Long Morning Walk to Tibet

Submitted by alex on Sat, 11/27/2021 - 20:01

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My long morning walk to Tibet was a kind of symbolic pilgrimage.

When I set off, for what turned out be an eight-month trip around the world, in September 1970, my primary interest was Asia and within that, the “Confucian’ influenced countries…China, Korea, Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, Japan.

A month was devoted to Japan, two weeks Korea, 10 days Taiwan and I went to the China border in the New Territories of Hong Kong.

Visiting mainland Communist China, which Canada had, days before I got to Taiwan, just recognized as the de facto government of the country was complicated. While I suffered no negative treatment in Taiwan, being a Canadian in the county raised eyebrows with authorities.

Also judiciously out of bounds, at that time, because of the war were Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, but I skipped joyously and safely through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon,. How times have changed.

I basically skirted China visiting surrounding countries, now in India and more than five months into the trip. I hadn’t booked Nepal into my around-the-world air ticket, but I was allowed to change the route and add and subtract air stops as I wanted.

I am not sure why Nepal was not in the original ticket, but I suspect it wasn’t “historical” enough for my mission. Now long cured of that penchant, I barely deign to visit old temples.

However, it was a popular destination for the hordes of young travellers moving diagonally across the globe between Australia and Britain. By and large they were young people, my age, ‘looking for themselves’ flaunting independence and rebellion and dressed and coiffed for the part. Having already found myself, I projected as a neatly dressed, short-haired student tourist.

I had been advised that I would be more readily welcomed if not making a political (hippy) statement in dress and grooming. I mention this since it is relevant to the presentation of young travellers at that time in this part of the world.

Nepal was a popular destination for those seeking drug mellowed adventures.

Being near the Himalayas was the more compelling reason to go and I needed a break from the history symbolized by temples.

It was while in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, that the idea of going to the Tibet/Nepal border was suggested. I more imagine that happening than remember it. It started with a bus going generally northeast about in the direction of Mt. Everest.

The terminus of the bus was Barabise, still 18 miles short of the border with Tibet. Apparently Mt. Everest was a 90 mile overland hike to the northeast and as such one of the starting points for that adventure.

I might have been told of the hike to the border, or learned about it in this little town during the afternoon I spent there.

A new, and not ever surpassed, low level of hotel was my chosen lodging for the night. I suppose what I had could be called a ‘room’, but I never saw enough to be sure. It had an opening, but not a door. The “bed” didn’t fit the description of any I have experienced before or since. Bedding was not an issue, nor existent, I had my sleeping bag. Not ever really seeing a “bed”, laying on it in my sleeping bag, I imagined sleeping on a pile of fence rails. I could have submitted to a little more luxury, but it probably would have been perfect for a bevy of marijuana high “hippies”.

No windows or walls were featured. It seems it was the loft, under the roof, in a building. I had the ‘private suite’ at one end. The room we went through to get to mine was being used by an alcohol energized group of partying Tibetans. One staggered into my room sometime in the night, but recognizing me as a foreigner, backed out apologizing profusely for the intrusion.

The room was shown to me by torch, not the British euphemism for flashlight, but an actual flaming stick, hence my vague appraisal of the amenities. I was certain there was no ensuite and such facilities would not be any better for checking them out in advance.

No wake up call was needed since lethargy and not sleep was the only state of rest I reached. I rose at the crack of dawn, which actually comes surprisingly late in these deep valleys.

No directions on which way to go were needed. There were only two routes out of town the one I bussed in on and the one going ahead.

It would have been a great place to have hiking boots. But I was wearing the rubber soled ‘desert boots’ I started with. I didn’t discover hiking boots until a few months later in Austria.

There is no advantage to detailing the 18-mile six-hour walk to Kodari, at the border. It will be illustrated in the photos.

The story resumes at the destination where I met a “couple”. And this couple consisted of a 55ish American man working as an agricultural attache with the U.S. embassy, and a 35ish German woman.

And they, basically the man, were overly generous, offering me a ride in his car with them back to Katmandu. That non hippy look helped, I think.

He also told me a story that remains with me. Apparently the then President Richard Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew had visited the embassy, hence added security. This attache arrived for work and was stopped at the door by a soldier. Not an ordinary soldier, but a Gurkha. The Gurkha regiments in this part of the world, often attached to the British military, were regarded as ‘elite’.

Although barely five feet tall they have a mythological reputation for stealth and violence, augmented by the large heavy knives (kukri) they brought from farm work to military service.

In any event, the attache was readily convinced that however much he might be entitled to pass, it was not going to happen.

After being chauffeured back to Katmandu more specifically his house. I was invited to spend the night. I had the feeling he later regretted the invitation, since I was probably cramping his style with the German woman.

The lodging was just a bonus the ride back was the real gift. I wasn’t looking forward to the 18-mile-hike back to the Barabise bus. I hadn’t checked out the lodging options in this tiny border village.

I did throw a stone across the small river into Tibet. So a stone’s throw away, big whup.

Six weeks later I met the German woman in Munich for lunch.