Night Train To Kathmandu

17 Jun

OK, it wasn’t a train. And it wasn’t at night. But it did (eventually) go to Kathmandu.

So, where did I leave you. It seems a long time ago….

Ah yes, Everest, in the early morning light. Looking like this…

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Just an excuse for another Everest picture, really.

 

 

 

 

 

From here our trip took us on even dodgier overland trails, testing the capabilities of our LandCruisers to the extreme. At one point, we even lost a fog lamp. Meanwhile, Everest stays in the mind and in the heart.. but also in the vision, not dominating the skyline but peering out at us from behind the hills, as if checking that we’ve really gone.

There’s a dusting of snow on the trail, but mostly it’s dust and rocks, traversing the plain between the mountains before scaling the ravine walls. This is one of the more scary moments in the trip, with our wheels never more than a foot or so from a sheer drop. The mountains remain rugged, harsh, forbidding and hostile – and yet unbelievably beautiful.

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Finally Everest and its companions recede behind us as we rejoin Friendship highway for our dash to the border. This is a recent road, but it’s fighting subsidence and flooding, with red painted rocks in the highway to show where the road has sunk. We pass bold Mt Xixibangma, seemingly isolated from the rest before we reach the final view of the Nepali Himalaya range, spread out in front of us.

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We’re at around 4500m and dive down towards the Nepali border at 2500m – it must be a shock for anyone coming the other way.

The scenery transforms, though, from dry, arid mountain to verdant green trees as we approach Nyalam township. A quick Nepali curry (absolutely brilliant, even if it did take an hour and the noodles never materialised) and we dive into a deep, deep canyon lined with green trees that cling to the rock. The road winds across the ravine, holding on impossibly to the steep edges. Every so often we see a small rockslide – an echo of what is to be revealed later. Even in the dry season, waterfalls cascade down the sides of the ravine.

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After a couple of hours of incredible beauty, we arrive in Zanghmu, a border town impossibly attached to the side of the gorge. It hangs there, seemingly defying gravity, with tiny paths climbing the edge of the cliff face in between the shops, hotels and houses.

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At which point we stop. The town has narrow streets, and we are driving into a fleet of Nepali trucks, brightly painted in contrast to the Chinese drab vehicles. The traffic has jammed in the town, and nobody is going anywhere. Certainly nobody is going to sort it out – including the police who are actually part of the traffic jam – or the local police, who merely peer out of their office on the main street, bemusedly. After an hour waiting, we get out and walk the last little bit of the way, down one of the steep little alleyways.

Unfortunately, the hotels facilities make the camp at Everest look good. No showers, filthy toilets and a hotel room that won’t lock. We beat a hasty retreat to the local youth hostel, which is actually really nice – and will be even better when they finish the plumbing.

After a nights sleep and a bit of rushing up and down the street to get some money out of the bank and some photos from up the hill (remember, this is a very steep street!)  – we’re off to the border. Quite a queue awaits us – although we’re there at 9am, we’re still last – and because Nepal is 2 1/4 hours behind Tibet, we have to wait until 10:30 before immigration opens. A brief altercation with a German tour group means that we’re definitely last – but we are treated to the entertaining sight of a little old lady trying to sneak into China – and the porters for the tour group carrying gas cylinders, bags, and more on their backs across the border bridge.

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A search of our packs, and we’re across – they are a bit confused by my passport, but what are they going to do?

There’s quite a wait over in the Nepali side of the border – apparently a landslip has delayed the bus that’s meeting us. Or, more accurately, meeting the Australians – Scott and I are hoping for a free ride – which materialises, saving us a huge amount of money or a very long and bumpy local bus ride.

The road is as bumpy (it seems) as the trails from the previous days – but without the isolation of LandCruiser suspension, we feel every jolt. Every kilometre or so there is a landslip or a pile of rock in the road, as we continuing to weave our way across the other side of the ravine – still startling in its beauty. Houses are piled onto the sheer cliffs, causing us to wonder what it’s like to pop out for groceries – and the cliffs themselves are heavily terraced to create a little bit of flat land for growing crops.

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We’re back on the left hand side of the road – which will remain true now until I get back to the UK. And the electric prayer wheels that adorn the Tibetan vehicles have been replaced by a statue of the elephant god, Ganesh. (I’m happy with an electric prayer wheel – I don’t want a driver who has one hand permanently spinning a prayer wheel)

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We climb and climb back up the ravine, past lush fields, dramatic villages, beautiful imposing hills and mountains, shrouded in mist.

More differences – Buddha has been replaced by statues of Shiva on the hilltops, while the buildings are mostly brick (as we approach Kathmandu, we find acres of bricks factories).

Finally, after we have weaved our way through the Nepal countryside, and after a brief stop in Bhaktapur (we stay outside to avoid paying the $15 entry fee for the historic town centre)

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– we find ourselves in Kathmandu, legendary nirvana. You’ll have to check the next episode to see if it lives up to its legend….

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