Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kathmandu to Kodari and the Crossover

The next day dawned overcast with slight rain. I happened to wake up a bit early. I always wonder how getting up early on vacation is so effortless and in Mumbai such a drag. I enjoyed a leisurely shower, knowing well that our next chance could be many days later.

We were to leave after a cup of tea with some packed breakfast to be had on the way. The vehicle was a decent bus - 24 seater for the twelve of us and a group of five sherpas who would be with us throughout the trip. It was time for introductions with our co-yatris. Our group comprised a British couple, two Russians, a South African couple (of Indian origin) and six from India, three from Trichy and three from amchi Mumbai. Unfortunately, a group of four from Ahmedabad landed at Kathmandu but two of them fell sick and had to drop out. Guess, as Vinod said earlier something about "bulawa....".

So our small cozy group made its way towards Kodari, the border town with Tibet on the Arniko Rajmarg.

It was early morning and roads were clear...and we were soon out of Kathmandu amidst some extra-ordinary beauty. I was completely captivated that many times I forgot to click snaps. After a quick breakfast on the way, we came across some treacherous terrain. Roads were narrow with deep gorges on one side and steep mountainside on the other. Things were made worse by recent landslides which were partially cleared. A very bumpy ride later we arrived at Kodari by about 11 am.

Kodari, incidentally, was the starting point of the trans-Himalayan Caravan route towards Lhasa and other towns on the Tibetan plateau. This was considered as important as the Silk route. Locals from Kodari act as porters and frequently move across borders with loads of goods. Trade is thriving as almost all food supplies come in from Nepal and other items come over from the Chinese side.

Crossing over had to wait. We were bundled off to a small eatery for lunch while one sherpa went to the Immigration Office to get a "Departure" stamp affixed on our passports. The enterprising owner of the eatery was also the money changer out there. We could exchange our INRs into Chinese Yuan at Rs. 8/- per CY. He magnanimously offered to buy back unutilised CY at Rs 7.50 thus making a neat spread from every traveller. Fortunately, we had purchased CY in Mumbai itself at a much lower rate.

There was news that the Chinese were screening every visitor, and, if their machines indicated above normal temperature, the visitor was detained or still worse asked to return. This was not in the original script but the ingenious Indian mind found a way around this too. We all had to pop a Crocin or two after lunch so that that blasted machine would never flash the red light.

We now had to walk in the sweltering heat towards the border post. There is a river acting as the natural border and the Chinese have constructed a bridge called the "Friendship Bridge". We have to pass through the Nepalese customs and cross this bridge. This is manned by Chinese soldiers (young men actually trying to look mean and unsmiling) armed with machine guns. A couple of them in civvies make sure that nobody takes any photographs on the bridge. They make you delete the snaps and actually say "Thank You" (probably the only English word they have learnt). I understand that the Chinese Army has a camp just right there and they hate being photographed.

Our group visa was checked and guess what...we had to stand in the exact order as in the visa and walk in a single file....hahaha..that was something.

We crossed over and then began what we call a..."test of patience". First our duffel bags were fumigated. They were then taken into the Immigration cell whilst we waited outside in the heat. An hour later, a smiling cherubic face comes out saying he is our Tibetan guide and we can now enter to complete our immigration formalities. Hey it was not done yet...our back packs were scanned and literally emptied on the table. Every single item including the toilet paper was checked . We had to drink water from our bottles to prove that that was not poison or some liquid explosive.

You are a dead duck if you are carrying any book. One co-yatri was carrying a "Lonely Planet guide to Tibet". They went through every page of that book and returned it only after some grim faced senior officer grunted his approval. Probably they were worried about us sneaking in the Dalai Lama's photograph or some explosive literature. The South African had got CDs and they were confiscated straight away. Probably an i-pod will escape the scrutiny.

Please remember when you plan next not annoy the Chinese border guards...They hate the Dalai Lama, all books, literature, cassetes, CDs/VCDs/DVDs.

That was one hell of a reception. I guess it is their job and they try to do it efficiently. We were finally in Tibet or should we say China. A hundred metre across the Friendship Bridge was like a time machine. We had to adjust our watches to Chinese time which is 2hrs-15mins ahead of Nepal time. (They go by Beijing time).

We were directed to our Toyota - Land Cruisers and I just plonked in a comfortable seat. I badly needed a cup of tea by now but had to wait for Zhangmu and you my friends will have to wait for my next post. Cheers!!! In case you have missed, please go through photographs uploaded last night.


Vinod_Sharma said...

I liked the Crocin "jugaad" thought up by an Indian!

The way you have described the reception on the Chinese side, it seemed as if you were entering an occupied land.

Mavin said...

There was no hostility just a meticulous process where nothing was left to chance.

Even as we were travelling within Tibet we had to halt atleast two dozen times but never were we asked to get off our jeeps or show our passports.

After the border formalities, they keep a tab more on Tibetans than outsiders. It is easy to identify, isolate and deal with outside elements.

It is difficult to spot Tibetan trouble makers who would melt in the local populace.

They have the Tibetans very firmly under control.

manju said...

Crossing the border seems to have been quite an adventure!

I think you should compile these posts into a travel book after you have completed writing all of them -it would be very interesting and useful, too, for future Yatris.

Krishnan said...

Nice pics, riveting write-up, waiting eagerly for the next post.

Mavin said...


Thank you...

Compiling a book is a good idea. My co-yatris from Mumbai were discussing this on the trip itself. Who knows? We may actually do this.


Thank you....

Priyank said...

I get very agitated at such border behavior - its worse than fingerprinting and other questioning done in USA. I know a friend who had a lonely planet book - they tore off pages that had a picture of Dalai Lama or any monk'ish person. Pure evil.

On the other hand, I appreciate the absence of 'chalta hai' attitude. Security was propped up in India after 26/11, but now its all gone...

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

sarika said...

I am planning Man Sarovar Yatra this year and I found your blog to be the best guide. It is a great service you have done for others. Many thanks. Sarika

Harper Cosper said...

That's quite an inconvenience but it's certainly way better than spending time in jail. There's nothing you can do but obey the authorities. After all, all that inconvenience is definitely worth it once you reach your destination.