Episode 006: The Road to Tibet
Everest here we come! Kathmandu has been great but it’s time to get moving towards the mountain. We start the day off with the first of many, many kilometers along the Friendship Highway. This road connects Kathmandu, Nepal with Lhasa, Tibet and is the highest continuous road in the world. As we begin the drive I’m struck by the complexity of the landscape around me. Everywhere you look there are steep hillsides that have been terraced to allow farming and, well, places to build small houses. I can’t even imagine how much work that must have been, but I know it must have been done by hand. Not long after departing Kathmandu we’re in the foothills of the Himalayas and we really get moving on some narrow road. Our driver is well skilled at using the most important part of the entire van we’re riding in: the horn. Back home in the USA people only honk their horn in extreme circumstances. Here in Nepal, I think there’s a 1:1 ratio between blasting the horn and breathing. Near the border with Tibet we enter the small town of Kodari. This is our last stop in Nepal and all of our gear must be unloaded from its truck and hand carried over the Friendship Bridge into Tibet to be loaded onto another truck. Kodari if full of porters and there’s a lot of competition to get a hold of something to carry.
Off in the distance, on a far hillside is the Tibetan border town of Zhang Mu. It truly looks like a different country with it’s colorful brick and concrete buildings, unlike the many small wooden shanties here in Kodari. “Wow” I think as I stare up at Zhang Mu, “I’m about to step foot into Tibet. I can’t believe it.”
Total Running Time: 22:24
Dispatch 7, April 10, 2003: Zhang Mu, Tibet
We crossed the border into Tibet today. This is an incredible drive along the Friendship Highway from Kathmandu to a town just across the border, Zhang Mu, Tibet. We will stay here for one night.
We traveled from Kathmandu in two vans for a little over four hours before reaching the border. It is a fantastic voyage in a late 80’s Toyota van. Of course, you have to understand, the Friendship Highway is not quite like the kind of highways we have in America. In fact it is more like a farming road. Inside our van, we hurtled at speeds close to 30Kmh on 15 ‘ wide roads bumpier than an alligator’s back. It felt like the driver was literally trying to thread a needle through a 100 pound piece of Swiss cheese.
I had a great respect for his experience and confidence after realizing how many thousands of blind corners he intuitively navigated, and never once brushing the sides of The 4 ton trucks we would slide by with a 7” margin of safety. If this is why they call it the Friendship Highway, then I understand. After today it is obvious these drivers have made peace with this road!