4. A journey into Tibet - Kathmandu to Nyalam Mu

July 2012

Previous posts:
A journey into Tibet - Kailash Manasa Sarovar
1. A journey into Tibet - At Kathmandu
2. A journey into Tibet – Mountain flight
3. A journey into Tibet - Manakamana

The much awaited D day had arrived. Today we will travel to border town of Kodari which 115 km from Kathmandu. We will cross the border and climb up to Nyalam Mu town in Tibet. On the previous day, a session was held to discuss about the schedules, do and don’ts and precautions to be taken during the trip. We were given a small backpack and a duffel bag. While we keep only the things needed during the day in backpack, rest of the items would go into the duffel bag. The bags would come in a separate truck and delivered at the end of the day.

Route from Kathmandu to Manasa Sarovar (Approx 900 km)
Everyone was ready by 4AM. The group size was 65 people. We will be helped by 13 Sherpas who would be the part of our group. I was bit apprehensive about big size of the group. While I was the youngest person at age 34, the oldest person was 83!! A difference of two generations!!

Scenery after Kathmandu

At 5AM we left Kathmandu. It had rained heavily last night and was still drizzling when we left.  Few people told that it is an indication of good omen!! The buses slowly moved through the dark and silent streets of Kathmandu. Then we were moving on a four lane highway. I thought that Nepal would have built a great highway till the border to match its Chinese counterpart. But after Bhaktapur (at the outskirts of Kathmandu), the road turned into a normal single lane road!!

Bhote Kosi River
After Kathmandu, green fields and hills started to appear. The beauty of Nepal countryside was bestowed on us. Being in excited mode, everything looked great and nice!! By 7AM, we had travelled about 70km crossing the small towns of Bhaktapur, Banepa, Dhulikhel and Panchkhal. At Sangachok, we were stopped at a roadside restaurant where we consumed our packed breakfast. It was a beautiful place where Bhote Kosi River flowed. This River would be our companion for rest of the day.

River next to the hotel

There are several check posts all along the way to border. A Sherpa gets down the vehicle and registers the vehicle at the station. Then a Police comes inside the bus and looks at us. We say “Kailash” and he is convinced!! No hassles.

Breakfast point

Until now the road condition was quite good and I expected that the remaining 40km to Kodari would be covered in no time. But Sherpas told me that we would soon be entering landslide area!! The next 40 km was really bad. The journey was slow as there were landslides all along the road. Luckily, none of them were fresh to block our way.

An old landslide

After about 2 hours of travel on that bad road, we were seeing a town on top of the hills. It was ZhangMu town on Tibet side. We are nearing the border I thought. And in few minutes we reached the border town of Kodari. The town was filled with vehicles and people carrying luggage. Lorries from Nepal would cross over to China, pick up the goods and return back. Here the Bhote Kosi River was the border where one side belonged to Nepal and the other to Tibet (China).

Kodari town

Our lunch was arranged at a hotel. It was too early to have lunch at 10:30AM but then we were told that the next food will only be at night. While we were having food, our passports were taken by guide for Nepal immigration. By the time we finished our lunch passports were back with departure sign. While Nepal was cool but things will not be so simple on the Chinese side.

Tibet side as seen from Nepal

We walked further and reached friendship bridge across Bhote Kosi River. This was the border between Nepal and China. Exactly in the middle of the bridge were Chinese authorities. We had to stand in the line in the same order as the names are listed in our group Visa. The Chinese person checks each and every passport and makes sure everything matches before letting us in. This was a preliminary check before the immigration point!! We cross the bridge and enter into the immigration area. The contrast between Nepal and Chinese side is easily seen. While it was all dull and old buildings on Nepal side, Chinese side had full modern looks.

Bhote Kosi River
People from another group who had arrived earlier were standing in the immigration queue. So, we had to wait for long time. Out of two counters one was reserved for locals and immigration people were not in hurry to let us in. Each and every person was scrutinized. The wait was painful especially for an impatient person like me. While we were waiting, our luggage (Bags, water cans, food items etc.) were carried by Tibetans. We were awestruck by the amount of weight they can carry. They had to carry luggage all the way from Kodari bus stand, cross the immigration and to the place where vehicles are parked on the Chinese side. It is definitely more than a kilometer. Amazing people!

A small waterfall on the way

It took more than two hours for us to complete the immigration. We were now officially in Tibet. It was raining and we had to walk for another few hundred meters to reach the busses.

Until last year, roads in Tibet were in bad condition and only vehicles like Toyota Land cruisers would go. But now the Chinese have built a highway all the way till Manasa Sarovar. So, travelers now have an option of choosing bus instead of Jeeps. Each has its own pros and cons. Even though I had an opportunity to travel on both vehicles, I cannot say which is better. It is not the bus or Jeep that makes the trip a success but the weather, Sherpas, Travel agent, Chinese guide and drivers. The trip will be a hell even if one turns nasty.

Few points about bus:
- Buses have AC (At least the ones we got) and have nice push back seats with good leg space. It is important as we will be travelling on road for most of the time.
- Windows cannot be opened and hence photography from a moving bus is not possible. The last seat had open windows and I took that seat!! Thanks to smooth roads, I never felt any issue with last seat.
 - Bus goes slow when compared to Land Cruisers.
- It takes a long time for the entire group to get in and get out of the bus.

Now the land cruisers:
- No AC and is bit cramped especially for the person who had to sit in the middle.
- Possible to have quick stops but depends on the driver.
- Moves faster.

I did not face much issue with vehicles even though I was taking a lot of photos. Due to severe research (!!) I did, I knew the important places on the route and had clearly told the guide and drivers to stop at such places. Never faces an issue there thanks to good drivers and guides.

Heavy rains as we climb up to Tibet plateau
Back to the story. The clock was turned 2.5 hours ahead. Entire China follows Beijing time and hence there was a time difference of 2.5 hours between China and India.  It was 5PM (From now all timings I mentions will be Beijing Time Zone) when we started from the border. A series of hair pin bends brought us to the town of Zhang Mu which we had seen in the morning from Nepal side. Zhang Mu is a busy border town. The roads are narrow and filled with vehicles. It took quite some time to cross this town.

Immediately after the town was a check post. The guide gives the Visa list and other document to Police. One of them comes inside the bus and does a head count. And he randomly asks a guy to show his passport. Everything looks fine and gets down.

The road went up and up. Compared to Nepal side, the road from Zhang Mu is more dangerous as it passes though a steep and narrow gorge. But it is equally amazing to see how Chinese have built roads in this landslide area. It was raining heavily and visibility was less. We could clearly hear the sound of waterfalls everywhere but could not see them due to mist.

A waterfall near Nyalam Mu

There was one more check post. The person here looked into each and every passport. Chinese leaves no stone unturned to ensure security.

Hills seen from Nyalam Mu

Finally, at 7:30PM we reach Nyalam Mu town in Tibet. Rains start the moment we arrived. We had reached an altitude of about 12,000 ft. Organizers come and tell about the precautions to take. We will be having a rest day for acclimatization at Nyalam Mu. Anyone who falls ill would be sent back.

Our hotel at Nyalam Mu

The luxury of single and twin bedded rooms of Kathmandu was all gone. Everyone had to share the rooms. And no attached toilets. There was no facility to take bath. I would be sharing room with an elderly couple from Bengaluru and two guys from Calcutta. This arrangement would remain for rest of the journey. But the rooms were nice and clean. I was happy that the hotel had Indian toilets.

We settle down into our rooms and Sherpa’s served tea after sometime followed by hot soup. And dinner in the night.