Friday, 2 January 2009

A wing and a prayer to Nepal

With tibetian prayers fresh in my heart I left to enter the world of buses and bus tickets once again and to head to the border of Nepal in anticipation to explore the heart of the Himalayas, the roof of the world....Sagamartha, yes I am coming.

I would like a bus ticket pleeeeease!

Inside the familiar cold grey walls of the bus ticket office I walked confidently up to the ticket booth, I go Nepal, Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease......mee ho!no! Came back the reply, what! No, no, no, no, look I have visa, its good, its good look at it and this look it at, yeah, a travel permit, yeah..... Go on then tell me I can`t go......mee hoNo! Came back the reply again. She thrust my passport and bits of paper back at me, through the slit in the window, eh! What is going on? I examine my permit that she was pointing to and waving around, “what do you mean its no good?” she points to the date at the top that now read 2008/30/12 ......I don`t believe it they only gave me one day to get out of Tibet and now it was out of date, they really did mean don`t pass go, don`t stop in Lhasa and go directly to Nepal, words like that came echoing through my mind, shit! I look at the permit again in disbelief, carefully examining it in detail, I see blotchy red ink where they stamped the date, I look at the numbers and make a few quick anagrams, aha, yes maybe with a little re working, if I change the 8 and scratch off the lower half it will become a 9, remove the 0 from the 30, then remove the 2 from the 12 it will become2009/ 3/1.....which means I still have two days left ha haaaaaa, the bad quality printing was easy to re work and with a little smudging, creasing, road grime and coughing on it for good luck, it looked perfect.
I returned to the station but they all seemed to recognized me, and I got no where. I stood around trying to catch someone’s attention and eventually a guy comes up who seemed curious with all the hassle I was having. I try to explain to him in Chinese that I just invented that I want to go to Nepal, I point to the ticket booth and try to offer him money to buy ticket for me, he shakes his head then pulls my arm to follow him, he leads me outside shows me a bus and points to go inside, then holds his hand out for payment, hmmmm I have no idea who is but my options are running thin again. I decide to pay him the agreed hand sign equivalent to a few hundred Yuan, which seems about right and what I expected to pay for the distance to travel, maybe 500 km to the border.
It all seemed a bit too easy and unorthodox, so nervously I wait on board to see what happens next. I had presumed they knew where I wanted to go but I always feel that they don`t really understand you and where you are going is not important as long as they bundle you on to some sort of ride out of there and take some money from you. I decided to try to get a second opinion and got out my now very crumpled, torn map to point to the border of Nepal so that I could show it to a nearby passenger, he took it from me, examined it front and back, upside down, back to front then handed it to someone else, who did the same, this passed at little time for them whilst waiting for the bus to depart, then handed it back to me and smiled, I asked in Chinese if this bus went here, pointing at the map again, again they smiled so I smiled back, shrugged and waited for the bus to depart, another magical mystery tour. I started to think about the fare of a 100 Yuan which seemed a little cheap for a 500 km ride! My instincts were saying it`s not over yet boy, you not out of here yet, 2 days left on my permit and I was getting very bored with bus stations and trying to get tickets. I really did not want any more problems now or have deal with it all over again, time was running out, no! it had ran out, we were on forged time and there were no more numbers left to re arrange.
6 hours later in the darkness of night, the bus drove into a large town, slowed down, indicated and pulled into a bay. Everybody got up and gathered their belongings. Well this looks like the end of the ride, I tried to ask where the hell we were, and pointed to my map again. Where ever we were I was sure it was not
Nepal. They shook their heads and I had no choice but to face the freezing night and start to piece things together. I was somewhere between Lhasa and the border of Nepal, it was about 9.30pm, my mood felt as grey and cold as this place looked, no, recap it was bloody freezing cold.
I tried to pick an interesting direction that looked like it might have another bus station but it all looked grey and uninspiring. I started walking and asked a few locals for the bus station, which there seemed to be one close by, and shortly around a corner I entered a grey concrete room that looked like the dole office in Brownhills and looked like the person behind the counter was as equally depressed and unhelpfull. I walked up to the familiar booth. I did not try to appear cheerful, because I was not. I was so fed up with these buses deceiving me and giving me false hope. I could see her eyes again almost to say, just don`t bother asking, you are a foreigner, I should not even be talking to you, kind of look in her eyes, as she promptly returned my permit with a definite mee ho…..NO! attatched to her mood.
What do they expect me to do stay, in
Tibet and roam the desserted outposts of depressed bus terminals to the end of my days? Just let me get out of here.
Defeated and too deflated to be bothered with buses any more I looked around for somewhere to stay for the night, found and booked into a room. The woman at the desk spoke a little English, very badly but enough to understand and to explain to me that no way was I going to get a ticket even with my travel permit. Foreigners are just not allowed to travel on their own through here regardless of what permit they have and there are severe consequences for anyone trying to help a foreigner to do so, this explains the fear and denial I had been encountering. Why this fear this paranoi?
I lay in my room that night thinking about the distance, the time left and really not wanting to be captured and processed again, I was starting to feel like a cheap can of pate, with a gradually depleating sell by date that everyone was turning away from in disgust, well being captured once was enough and an interesting experience in the end, but now I just want out of here and on to new things, of mountains, nature, freedom to be walking unhindered, with my little guest house on my shoulders, yes I wanted to be free.
I go down to the woman on the desk again and try to ask something a little more complicated, like what can I do to get out of here, she seemed to understand but could not reply. I decide to hang around and deliberately loitered about the lobby looking depressed and lonely until something happened, maybe she was uncomfortable with this or actually felt she wanted to help somehow, so she picked up the telephone dialled and passed me the phone. I answered and a man asked me in English what my trouble was. I explained that I was really fed up and about to start hitch hiking very soon to try to get to the border of
Nepal before my permits run out in 24 hours. He asked me twice if I was sure I had all the correct papers, permits and visa, yes, yes, sure no problem. OK he said be ready at 5.OO am and a car will come for you, I have friends on their way now from Lhasa and are going to the border town. Great, I thanked him and the woman at the desk then went back to my room for a few hours sleep, relieved to be in transit again soon.
I was awake again before my alarm went off as always, then packed my bag and went down to wait for the ride. It was already an hour late and I was starting to get nervous again and preparing myself mentally to start hitchhiking, then suddenly a big 4by4 turned up. I excitedly gather my things and open the rear door it was crammed full of Tibetans, it looked like a refugee run to the border. I squeeze in and look around, everyone looked terrible like they have been driving for 48 hours over mountain passes, getting stuck, replacing flat tires and freezing half to death, just another normal day in
Tibet I guess.
We ride maybe 2 hours out into the freezing dark morning, just as the sun was starting to appear above the horizon Pssssssssssst, bok bok bok bok bok bok..we get a flat, I laugh and the whole process starts over again in my mind, maybe after we repair the tyre then there will be a fatal Yak collision, then a high mountain pass of impassable ice, maybe attacked by rabid snow leopards, check points and every conceivable obstacle the Gods decide to invent I was preparing again for the impossible to happen. We all get out and stand around the tyre gets changed, its hovering around -20 my hands and feet quickly get numb, I am thinking of Nepal and the mountains wondering what it will be like up there, I feel twice as cold and instead try to imagine tropical beaches, banana trees, sea water as hot as a bath.
20 minutes later we are on our way again. It was a hard, rough, dry, dusty road I could see to my left, to the south an incredible horizon of white capped mountains, the
Himalayas, someone pointed out the distant black pyramid shape which was Everest, her head way up there in the clouds, the roof of the world and it really felt like it. My God this place was so vast, so huge, huge wide plateau, we climbed up to our maximum elevation of 5000 meters, two large wooden poles at the side of the road, draped in prayer flags that were thrashing around in the strong wind, marked the highest point of this highway. We all got out and I sighed with emotion at this dramatic landscape which peered at me with speculating eyes saying “you are so tiny little human” yes I know!
I walked quickly just a few meters to get some good photographs and found myself soon out of breath gasping, wow there’s no air here, my head started to spin a little so I finished recording the scene and went back inside.
Apart from one other little incident nothing else major happened, no bandits, meteorites, volcanoes, bolts of lightning, nothing really just except a near death slide on sheet ice whilst descending down a steep part of the road, with a huge cliffhanger on one side where the car continued to silently slide as I pressed my non existent footbrake hard into the foot well of the car, to no avail, neither his frantic thrashing about on the real controls did any good it either it just slid silently and gracefully towards a huge precipice that was getting closer and closer shhhhhhhhhit…….ptshhhhhhhhhhh…....thud……. just before we were about to see if there was indeed a God, we hit a concrete block which prevented anyone else`s curiosity from exploring any further into this concept.
Bloody lucky again I wonder about this fatalistic philosophy sometimes. Fate, when it`s your time to go you will go and all the other times somehow you get away with it…! Maybe. I was certainly starting to think that it was not yet my time. That I had much more to do, much more to see yet before I found the exit.
A little pushing, shoving and straightening of body parts later and the journey continued, very, very slowly this time, oh, and he decided to engage four wheel drive this!
We arrive at the border town, too late in the evening to go through but happy now that I am here. I find a cheap room and settle down for the evening, yes tomorrow I will be in
Nepal, different faces, sights, sounds and sensations.

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