Tibet

Photographs by Shaun O'Boyle

How does one get around in Tibet? Local bus works, and bring your dust mask. While I had been trekking in Nepal I sent my passport to the Chinese embassy in Katmandu hoping to get a visa to travel across Tibet into China. Much to my delight, when I returned from my three plus week trek my passport was waiting for me with a Chinese visa stamped inside. After recovering from the trek in Kathmandu for a few days I packed up and set out for Kodari on the Nepal-Tibet border. You cross the bridge in Kodari into China and set your watch ahead 2 hours 15 minutes (all of China is on Beijing time). The sun rises very late in Kodari, at about 9:00 am.

The road had been closed on the Tibetan side of the border because of landslides, so I had to trek for many miles to a point where vehicles could drive from the Tibetan side. There was a steady stream of goods passing by me from China into Nepal on the backs of Sherpas. Everything from refrigerators to TV sets and boxes of goods, including those excellent green Chinese canvas sneakers all the Sherpas wear for weeks at a time, the shoes that are able to maintain that incredible odor and still keep on walking. The trek was a very dangerous one because it was necessary to cross an area where the road had been washed out by a land slide, and there were large rocks falling continuously. It was made even more dangerous and difficult to pass  because it was all muck so one was fighting to cross quickly while wallowing and wobbling in the mud with one eye up the cliff above hoping a large rock didn't come crashing down. Once through the mud hazard one had to dodge all the local porters who insisted on carrying your bag for you up the steep paths, for money of course. 
I finally arrived at a bus and negotiated with the driver and surmised he was going to Shigatse, almost half way to Lhasa along the friendship highway, it was raining out, had been for most of the trek up the hills, I climbed in and just stood in the front of the bus, dazed, with my glasses steamed from the effort.  Squeeging off my glasses I discovered a bus half full, a mixture of mostly local Tibetans and a few travelers like myself. They all started applauding me, and laughing, I guess I looked about what they had looked like when they climbed onto the bus. I found a seat in the middle of the bus and hunkered down for what was a long wait until the bus left. 
Leaving the border area the bus started climbing, and we climbed and climbed like I have never climbed in a vehicle before.  Switchback after switchback over yawning ravines and canyons on a skinny one lane dirt road, it was incredible. We went from a wet rainforest type environment and climbed right out onto the high Tibetan plateau, eventually reaching an altitude of 18,000 feet. A fantastically barren landscape, bitter cold with a thin oxygen depleted atmosphere. It was fantastically beautiful, the last light of the day was a red-gold glow lighting the surrounding mountains in that crystal clear rarefied air. 

 

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