Monday 5 January 2015

Day 201: Friendship Bridge - The pathos of a bulldozer

The Friendship bridge between Tibet and Nepal (from the Tibetan side)
As we queued for the border crossing, we awarded points for the decoration on the trucks waiting to cross.  There were styles to suit many tastes.  One truck bore the image of Avril Lavigne, with an advert for a design company.  Others celebrated 'the Asian olympics' in Beijing.  Some prosaically advised other drivers to 'beep your horn', written in curling blue letters across the entire back of the truck.  Hundreds of them, in all varieties, lined up for the border crossing.

Nearly a vertical kilometre of rock had slipped into the valley
We wiggled to the front and saw the same contrast between Chinese order and Nepalese chaos that had struck us yesterday.  At the Chinese border we formed a neat queue, had our papers processed, then pressed a button to indicate our level of satisfaction with the experience.  On the Nepalese side, a throng of people crowded into a small office, hollering to get the attention of the border guards, who stamped passports without even glancing at their owners.  Welcome to Nepal.

Once across, we climbed into a jeep to take us across this spring's landslide on the road to Kathmandu.  "The road has been mended now?" we asked and the driver made a non-commital gesture.  "Yes but it isn't as good as before."  This didn't bode well given our experience of Nepali roads 'before'.  But even for cynics, the site of the landslide was shocking.   Thousands of tons of earth had avalanched into the valley causing a blockage that now holds a lake at bay.  The two lonely bulldozers attempting to clear the earthen ramparts looked like a symbol of pathos.  Where rocks buried dozens of metres below the surface of the hillside, for millennia, have been plunged into free air and catapulted to the valley bottom, what are a couple of bulldozers but child's toys?  No wonder houses were swept away and three hundred people were killed.

Always nicer to be on the inside of the bend!
We lurched down the sandy surface of a make-shift track crossing the debris.  On the way uphill, the wheels of a car without four wheel drive capability span helplessly.  It did not have a chance.  Even in a jeep there was a moment when we skidded towards the side of the road and the dizzying drop before the driver regained control.  We found out later that the four members of our group in  another jeep had insisted on getting out and walking.

Lower down the valley, the survivor villages spread out beside the road.  Their brush with death lay half a year behind them.  It was business as usual.  The driver stopped to greet friends, no matter how many cars behind him bellowed impatiently; bored officials checked our passports in duplicate and triplicate; tiers of rice paddies dropped away below.  Nepal is fertile, green, luscious; surely it should not be so poor?  Before long, we drove into the thicket of traffic around the capital and remembered the calm and order of Chinese roads with longing.

But when we met up with the rest of the group at the Third Eye for a farewell meal, we were happy to find them excited by Nepal.  Some had anticipated finding Kathmandu a very modern city and we had raised our eyebrows, thinking of its sole functioning set of traffic lights and the thirteen hour-a-day powercuts.  But they told us that they found Nepalis very warm where Tibetans had seemed distant, cold.  As for the menu, it made a welcome change from noodle soup and fried rice and 'grandma'.  We all tucked into Everest beer and Newari curries and toasted our return to Nepal.

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