Our second overnight stop in Sage was as memorable as the first. My only joy sharing a room with Bebe, at last a snore free zone.
Sunday 18th September 2011 - Setting off from Sage we headed south on the highway, leaving this desolate town behind, as we drove towards the border. Above us was a clear sky, there were patches of grey mist that hugged the terrain. Bright sunlight washed over the land as moving shadows, of clouds above, crisscrossed the terrain. There were erratic bursts of wind driving the low-hanging clouds in different directions and there were moving banks of rain, when suddenly the sun rays hit one such bank of rain transforming it into a block of rainbow. A rectangular rainbow, about 200 feet across and 150 feet high, drifting under a grey cloud sailing in the wind. The ethereal sight lasted for about five minutes before the angle of the sun turned and what was a wall of colour became the grey blue of rain once again.
The further South we drove we were climbing higher and higher out of the gorge, the limitless sky now a turquoise blue welcomed us. At the top of the pass we stopped, the highlands stretched in all directions, broken by snow-capped mountain ridges, there was not a tree in sight, only grassland furrowed by an occasional stream.
There were no signs, no habitations, no markings and no landmarks to indicate that we were even headed in the right direction. It took a while to realise that were no electricity poles, no agricultural fields, no airplanes flying above, no shacks, no plastic blowing in the wind and no radio, just us, three silent tourists, standing, overawed by this strange new experience of being a speck, in the vastness of their surroundings. This was Tibet in all its glory naked before us. The only sound was that of the wind and our laboured breathing under the harsh ultra violet rays of the sun. The Friendship Bridge, and border, was now within our grasp.
As we headed down the valley, the vegetation became thicker, low rainclouds clung to the hillsides, then it rained, only now torrential rain. Soon waterfalls were cascading down off the mountains onto the road. Rivers of water were now following us down the road washing away everything in its path. Our conversations took a strange turn, it transpired that Philip, our guide and driver were heading towards Lhasa. Bebe and I were to be left at the Friendship Bridge crossing. We were to walk over the bridge and be collected by another driver who would take us to Kathmandu. Now what could go wrong with that.
This change of plan came as a shock, Bebe and I were to be left on a bridge in the hope that we would be picked up by a stranger who had no idea who we were. The road, a major border point, the only crossing point for 1000 miles, was a shambles. The road was falling apart, huge potholes cratered the tarmac, the road was just wide enough for two vehicles, certainly not capable of handling huge lorries and the volume of traffic. After several hugs and exchanging of emails we were dumped at the checkpoint, Setan spoke to a Nepalese guide who proceeded to run off over the bridge. We were all sheltering from the monsoon rain, The customs office was cold and wet. Whoever had named this road and crossing "the Friendship Bridge" certainly had a sic sense of humour, there was no friendship at the Friendship Bridge just bedraggled tourists and custom officials acting out roles in a daily black comedy.
Bebe had been scanned and was now standing at the checkin desk with the contents of his suitcase and rucksack scattered everywhere was now demonstrating that his guide book had been seized. There on the inside sleeve was a minute picture of the Dalai Lama, "That book is new, its cost me $15 are you going to pay me for it" Bebe was not happy. He wasn't that upset when Philip had collapsed.
His words were lost on our bored damp Chinese border official, anything with the image of the Dalai Lama on was to be confiscated. We closed our bags and with our passports stamped we ran, or rather slipped and slid over the border bridge into Nepal. The Nepalese border control office was cold and wet. There was no friendship on that side either.
To our amazement our new driver was waiting outside the office, after loading our bags we set off. The road a stone track, was now a river bed. After ten minutes he pulled over and handed his mobile phone to me. His office had no knowledge of our travel company, and we would have to pay our driver if we wanted to get to Kathmandu. This was not the time to barter, the road ahead was, as we were talking, being washed away and Kathmandu was 150km away.
"It will cost 7000 rs to get to Kathmandu". Now I ask you, would you drive for four hours through a monsoon, drop off your passengers and then drive back for £65 .........Before he could utter another word I thrust 7000 Rs into his hand. Touching his three plastic golden deities assembled on his dashboard (see photo) and running his hand through the mini prayer flags across his window screen, the car sprung to life and aquaplaned up the road. What was left of it.
Our journey was the road from Hell, five hours of water sports. 150km of rapids, rivers of water, abandoned cars, mudslides and waterfall at every corner. As we arrived in Kathmandu the clouds parted and the sun shone through. The rain had finally stopped, the streets were full of people, rickshaws, cars and motorbikes were everywhere. To my surprise and shame I uttered the immortal words "there must be a carnival going on, have we missed it"
Our 4x4 was stationary, it was shaking violently. Thinking it was down to the festival revellers I opened the car door, the car wasn't moving, it was the road, it was moving up and down. It was 7pm, there was no party, we hadn't missed it, we had arrived right on time, we had arrived in the middle of an earthquake.
A fitting end to our adventure........... Did the earth move?, you bet.
News on 6.8 rector scale earthquake in Nepal-India 18 Sept 2011 KATHMANDU: The 6.8-magnitude quake that hit almost all parts of the country was the biggest since 1934, claims National Seismological Centre. The epicentre of the quake was along the Sikkim-Nepal border, about some 60 km off Sikkim’s capital Gangtok.
Traffic in Kathmandu came to a standstill as thousands of terrified residents poured on to the streets. Mobile networks were jammed as anxious people frantically tried to call their loved ones.
“The quake shook the Valley and most parts of the country for one minute,” said Som Nath Sapkota, senior seismologist at National Seismological Centre at Lainchaur. NSC also informed that 14 aftershocks of small magnitude were recorded within one hour of the quake.
At least 111 people were killed in the earthquake. Eleven are reported dead in Nepal, including three killed when a wall collapsed in the British Embassy in Kathmandu
Back at the Kathmandu guest house, Bebe and I relaxed, reminiscing of our trek, wondering if Philip had made it to Lhasa and for my part listening to Bebe's life story. How an American submariner became an Architect and ended up a Buddhist in Thailand. That's another story. And so we went our own way, I was still chasing my Buddha.