Episode 007: A Tibetan Point of View
Why is everyone speaking Mandarin? We finally cross the Friendship Bridge into Tibet and enter the town of Zhang Mu. Of course the experience is anything but friendly. Once we’re in Tibet we’re immediately under the watchful eye of the Chinese government officials and we’re not allowed to film anything. It’s hurry up and wait as we’re ushered into a security area where all of the items I’m carrying are searched and x-rayed. I have a lot of high-tech equipment in my backpack–laptop computer, satellite modem, dozens of blank videotapes, etc–but all of our professional camera gear is stowed away in some expedition containers. Probably masquerading as a barrel full of potatoes or peanut butter! We opted not to purchase a Tibetan filming permit while we were in Kathmandu since the price had unexpectedly raised from $1500 per camera to $6500 per camera. Instead, we’re going to keep everything hidden until we arrive at Base Camp, and Lhawang, our head Sherpa and resident “diplomat” will try to bribe the government officials with some cash and whiskey. It’s very obvious that I’m lacking the proper documentation for all the equipment I’m carrying, but the guard lets it slide. Either he liked me or he’s very apathetic. It doesn’t matter, everything makes it across and we’re now in Tibet. This country is obviously under occupation and signs of the overwhelming Chinese culture are everywhere: chopsticks, satellite TV from Beijing, government-issued uniforms here and there. But look up, and all you see are the blue, white, red, green and yellow of prayer flags waving in the wind.
The next morning we head out of Zhang Mu and get some more Friendship Highway mileage under our tires. We have a fleet of Toyota Land Cruisers–the official private vehicle of Tibet–and we begin to wind our way up the crazy switchbacks climbing the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. This section of road is insane, and kills more people every year than Everest ever could. Major begins to drool thinking about a shot he’d like to get on camera, so we pull over. He mounts the camera to the roof of our Toyota, hits the record button and we’re off!
Total Running Time: 23:06
Dispatch 7, April 10, 2003: Zhang Mu, Tibet
When we arrived at the border we crossed the Friendship Bridge. This is the passage that connects Tibet to Nepal. This is also a point where the government prohibits photography. Once we crossed the border we eased our way up another switchbacking hillside in a Landcruiser that met us on the other side of the border. We made it through the last checkpoint as the ink dried on our visa paperwork and we stood in the rain awaiting our passage.
Now that we are in Zhang Mu, we are in Chinese occupied territory. At dinner tonight we ate with chopsticks, this is standard. We are excited to finally be introduced to Tibetan culture. Most importantly, tomorrow we leave for Tingri, this will be our first day high in the Himalayas.