15 August 2005

Chapter 4: China to Tibet to Nepal

Dear All-

Well, it's been a fair bit of time since I have written. An attempt
to give a blow-by-blow would put all of us into a coma, and slumped at
the keyboard in a self-induced vegetative state is a great way to get
robbed in India, I'm sure. So: here is the run down. I'll try to do
better in the future.

Golmud, China ----> Lhasa, Tibet by bus
39 hours of torture induced by riding in the back of a sleeper bus
(not a good combo of things: sleeper + bus = crappiness of bus travel
combined with uncomfortableness of sleeping on plywood sheet). Yes
yes, beautiful and all, but the sever discomfort caused by sixty
people packed onto a bus designed for 40 negated any sightseeing
possibility. One anecdote: 'awoke' after trying to sleep one night to
find the bus stuck in a traffic jam at 4900 meters (appx 15000 feet
for my non metric friends). That's right- there was a traffic jam. It
was cold, it was windy, the bus was off so the heat was off, I peed in
a snowbank.

Lhasa ----> Kathmandu by Jeep and Bus
After spending many days recovering from our bus induced insanity, and
then a few more days of recovering from the party that was going on in
my G.I. track, we did a bit of exploration of Lhasa. There wasn't much
to see which suited me just fine: the old Tibetan city, still full of
monasteries and yak butter, the Potala (where the Dali Lama used to
live before the Chinese decided he would prefer living in India) and
some beautiful mountains to look at. But it was time for Mao to stop
being on my money, so we booked a 4x4 Jeep for the border. Many
stories, but can be summarized like this: amazing scenery, oh-my-god
it's a glacier, look and that amazing so and so, eeek! its a yak herd,
look: a Pepsi stand, more amazing valleys. You will have to just see
the pictures if I ever get around to getting them put on the Internet.
Two cool things about our trip:
Mount Everest- after the Chinese government literally tears a
ridiculous amount of money out of your hands, you are free to go see
Mt Everest. When we first arrived I thought: yep. that is one tall
mountain. But we spent the night at base camp, gasping for breath at
5300 meters, and under a completely black sky pierced by a million
pinpricks of light stood Mt Everest, glowing a blue color, and seeming
to draw the stars towards it. It was incredible, and I understand why
it is a holy mountain for the Tibetans.
Leaving the Tibetan Plateau- As we started our descent from the
plateau towards the border crossing with Nepal, we climbed over the
top of the driest ridge we had seen yet, and began to drop quickly
into a valley, snow capped mountains still stretching out in front of
us. As we dropped in altitude, we could start smelling things again
(lack of moisture in the air in Tibet makes it smell like nothing) and
scrub brushes and grasses appeared at the side of the road. Half an
hour later, a tree appeared, then more and then the sides of the
mountains were turning green, and we could smell growing things and
rotting things and animal smells and the air got moist and started to
warm up. We came around a bend in the valley and ahead was mist
partially obscuring another cliff face, and off of the cliff was
rolling a waterfall, and there were green plants everywhere, and the
air was sodden by now and the smells were so overwhelming that we
opened the windows and hung our heads out like dogs, scooping up great
lungfuls of wet, scented air. A few hours later we arrived in
Zhangmu/Kodari (the border crossing). It was raining, and looking
down the valley I could see the bridge that crosses from China/Tibet
to Nepal. It was the most amazing thing standing there smelling the
greenness and dank earth smell, looking into Nepal from the side of a
mountain, literally able to smell the sub-continent wafting up from
We crossed the border the next morning, by holding hands and jumping
in unison over the line painted in the center of the bridge. I am
pretty sure the Chinese border guards were concerned with our
behavior, as they begin to do that little "I'm gonna do something
right now even thought I don't know what yet cause it looks like
people are doing some thinking for themselves"-shuffle that they are
so good at. So we fled to Nepal. And it could not have been
different- that bridge is seriously a tenuous connections between
really different worlds. As soon as we entered Nepal it became
poorer, friendlier, more religious and less organized. And a lot more

Kathmandu Valley, White Water Rafting, and Maoists:
I cannot seem to shake that damn Mao. We arrived in Kathmandu to find
out that 80 percent of the country was controlled by communist rebels.
Great. That's what needs to happen. To be honest, we knew the
Maoists were having an insurgency blah blah, so it wasn't really a
surprise, what was a surprise was that most of the trekking we wanted
to do would not be possible. Actually, all of it would not be
possible. Damn Mao. So we went white water rafting (which was
AWESOME) for two days to make us forget about insurgencies and people's
right to self-determination interfering with our travels. Josh and I
stayed with a Swiss friend Jan who is in Nepal working, and it was a
great great thing to have a kitchen to cook in an a tv to watch and to
not be in a hotel. I celebrated turning 28 in Kathmandu with
swimming, beer, pizza and a cookie monster cake (who is inexplicably
known as "ghost" in Nepal). It was a great day. I hope the King
returns democracy to Nepal and the democrats win, because Nepal is a
beautiful, amazing place that deserves a bit of peace and quiet.

Kathmandu ----> Sunauli
We left on a bus blaring Hindi Bollywood songs and rolled our way west
and then south down out of the mountains to the terai (the flat plain
below the Himalayas), where it got HOT. And that has been the weather
condition du'jour for the last six weeks. HOT. Of course, one would
assume that wouldn't be a surprise to me, seeing as I am in India in
SUMMER. But I digress. We arrived at the border, and after one last
night in Nepal crossed the next border into India.

I promise to write more soon... I don't think I can squeeze any good
stories into this email about India. It's just too.... India. Plus,
there is much explanation about Findira, Fingermouse and our Yogi Ram:
Slowly, slowly, focus your mind to natural breaths...

Much Love,