Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crossing to Nepal

Something was wrong.

I'd crossed from Tibet into Nepal—in the rain—and no one cared.

Where were the money changers? The taxi drivers? Where was Immigration? Didn't anyone want to stamp my passport?

I asked a guard at the end of the bridge for directions to Immigration. She casually waved me on.

Maybe it's just because it's Sunday morning and I was first through from Tibet today, I thought. And all of China is on one time zone. Which might make sense in Beijing but doesn't make a lot of sense out west in Tibet. So by crossing to Nepal, I'd gone back to 7:45 a.m.

Yes, that's right. Nepal is two hours AND 15 MINUTES behind China.

I saw no open doors, no signs for Immigration. Every business was shut. I walked down a hill and suddenly realized I'd paced the entire one-strip border town. I turned around and walked back, cursing the hill and my poor fitness. Immigration had opened while I'd been on my rainy stroll and was now easy to find. The officers cheerfully greeted me, sold me a $25 visa, and waved me down the block to a coffee shop that changes money.

Now. Where was the bus to Kathmandu?

Nowhere, it seemed.

A taxi driver finally approached me.


"Yes, but share. Not solo."

He looked puzzled but left me alone for a bit.

But no one else showed up, so I asked him the cost.

"How much to Kathmandu?"

"No Kathmandu."

Oh. Hmmm. It's all a mystery on the road.

"No Kathmandu?"

"I drive to (garbled), there you go to Kathmandu."

I considered this for a moment as Nepalese walked by me bearing luggage for the Indian-American tourists I'd met yesterday near Everest Base Camp—so they'd made it out on their group visa. The porters bore the brunt of the weight with bands around their heads. One woman had her baby slung from her front and a suitcase on her back, slung from her forehead.

I tried to get to the bottom of what the taxi driver was saying. "We drive here..." I motioned forward then stopped. "I change taxis..." a little hand-jump, "then to Kathmandu?" A forward motion.

He nodded.

"Road has problem."

Okay. Let's go.

He motioned me into the passenger seat of his Land Cruiser and rattled off down the winding road.

We didn't drive far before the driver pulled over to pick up three school girls. We delivered them to school before continuing. Now I decided I could trust the driver--there must indeed be something wrong with the road up ahead.

We wound along the gorge, the hairpin turns to Zhangmu apparent just over the river. We were en route to...I didn't know what.

After about 20 minutes, the driver slowed and stopped at a pile of mud and dirt.

The road was washed out. There was no way to get across. This must be the part where I changed taxis, but there was the small matter of a couple of kilometers of mud in between me and any onward transport.

My Tevas were at the bottom of my backpack. I was wearing Pumas—Tibet had been chilly. I never have those damn mud-and-water sandals on when I need them.

A young man, high-school age, approached me. He motioned for me to go piggy-back.

"I'll carry you," he declared confidently.

"No, you won't." I was his size, as this is a part of the world where people are shorter than at home.

I got out of the Toyota, picked up my bag, and surveyed the situation.

No way out but through it.

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