Stage 31: From Kathmandu to Lhasa
On the day they arrive, the group learn about the 31st stage. After a short briefing, we take a tour of the city and visit the Pashupatinath Hindu Temple. In the evening, we eat together in Thamel and prepare ourselves for the days to come.
Seven adventurers take to the air. We have the chance to take a mountain flight. The weather is cloudy, but above the clouds the view of Mount Everest and the Himalayas is magnificent. Our sightseeing programme begins just before midday. The Monkey Temple, Patan and the Golden Temple, Durba Square, Kathmandu and the House of the Kumari. We eat supper together in a typical Nepalese restaurant.
Today we begin the first part of our journey from Kathmandu to the Chitwan National Park on the Tribhuvan Highway. We drive to "Toyota Kathmandu" to pick up the cars, and set off. Just outside of Kathmandu, we suddenly see a pile of burning tyres, and have to stop at a roadblock. It takes a little diplomacy and persuasion, but the way is opened up to us again. A short time later, the skies are clear and so are the roads. We are making good time, but then the first problem arises: the floor panels on "South Sea" start to come loose. Someone at "Toyota Kathmandu" evidently forgot to tighten the bolts. It takes about ten minutes to repair, and we can continue on towards Hetauda. We arrive at our accommodation in the National Park towards 8 in the evening.
The day begins very early for all of us. We are awoken at 5:30 to go on an elephant ride. Later we visit a small village that is situated actually inside the National Park. We are immediately besieged by children and take many photos. We are invited to look round a typical "single-family residence". It really only consists of two rooms: the kitchen and the bedroom. It is barely conceivable to us that several generations of a family live here together.
We travel back to the lodge by boat, looking forward to lunch. Then it's time to bathe the elephants: The daring ones among us climb onto the elephants' backs and are sprayed with water from the giant beasts' trunks. Tremendous fun! On the ride later on, we see three Asian rhinoceroses!
We are actually scheduled to drive to Nargakot today. But since our entry documents for Tibet are only valid from May 8, we have one more day than originally planned to spend in Nepal. We use this day to go to Pokhara. The drive is marvellous. The road follows the meandering course of a river through the mountains. Lunch is eaten on a magnificent terrace in a small town. Unfortunately, clouds draw in towards evening and we reach Pokhara in a light rain. The Fishtail-Lodge - our hotel for the night - is situated on an island in the Phewa Lake. A small ferry takes us to the island and we enjoy an evening in this gorgeous landscape.
Today, the weather is our friend and presents us with an incredible view of the Annapurna massif. Breakfast is dispatched quickly, as we do not want to miss a moment. Standing on the lawn, with tea or coffee in hand, we gaze in awe at the majestic mountains above us. Lost in dreams, several of us stand for minutes on end, losing themselves in their surroundings.
But soon enough, it is time to return to the road! We are driving east towards Nargakot, along the banks of the Tisuli River. The road is easy to drive and the scenery is wonderful. We take a leisurely lunch on the very bank of the river, and then return to the road. Kathmandu is still about 80 kilometres away when we have to stop again. Another roadblock. As before, our powers of persuasion prevail, and we are allowed to drive on. But our diplomacy cannot make this stretch any easier to drive. With great difficulty, we weave past buses and trucks, cars hamper our progress, whether they are standing still or careering towards us. The road is so narrow that two vehicles cannot pass. Often, the first two or three vehicles in our band manage to squeeze past an obstacle, and the remainder of the convoy loses touch with the leaders. But despite these tribulations, there is no shortage of fun. A bus driver realises that he will make astonishingly good progress through the chaos on the roads if he follows us closely. He deliberately prevents two cars from passing him. Friendships are sealed! Then comes the horror: the clutch on the "South Sea" succumbs to the stress. Our guide Robert drives the vehicle gingerly as far as Kathmandu, where it is taken directly to the workshop. Urgently, we collect the necessary spare parts. We are told that the van will be ready by 1 pm tomorrow. We travel on to Nargakot. By now it is dark, and we are all happy to toast the end of an eventful day with a brandy in the hotel bar.
We leave for Bhaktapur just before 10 in the morning. While the group visits the former capital city, our guides drive on to Kathmandu to collect the "South Sea" which they hope has been repaired by now. We agree to meet at 2 pm to continue our journey towards the Chinese border. But only one guide appears at the rendezvous - the clutch has been replaced, but the vehicle has not been reassembled yet. Time is simply perceived differently in Nepal compared to Germany. So we drive on, and Robert will follow towards evening. Nepal is impressive, but very crowded - we are all looking forward to crossing into Tibet. The road is asphalt and we make good progress. There are no road blocks and traffic is sparse. As midday approaches, we come upon a river stained turquoise green with glacier water - glorious, we stop for a swim! We get to our destination just before 6 in the evening. "The Last Resort" is twelve kilometres from the border with China, and truly deserves the name "Resort". Our rooms for the night are large tents, and some of us enjoy a massage or sauna in this resort after supper.
Today we are going to Tibet! We set off early and cross the Nepalese border without difficulty. Before being allowed to enter Tibet, though, everyone must take their temperature. Swine flu has even reached China! So we stand around like roosting chickens and wait ten patient minutes until the thermometer displays our body temperature. Then the controlling starts: Passport control, visa control, entry permit control, luggage control, vehicle control. After about three hours, we have exhausted all the controls. Some of our group had their guidebooks for China confiscated because Taiwan and China were identified with different colours on the maps. This contradicts the Chinese sense of national borders.
Just before midday, we reach Dram and are able to enjoy some free time. The road ahead is closed because of roadworks and will only be open between 7 and 9 in the evening. We eat lunch, indulge ourselves with massage, and set off for the closed road at 6. The order of the day is: wait, wait, and wait a bit longer. In the end, it is 11 at night before we are allowed to go on. Ahead lie 250 kilometres of dirt roads. Unfortunately, we see little of the beauty we are passing through, but Thomas Amerding provides the necessary excitement: at midnight, and at 4700 metres, we get our first flat tyre. With the air being so thin, it takes a little longer to change the wheel. We dole out coffee and "canned" oxygen, and are on our way again. Then comes a radio message from Thomas Hellmann. " I can't shift gears any more, my vehicle is stuck in second gear." Something must have been put together incorrectly when the clutch was replaced. But the road conditions and the altitude are forcing us to drive slowly anyway, and hardly any time is lost due to this latest setback. Driving at night is tiring, and when we finally reach Tingri at 4 in the morning, we are all completely exhausted. We fall gratefully into bed.
Still rather tired we surface a little before 10 in the morning. With one glance out of the windows, we almost lose the power of speech as well. Yesterday, everything was dark, but today the sky is a vibrant blue, and on the horizon we can see the massif surrounding Mount Everest. At breakfast we meet a group of Frenchmen who a planning to climb Everest. We wish them the best of luck and set of on our own adventure. The road winds upwards in a series of hairpin bends to an viewing platform from where we have a full view of the awesome mountain chain. After a long break for photos, we return to the vehicles, headed for New Tingri. Thomas' clutch is working again, and the night drive and the thin air have taken their toll on us.
We drive through Lhartse, Jonang and Momo, and finally reach Shigatse. The night was cold, and it is a real pleasure to get back into the cars and turn the seat heater on. The road is metalled for the first few kilometres, so we cruise unhurriedly through Tibet, staring in wonder at the herds of yak on the sides of the road. Just before midday, we fill up with petrol again and leave the main road. Past a turquoise-green river, we drive through Tibetan villages. Yak dung is drying on the house walls - it is used as an insulator in the cold months of winter. Cultivated fields appear from time to time on either side of the road. We watch farmers ploughing their fields with teams of donkeys or yaks. We marvel at the Tibetans, and they marvel back. There are sand dunes on the roadside. Just before midday, just such a sand dune appears. We decide to drive on the sand. Reinhard and Robert, our "desert foxes", are happy as sandboys - literally! - and promptly render the first car immovable. But at more than 4000 metres above sea level, shovelling sand is so tiring that we break for lunch instead. Invigorated, we go on. After 60 kilometres on this dusty track, we regain the main road, and reach Shigatse in short order. After checking into our hotel, we drive out to Tashilhunpo Monastery, with just enough time to admire it before supper.
The last day of our tour takes us through Gyantse and Nakartse to Yamdrok Lake, one of the lakes held sacred by the Tibetans. We pass a stunning glacier and stop often to take photographs. Our last picnic is held on the shores of Yamdrok Lake. Yesterday, we bought tomatoes and mangos - delicious! We climb a switchback road up our last "5000er" before plunging down again to Lhasa at 3600 metres. The motorbikers among us agree over the radio that this would be an amazing road to take with the bikes. We reach Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in the early afternoon. We are greeted with white scarves, which are intended to bring good fortune.
On the last day before leaving, there is time to visit Lhasa. The Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple must be seen. In the afternoon, there is time for a short shopping expedition on Bahrkor Street. The end of our trip is marked with an evening together. We swap impressions and stories deep into the night. Everyone agrees: We want to be there the next time as well!