Posted by : Unknown April 10, 2014

The Friendship Bridge

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
 Next day morning, we proceeded towards Kodari border along with a team of Sherpa men in a private travel bus. These Sherpa team accompanies us throughout our journey.  This team takes care of routine breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is a team consisting of trekking experts, a chef, and other helpers. A pantry vehicle follows the bus carrying pilgrims. Fortunately, our Sherpa team consisted of very caring and jovial persons.

 Our aim was to cross the Kodari border that day. We took the Arniko highway that connects Kathmandu with China occupied Tibet. Kodari is a small township comprising Tibetan migrants mostly. Nepali people are scantly visible. It is the last town of Nepal. Traveler inns are available providing only basic amenities.

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Kodari lies in a God gifted ambience. Whether it is a boon or a curse, one should decide for himself. Situated on top of a Himalayan valley, the town is blessed with a picturesque landscape. Green hills, countless waterfalls and the meandering Botikosi River flowing down the valley make this town look beautiful. However, the fate of migrants is a big question mark. Poverty and an uncertain future haunt the township and that is strikingly visible for travelers.

 The road to Kadori from Kathmandu is called the Arniko Highway. This road has been constructed with the initiatives taken by the China Government for the improvement of bilateral trade and commerce. You can’t call it a proper highway. It is a narrow strip of road skirted by steep hills on side and the Botikosi River Valley on the other side. Landslides are common during rains. We could notice the damage already done by previous landslides. A scary highway indeed.

A bridge has been built across the Botikosi River and the bridge is known as ‘Friendship Bridge’. This bridge is a part of the Arniko Highway connecting China with Nepal. One will have to cross the bridge on foot. Nepali vehicles are not allowed on this. A red line has been drawn in the middle to mark the boundary between two countries. Chinese military commandos will be guarding on the other half. Border crossing is done through strict immigration process.

Chinese immigration center is located on the Chinese side of the bridge. That area is called Zangmu. The United Nations has not officially recognized Chinese status on the Tibetan territory. However, China is executing its supremacy over the land and visitors are supposed to respect the law of the land. After crossing the border, tourists will have to travel with Chinese travel guides in the Chinese permit vehicles.

Due to Indo-China border tensions the Kailsh Manas Sarovar Yatra was banned from 1962 to 1981. Kadori is the only official gateway to enter China from Nepal side. We were strictly warned in Kathmandu as not to talk about political affairs of China and about Dalai Lama.  It is almost a known factor there. There seems to be an undeclared deal among the Nepali merchants/businessmen/traders/travel agencies. They do not encourage any kind of activities against the Chinese policies in Kathmandu or anywhere inside the Chinese territory. In that way they have secured entry into the Chinese territory. One can use the trade route for uninterrupted trade and commerce. That must be the reason, perhaps, that the number of private travel agencies in Kathmandu is increasing day by day for conducting Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra. These private agencies assure us of a safe journey inside the Chinese Territory for the same reason. As long as one does not protest or keeps showing green signal to the Chinese Supremacy the show goes on!

Most of our travel mates were elders. Most of them had come to accomplish the ultimate yatra, it was a dream come true for them. They were excited, thrilled to have that ultimate experience of reaching the abode of Shiva. However, the Kailash Manasarovar yatra (on this route) makes us to think about the bilateral relations of India and Nepal with China. We did share a bit of unexplainable anxiety, could observe the same in the eyes of the migrant workers crossing the bridge everyday for the daily bread.

One needs to obtain a valid passport and a Chinese Visa before crossing the border. We had group Visa, but we had to get through the immigration check in. The Chinese agent booked by the Nepali travel agency must be present on the Chinese side to complete the formalities. To our bad luck, that fellow didn’t turn up on that day. We were put up in a roadside inn. We waited till the evening for the Chinese guide. Late in the evening, our Nepali guide came back with the message that the Chinese guide would come next day morning. We were made to stay in the same inn where we had lunch that noon.
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Houses of that town were roughly built on the hill slope, terraced residences. Timber houses without foundation. The Inn we had stayed was built on the edge of a slope overlooking the Botikosi river stream. It had a balcony and if we stand on that we would feel as if we were standing on a hanging bridge! Such an unstable condition. Kids of migrant workers rush towards you asking for snacks, and money. Pretty and adorable Tibetan faces, mostly girls and women were seen.

Next day, we woke up to a chilly morning, bought hot water paying 100 Nepali rupees for each bucket, had bath and got ready to cross the border. After this day, we again had bath only in Kathmandu on our return journey, on the twelfth day!  It is just five minutes’ walk from our inn to the Friendship Bridge. We crossed the bridge in a line. It was indeed an emotional moment for all of us to cross the border of a country on foot. I was imagining about the experience of crossing the Indo-Pak border!

Photography is not allowed on the bridge. Even at the immigration center, visitors are not allowed to take photos. But, we noticed a few foreign visitors shooting outside the immigration center. Please confirm anyway with your travel guides before taking snaps. We took a snap of the bridge from a far distance.
The Chinese guide had arrived and we proceeded towards Nyalam in a bus. The road from Zangmu to Manassarovar is well maintained. We would be provided with a well conditioned luxury bus to travel. So, the bus journey till we reach Manas Sarovar is completely hassle free. But, one can’t be so confident about the accommodation facility. Now, we have entered the Tibetan Plateau.

Let’s explore the Tibetan plateau in the next episode!

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