Sunday, September 20, 2009

Returning to Kathmandu

Tuesday, Sep 15
Mingma suggested that we drive from Manasarovar all the way to Saga, instead of spending the night at Puryang; he said the hotel in Saga would be better. I was keen to do this as well, since it would put us in Kathmandu on Thursday and Julian and I would have more time to spend with Cynthia before Julian leaves on Sunday.

We saw several groups of wild donkeys (the Tibetan Wild Ass, or kiang) and many small antelope. The antelope have big white puffy rear ends that are prominent as they run away.

At one point we spotted two black necked cranes, but we didn't stop the car to photograph them.

We soon encountered road construction that forced us to get off the main road and detour around some bridge construction. I didn't realize it at the time, but it turned out that the next twelve hours would be negotiating a construction zone 300 miles long. We detoured around at least 100 bridges. Some places the dust was a foot deep and the wheels spun in the dust, kicking up huge brown clouds. In the "good" sections, we bounced over large gravel; in the "bad" sections, we practically bounced out of our seats as our Toyota Land Cruiser barreled over rocks and holes and ridges. Averaging 25 miles an hour, we arrived in Saga around 8:30 pm permeated with dust and grime, but happy to have made it more than half way to Kathmandu.

Wednesday, Sep 16
Soon after we went to bed last night at the Telecom Hotel, a loud alarm of some kind went off in one of the China Telecom utility vehicles. It went on for ten minutes or so before quitting on its own, but it was enough to jar us from a sound sleep.

We finally left around 10:00 am and happily discovered that we had left most (but not all) of the road construction behind us. I also learned that we would be taking a shortcut to the Nepal border. Instead of taking the main highway all the way to Lhartse and then doubling back southwest to Nyalam, we would be taking a smaller road south from Saga which joined the China-Nepal Highway near Lalung pass. This route would shave off about 200 km from our trip.

We reached Nyalam in about 5 hours and headed on down to the border town of Zhangmu, which is quite a large town, in spite of the fact that it's not on our map of Tibet. It's an interesting place in that all the businesses are strung along a winding road that drops over 1000 ft in elevation from one end of town to the other. So taking a stroll down mainstreet is like climbing a small mountain.
Actually, Julian and I took an after dinner walk uphill and the incline was hardly noticable -- much easier than walking uphill at 18,000 ft.

On the way down, we stopped in one of the many pool halls along the road and planed a couple games of pool. Something about us must have been incredibly interesting as we drew a crowd of 8-10 people as we played. Julian and I each lost one game in the same way -- by sinking our cue ball with only the eight-ball left.

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