As we depart Mount Everest for our journey towards Nepal we become aware of subtle changes in the terrain . Our introduction to the Tibetan landscape has been slow and gentle so it is reasonable to think that the return journey would be similar. We were surprised when the landscape changed so rapidly and quite dramatically.
The last town before the border crossing ZHANGMU or DRAM (known by two names) comes as quite a shock. Our hotel is referred to as “simple” but pleasant with brilliant views. As we enter our twin room, my first thought is to seek out the amazing view. As I pull back the curtain I become aware of movement in the wall – which isn’t surprising as most of the lining under the window is missing. I believe this is so that the mice have free entry to come and go as they please – which they did. That night I feel movement on my bed clothes and know without a doubt it is one of the little visitors checking out the new travellers. The next morning reveals a mist that has enveloped the mountain to obscure the view of the valley below like a shroud over the landscape to hide what should not be seen.
|THE FRIENDSHIP HIGHWAY|
We are extremely happy to reach what we are advised is the halfway point. Having only encountered a few smaller vehicles which squeeze past by pressing themselves against the mountainside, we stop at a wider section of road for nature calls. I am reflecting at the strength of the women of the villages who cart rocks on their lower backs to help stabilize landslides. Small in stature but strong in will, this is how I will always remember them. They look up and smile as we pass – or was it a grimace, yes maybe the latter is more the case.
We are all grinning like Cheshire cats as the steep decent seems to be a little less threatening and we begin to- level out. The mist has lifted to reveal monkeys running through the brush which seems to be as wild as those who inhabit it. The flatter country is short lived as we take to our vehicles for more exhilarating and bumpy downhill adventure. It pays to think of the scenery and not look down. The journey we are on will change in the future, that is evident by all of the hard work we see along the way. We are informed that transport trucks which swap in Kodari on the Nepalese border will be the ones mostly to use this road after a new one has been built by the Chinese Government. There is now a rail link from Lhasa to Zhangmu making life a little safer for tourists. As much as this is a positive outcome, there is something to be said about the adventurous nature of what we are doing. For all of the nervous moments travelling the Friendship Highway, there is nothing quite like it for excitement.
I am amazed at how rapidly the road has deteriorated as we near the check point on the Nepalese border.
The buildings go from moderately built and clean to almost shanty style in construction. The contrast is confronting. The roadside stalls are dilapidated and ramshackle in comparison to Tibet’s simple yet solid constructions. The road is rough and unkempt, the customs office – loosely described- is hot and very disorganised. As we sadly say goodbye to our Tibetan guides, it is time to begin the drive by bus back to Kathmandu. A few more memories to make before our return to the Western world.