“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them.”― Rabindranath Tagore
The road trip from Gyirong Port in Tibet to Kathmandu is one of the most frightening and also the most exhilarating rides I have ever been on. I thought that driving on the windy Friendship Highway was scary but at least it is smooth and well maintained well maintained unlike the Gyirong to Kathmandu route.
On the Nepal side, most section of the road is not paved. Most of it winds high along the mountain side, it is bumpy, there is no barrier between the road and the drop below. And if that is not bad enough it also narrow. In some places it is barely wide enough for two cars. And yet we drove past trucks and buses heading in the opposite direction, loaded with goods and people.
For most of the journey, my heart was in my mouth. Every few minutes we would hit a crater in the road causing the whole car to jump up and down. Had it not been for the seat belts I feared that we would have ended up going through the roof. As for the drop by the side of the mountain, I was just glad that I was sitting on the other side. If all of that was not excitement enough, our driver was also racing with the drivers of the other three 4x4s that we had hired. Whilst we held on for dear life most of the time, our driver appeared totally unconcerned. At some point he was even laughing at us.
Perhaps I should back track a bit and explain how I happened be this unforgettable trip. Gyirong to Kathmandu was the final leg of a three week adventure that began in Singapore. I travelled with fourteen people, most of them old friends. Throughout mainland China and Tibet we had travelled on the same flights, train and coach but we had split into four separate groups at the border between Tibet and Nepal. It’s just as well because the journey to Kathmandu would have taken twice as long in a coach, if we made it at all given the condition of the narrow roads.
The chaos started even before we crossed the border. A member of the group had a travel guide for Tibet and the Chinese border guards took issue with it because the map on the cover did not show Tibet as part of China. As the rest of us were waved through customs and passport control, she was kept back, her bag emptied and searched for other subversive material. Luckily our Tibetan guide was still with us and he was able to plead with them to let her through. A huge sigh of relief all around.
On the other side of the border, there was no passport control, no customs. We were ushered into a cafe and one of the guys, who would later drive one of the 4x4s, collected all our passports plus the visa fee and disappeared for what seemed like forever. At 8am after a sleepless night everything seems like forever.
He eventually returned with the stamped passports (phew) and the rest of his crew. Before loading our bags into the cars, they had to be checked at the first of about twenty police/ army checkpoints. I have no idea what they were checking for but the number of checks is just absurd and obsessive. At every check point we had to drag our bags out of the car, have them ransacked before getting back in and going through the same ritual at the next checkpoint. The constant stopping and starting must have added at least another couple of hours to the journey. We finally arrived in Kathmandu at around 8pm. I was so exhausted I checked into my hotel room and went straight to bed with no dinner.