Long bus ride inTibet

Tibet Travel Blog

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I was thinking of going to Tibet for what seemed like a long time. There was lots of confusion on the visa requirement, restrictions on overland travel from Nepal, rules of having to fly out one way, group permit mandatory, split visa confusion, Acute mountain sickness etc etc etc.

But finally decided to take the plunge and arrived in Nepal. Got in touch with my friend who has a travel agency and he explained me the route and arranged my Visa/Travel permit which took a week. Kathmandu – Kodari –Zhangmu/ Nyalam  – Xegar - Xigatse -  Gyantse – Lhasa and fly back to Kathmandu 

Travelling overland between Kathmandu and Tibet was an incredible journey, approx 900 kms,  and as I realized overland trip to Tibet is not for the fainthearted as my travel turned out to be hard, adventurous and unpredictable.

I boarded the bus from Kathmandu and arrived to the Kodari – the border town of Nepal in the afternoon.  I entered Tibet from Nepal on road via the Friendship bridge where we exchanged currency before the immigration checks. The Nepal side of immigration was really cool, we got out passport stamped, but it was a totally different scene with the China immigration. We were asked to stand in a long queue in the rain; our passports were collected by our “agent” who had a list of people traveling together. There were guards in their crisp green uniforms everywhere with stone cold faces as if ready to pounce on anyone who even broke the line.
Each and every person had to stand in front of the immigration officer who will ask you a bunch of questions, check all the pages of the passport, look at least thrice at your photo and yourself. Once immigration check is complete, you move on to customs check where the bags are checked by literally emptying everything on the table. Now since we were a group of 20 people, and there were other groups as well, it took a loooong time for our group to complete all the entry formalities and here we were thinking that we are inside Tibet. But that was not the case as there was another check, the main customs clearing at the Tibet border town called Zhanmgu. And since it was 5:30pm, the office was closed to we had to leave our passports with the guard and check-in into and hotel nearby which was a complete rip-off.
Some 20 of us were cramped into two rooms, blankets were damp and smelly, toilets were dirty, not sure when was the last time they cleaned, if you need hot water shower it costed 10 Yuan. But we did not have any choice once we entered Tibet as we had to move in a group and everyone had to stay at the hotel which were marked for foreigners near the Customs office where our passports were deposited. Dinner was tasteless and we just waited for the next day. At night I got a bout of sneezing which refused to stop, even though I was using my sleeping bag, the rotten smell from the blankets lying in the room was creating all sorts of problems to all the tourists. Finally we decided to throw the blankets out of the room and applied vicks to our noses.

Next day early morning we finished our morning routines and were at the breakfast table, everyone wide-eyed, waiting and wondering what’s next.

After breakfast our Tibetan guide came us and explained the procedure for another immigration and customs check, giving more emphasis on maintaining silence in front of the officers wearing green coats and crisp uniforms, talking very politely and answering any questions they ask. Once again everyone was standing in a queue with the watch guards keeping a close eye on everyone while we were asked to fill a bunch of registration forms. It felt like we were in some kind of military camp. Suddenly one of the guard came out and started shouting at the top of his voice, this was a announcement for the office to start and we were to get ready to face the immigration officers. One by one, we all finished the checks and were directed towards our vehicle. Now my friend had mentioned that we might be put into a 30 seater bus in case there are more tourists. But other tourists were informed that they would get a 4WD land cruiser and they started asking for one.
This created a scene as the Tibetan guide (who actually was a very nice person and had lived in India for some time and knew the Indian language Hindi) tried to console them saying this is not the case, whatever the Kathmandu travel agent might have promised, those are not always true and that we have to take the bus. Since there were lots of tourists who came this way, they did not have any land cruisers left. Well we didn’t had any choice and i had quitely moved towards the bus before there was a mad rush to occupy the best seats. So we all boarded the bus which would be taking us to Lhasa over a period of next 5 days. Our guide introduced us to our driver who spoke bare miminum English and little bit of Hindi, so I hit off well with both of them.
We started off navigating slowly the narrow roads towards the town called Nyalam which was our lunch stop. Now the Nepal roads were a complete ramshackle, but this side of the border, we found concrete cement roads, a modern looking gas station. I wanted to take a leak and hence started looking around for a toilet. What i found was a small hut with no doors, and 3 open holes side by side in one corner where the deed needs to be done, no privacy, no water around, forget toilet paper, and smelling so bad and strong that one would suffocate to death if remains inside for more than 1 minute. As soon as we moved out of Zhangmu we were on dirt road till we reached Nyalam which had a deserted look and it was the same in every Tibetan town throughout the journey. I decided to take a hair cut and started off in search of a saloon.
There was an army guy before me and once he was done I used the sign language explaining the lady that I need a hair cut and to cut them real short. Finally the army guy explained the lady that I needed my hair to be very very short. Well she immediately said it would cost 30 Yuan and when I agreed she started on the job, gave me a shampoo wash and started clipping the hairs. I was not satisfied as it was still a bit long, and by this time there was another army guy who came in. I pointed at this army chaps head and asked for a similar cut, and the lady stared at me wide eyed. The army chap knew some English and so I explained to him that I want short hair like him, to which he smiled and explained the same to the lady who got back to her job. I left a 5 Yuan tip, which she quickly pocketed and I left the saloon after getting a hair cut in a small town in Tibet.

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