Saturday, September 5, 2009

Crossover - Zhangmu - Nyalam

There was some time for the jeeps to start, so I started looking around. This is the first time I have crossed a land border. I wondered what the scene would be at Wagah/Attari. We had a lot of Tibetan girls offering to exchange INR into CY at better rates than the Kodari money changer. Alas...we were full up with CY and every one felt miserable at being taken for a ride...hahaha...I guess it is the same everywhere.

There were many shops manned by the Chinese selling electronics, stuffed toys, household goods, clothes, chocolates and other food-stuffs. These smart business men would quote in INR and indicate the amount on a calculator and bargaining was the accepted norm. If the quote was INR 500, you started at INR250 if you were an average bargainer and INR150 if you were an ace bargainer and so the game went on. A couple of our co-yatris tried to bargain but then it was "No-Deal".

Our night halt was at Nyalam about 35 - 40 kms away from the border. One has to pass Zhangmu (also known as Khasa by the Nepalis) to reach Nyalam. I had read that there is an additional passport check at Zhangmu. We were resigned to yet another ordeal (or so we thought). Border to Zhangmu is a breeze on freshly laid out concrete roads. Intermittently, you see our good'ol TATA trucks lined on one side of the road.

We reached Zhangmu in about twenty minutes and we just walked through an imposing gate and an equally imposing building. There were no passport check as we thought earlier. That was the proceedure earlier but with the new building off the Friendship Bridge, this has been discontinued. That was a big relief.

We now had to wait for a couple of hours at Zhagnmu. The Zhangmu - Nyalam highway is under construction and the Chinese Army imposes a curfew between 8am - 8pm. All vehicular movement comes to a halt during this time and as our guide said..."We cannot argue with the Chinese Army."

Zhangmu is a typical tourist-border town. Shops offering "original" coral necklaces for 25CY and "original" pearl necklaces at just 20CY...., "latest" iPhone for 400 CY and many other "fantastic bargains" were scattered around. The whole thing looked very very tacky and fake. We also dared not try any of the many restaurants for any snack as we just could not trust the stuff out there.

Finally, we reached Sherpa Hotel where a couple of Nepalis were manning that place. We spent the next two hours waiting there over some welcome "adrak chai"and "bread-butter toast". INR, NR or CY were welcome.

Our guide decided to resume our journey at about 7.30 pm so that we reach Nyalam by about 10 pm. Soon we found ourselves in the middle of a massive traffic snarl that took over an hour to clear. As we ascended winding thru the streets we passed hundreds of TATA trucks parked on one side of the road (all to return back to Nepal). At a point there were about twenty trucks and an equal number of private cars descending towards the border. It was chaos reigning supreme till we backed off a little and were literally hanging at the very edge and the oncoming traffic crawled by us.

This delay of an hour was further worsened by very heavy rain and poor visibility. The "ghat" section roads are just being built and only small patches are ready. That was one hell of a journey alternating between smooth concrete roads and rough patches. We had our hearts in our mouths and a prayer on our lips as we were making our way through. Our cheerful group guide - Sonam Tsering was in our jeep and played some Tibetan music. Very hummable I must say....

We finally reached Nyalam at 11.30 pm and had to sleep in a dorm meant for nine people. Couples shared separate "couples dorm". Soon Autar Singh Tamang, our sherpa team leader entered and announced that our supply truck had not kept pace with and was left far behind. Dinner was cancelled and we would have had to sleep with a growling belly. Thankfully, high altitude problems had started setting in and we actually had no appetite.

We were tired and crashed out only to wake up a few hours later to some Hindi film songs belting out from some where down the street. Wow....surprises just do not they????


Gopinath Mavinkurve said...

Your account of the journey provide interesting accounts of your experiences. Am enjoying them and looking forward to more!

BK Chowla said...

Very expressive.But did you get any anti India feeling anywhere???

Mavin said...


No. The Tibetans welcome Indians.

The Chinese Army after the initial border checks do not stop you or check you through the trip.

Their presence is widespread and every small town that we camped had a proper military camp.

They ignore tourists or in any interaction are civil.

Mavin said...

Gopi - Thanks. Need to cover the balance journey quickly.

Priyank said...

hehehe, the Hindi film songs. I am no longer surprised with that, ever since I heard them in all countries I visited: Peru, Russia, Israel. :)