill and were able to pass. Of course our luck wouldn’t last. As we were about 1.5 kilometers from the Nepalese border and friendship bridge we were stopped again due to road construction!! This time we were told that the closure was indefinite, so with our backpacks and guide helping us out we walked the rest of the way down the hill to the border and after clearing immigration we walked across the friendship bridge into Nepal.
This was an exciting moment as we had never walked across a border like this before, but at the same time it was a little sad to bid Tibet farewell. Warning: Photography on the Friendship Bridge linking Tibet and Nepal is strictly prohibited! I found that out when a guard ran at me waving his arms and yelling “no photography.” I was afraid he’d confiscate my camera, but nothing happened, and we got this rare photo! Next time I won’t listen when g tells me to take a photo… 😉
Once we were on the Nepalese side, even though there were several heavily armed guards, we could have easily just walked into town and no one would have questioned us … so it seemed! Right past the bridge the first building that we encountered on the left side was the immigration office and it turned out to be the biggest circus event! The room was filled from wall to wall with foreigners trying to get their visas and no one in control! We had to fight our way to the front desk to grab some paperwork but we had no idea if that was the correct forms. Finally, we found some tourists who spoke English and they were able to direct us to the correct forms. There were no signs indicating which person to hand our forms to, either, but luckily we found the right person. I think we were the only ones there who did not have the assistance of a guide, which would have made things much easier! (We had to part with our guide on the Tibet side, since he can’t leave the country, after the government “collected” Tibetan’s passports last year.) By the time we got our visas ($20 per/person USD only), we were the last ones in the immigration office. It was amazing how a crazy filled office can become silent in a matter of minutes.
Soon we were on our way to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Our hired taxi turned out to be an old beat up Toyota. George sat in the front seat and the door wouldn’t properly close while Heidi was in the back with all the luggage. No worries though as we were used to this … the road was very winding with cliffs everywhere and our driver drove like a reckless maniac, but he did seem to be in control of his vehicle and had clearly done this many times before. On the positive side, the scenery was absolutely stunning with lush greenery and majestic waterfalls. Four hours later we were in Kathmandu.
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