Zhangmu is built up a hill on both sides that is so steep that the houses seems stacked. In my hotel, what’s first floor in front is fourth floor in the back. I had to leave early because the border station is only open in the morning. After the first checkpoint, we walked down a road with many switchbacks (one of which is closed so we had to climb down the side of the mountain for a while) to reach the immigration building, where my guide checked me through the formalities. Then I said goodbye and crossed the Friendship Bridge high over the small river that marks the border. I step over the red line in the middle guarded by motionless soldiers, and I am in Nepal.
The small Nepalese village on the other end of the bridge is small and primitive, but the officers are friendly and relaxed, immigration only takes a few minutes. I set my watch back 2 hours and 15 minutes. They run pickup trucks to Kathmandu from here, so I share one with three Chinese visitors for 600 Nepalese Rupees (Rs); 1 Rs is a little less than 1 euro cent. It takes five very scenic hours through the mountains to reach Kathmandu because the road here is no better shape than the Chinese version. Can’t be done without a 4WD.
In past blog entries I have complained about China’s faceless and sterile cities. Kathmandu isn’t like that at all. It’s a noisy chaotic maelstrom and we pass through suburbs that look a little like a third-world slum, complete with smoking garbage dump fields with scavenging animals. Downtown is ok, but still very crowded and cars are squeezing through impossibly tight alleys, honking at everything that moves. Kathmandu is so alive with chaos that Beijing feels like a mausoleum in comparison. It’s also very warm, and 4000 meters lower than yesterday so I hardly have to breathe at all. Same odd feeling I had when reaching Lhasa, only in reverse. Now I understand why bicycle athletes train in Peru.
I am staying at the Tibet Peace Guesthouse at the edge of the Thamel downtown region. It offers what seems impossible here – it’s quiet, it has a fairly spacious garden with flowers and little tables to relax (and which my room overlooks), and I hear birds sing. I did walk around Thamel for a while. Once some guy came up to me and whispered, “hasheesh?” Ah, Kathmandu…