End of Bike Trip
We first arrived in Kathmandu a little more than a week ago,
amidst warm monsoon rains. Since that time it has been a none
stop eating fest. Breakfast at the German bakery, lunch at an
American/Mexican cafe and dinner at Yin Yang, the nicest Thai
restaurant in town. Round and round we went, day after day. It
is only now after almost 10 days that our eating habits are starting
to slow down.
Our final departure from Tibet/China was temporally stalled
at the small town of Nyalam. After climbing the last pass of
reaching a height of more than 17,000 feet, we wound our way
down the mountain sides, getting closer and closer to the tropical
lands of Nepal. Upon reaching the town before the Chinese/Nepal
border Liyang and I were stopped at a police checkpoint. The
two young men asked to see our passports after we wheeled our
bikes around the cable that blocked roadway. They quickly asked
to see our "permits", after stalling a bit and pointing
to our Chinese visas, they insisted on seeing a "permit."
We showed them our expired permit from Western Tibet, hoping
that it would do the trick, so that we could get on our way.
They escorted us down a narrow grassy pathway between the buildings
to the office of the "big boss." After rounding up
a few other people, that seemed to have nothing better to do
with their morning, they all passed our passports and expired
permit around. The group split into two factions, those that
thought our Chinese visa was expired because they calculated
the start date from the "valid until" date on the visa,
and those that thought our Chinese visa was valid because they
calculated the start date from our date of entry into China,
the later was lead by a young Chinese guy wearing fake leopard
skin bedroom slippers. During a heated debate between the older
big police boss and the young bedroom slipper clad Chinese guy,
we had to intervene in order to point out that all Chinese visa
always start from the date of entry, and it is clearly written
in Chinese and English on the visa itself. Once this point was
finally resolved, the older Tibetan guy, who was a bit of a jerk,
decided that since our previous "Alien Travel Permit"
was expired, we were in China illegally. Once again the permit
was clearly written in Chinese and English that it was valid
for travel in the listed places, in our case the towns of Western
Tibet, for the listed dates. Once we reached South-Central Tibet,
which is open to foreigners, an "Alien Travel Permit"
was not required. The debate went back and forth, the big boss,
read out of a book of laws governing foreigners traveling in
China, others tried to call the district police office in Shigatse,
but of course the phone did not work. Liyang finally started
speaking to them in Chinese trying to resolve this ludicrous
point. There was such confusion on their part that did not know
what to do. Finally the big boss said to Liyang the "road
is open" to foreign travelers, and no permit was required.
If you go off the road then a permit is required, he told us.
We insisted that we never wanted to leave the road, and we were
going to leave China in only two more hours if they would just
let us go. After another half an hour of arguing back and forth,
they were so frustrated that they said, "you can go, just
go." We quickly walked back to our bikes, and got out of
town before they changed their minds.
While camped out one night just off the road in Western Tibet,
I awoke in the middle of the night. A disturbing nightmare about
my little sister back in the USA had awaken me. I immediately
stuck my head out of the large open tent door as I remembered
where I was. Looking up into the dark-black-blue sky, I listened
to the immense silence. The power peacefulness of Tibet struck
me and calmed the fears that had been caused by the violent dream.
There was something about the silence, about the peace of the
place that I will always remember so clearly.
The high desolate plateau of Tibet seems like a distant dream
now. A reality that happened some time in the remote past. The
whole trip was so improbable that it is somewhat difficult to
believe that it even happened at all. While walking through the
crowded and busy streets of Kathmandu, I often miss the silence
of Western Tibet, the pure and perfect silence.