Hilsa at Nepal-China border
Hey guys, I hope you enjoyed my last articles on my preparation and start of my journey to Kailash Mansarovar. If not then do read Planning and Preparation of the trip, a day in Kathmandu and days spent in Nepalgunj and Simikot so that you can stay connected with me on my journey. Hilsa was the fourth pitstop of our Kailash Mansarovar Yatra via Nepal route. Hilsa is at Nepal and China border at an altitude of 3700 mt from sea level. The place is connected by a friendship bridge over Karnali river, which comes directly from Kailash. On the Nepal side, there is no road connectivity, so we had to come by helicopter from Simikot.
1st day of Hilsa – Arrival at the cold desert
30th May 2018
We arrived in Hilsa within 20-25 mins taking off from Simikot, our first chopper ride. I never thought of enjoy flying over lush green valleys with the river flowing down and crossing snow clad mountains. I was awestruck after looking at snow covered peaks from so near. There was a peak, which resembled Kailash in small form and all of us noticed that.
After landing in Hilsa we looked around with excitement. Yes! Our actual journey to Mansarovar was about to begin. Hilsa is a cold desert with virgin hills and was damn dusty. We felt a bit of breathing problem initially as we jumped around 900 mt that day. It’s a very small place with 5-6 guest houses and only 2 shops. From the helipad itself, we could look at China connected by hanging bridge with colorful prayer flags tied on the railings. These Tibetian prayer flags have mantras written over it. It is believed that mantras are blown by the wind to spread good will into space. That’s why it is always tied in the open air. These colorful flags have deep meaning inside more than using it for decoration.
We walked up to the guest house and suddenly I went into a flashback. I went 6-7 years back in my university days when my dad dropped at hostel. Suddenly I got a push on my back from Rupa and came back to presence. I had the same feeling because it was not less than my college hostel. A lot of rooms in a row and shared washrooms at both ends, that too not in good condition. Anyways, we jumped in first, so we had an advantage of choosing our space and got a 7-bedded dormitory, which looked pretty decent. Our gang including Rupa, Mauli, Jyothi, Sudhakar and I booked that room. Then, Dato Ji and Ashok uncle also joined us. By that time I was totally out of my comfort zone and moreover, I was above the thought of the male or female thing.
All of us settled down and then Ashok uncle asked me if I want to go on hike. I too wanted to explore the place, so we both got ready after wearing jacket, trekking shoes and scarf to cover up face. We hiked for around 2-3 km on road less land with pebbles all around. We covered decent distance on the banks of river Karnali. That was the overwhelming moment when we got to know the river was coming from Kailash. The positive and divine feelings started coming in. On another side of the river, we looked at immigration of Nepal which was not a good site to watch. It was like a temporary tent where our passport had to be stamped. Yes, you read it right. On the other side of the border, China has done great development. Roads were constructed and they had a big immigration building. It was a perfect example of the developed and underdeveloped country 😊.
After that short hike, I wanted to take bath. In the entire journey, I was determined to take a dip in ice-cold Mansarovar lake. So I always used to bath with the cold water to acclimatize for that climate. Now it was time for lunch and sherpa called us. It was simple and tasty food, which I still remember. After that, we had as such nothing to do, so we used to roam around here and there. Almost all of us came solo, but that feeling had gone totally and we were like family.
2nd Day of Hilsa – Waiting for passport
31st May 2018
The best part of such trips is you don’t have any track of date and time. You are completely cut off from the world. No internet, no calls, no traffic, and no pollution. I wish I could live rest of my life like this but, not lucky enough. I was wearing an analog watch, where India time was set. Nepal is 30 minutes ahead of IST, so it was manageable. But Hilsa is at the China border and as per Tibet timing, we were 2.5 hours ahead of IST. We were playing in the time zones of the three countries. Whenever Sherpa used to give instruction about lunch or dinner timing, we had to specifically ask about is it per Indian time, Nepalese time or the Chinese? Rupa and Sudhakar have got International roaming activated and internet(2G) was also working at Hilsa, so it became quite easy for me to contact at home.
We were excited because we were supposed to get our passport today. We were waiting for same but out of frustration, we started cracking silly jokes. I was like, I won’t look at Tibetan cloud till I get my passport. Then Rupa was like, even if Lord Shiva asks for my wish in person, I will say just grant me Chinese visa. I know it sounds silly but even such silly jokes were making our day wonderful. It was very soothing to sit on the river bank, listen to its sound, keep watching those bridge flags flying in air and just doing nothing. I miss that time.
Our trek was about to begin in few days, I decided to do a light workout to stay fit for the rest of the journey. I used to do squats, lunges, steppers, and situps. Jyothi and Sudhakar took lessons on power yoga and breathing exercise, so I just followed their instructions. I never did extensive breathing exercises, so after that, I used to take a power nap and I mastered in taking power naps 🙂 No matter how many people are talking in our room, I could easily sleep.
Due to high altitude Rupa, Mauli and Dato Ji felt sick and they had to take extra precautions. Even I caught cold, but got over it by taking medicines and drinking only hot water. We were already at high altitude and mild cold/fever/headache are the first symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) if not treated that time. And the worst thing is once you get caught by AMS then no medicine can help you. The only way is to come down at a lower altitude.
Instead of wishing good morning it became a practice to always say Om Namah Shivaay. If I keep the sickness aside, I can feel the positivity all around. People were meditating, doing yoga, few were high on spiritual thoughts, some of us were not religious but they were a kind soul. Different people from different places who have different perception about Shiva but everyone has one goal in common, to take a close look at Kailash and feel Lord Shiva. The positivity was so high that we realized that we are the chosen ones to come on this trip. We were so different from each other but that point we all were looking similar. Not physically but mentally, emotionally!
3rd Day of Hilsa – Got Passport and Left Nepal
1st June 2018
It was indeed a beautiful morning when Sherpa announced that our passports and visa are ready and will be delivered by the chopper today. Our excitement was on height when we were waiting for the first chopper sound but it got delayed due to rain in the morning. Finally, it arrived and we hooted out of joy. After breakfast, Purushottam from KailashJourneys called all of us to collect our passports. We had to leave our room after lunch. Sherpa warned us about the strict checking at China immigration office, especially about their scanning all photos in mobile and camera. Any picture/article of Dalai Lama or immigration building in mobile or camera can end our journey there. So he suggested to hand over the camera and phone which they can bypass though sending in luggage and give it back to us after crossing the border.
We had our lunch, packed our bags and wohooo! We are finally going to cross Nepal-China border for which we were waiting for days. Now all of us were walking on the friendship bridge. This bridge was on the river connecting Nepal and China border. We reached the Nepal immigration and another agency’s batch was ahead of us. So, we had to wait for around 1.5 hours. It was too sunny that time, so I sat quietly near Karnali river, where I could listen to the soothing sound of water and feel the cold breeze. So, finally our batch’s turn came up and Sherpa started calling out names and asked to make a single queue. As I told earlier, this is very small immigration of temporary tent where 10 people could barely stand. So, we had to go one by one and get our passport stamped. That was the first stamp on my passport and it made me feel good. So officially we made exit and after that, I waved my hands to Nepal and said see you after coming back from Kailash.
We were waiting for our turn as there was another batch ahead of us at China immigration. So, all of us knew that the checking is very strict and the process is time-consuming. What we could do is to wait patiently in the no man’s zone between two countries. It was an experience to stand in no man’s land and don’t even belong to either of them. As the sun started climbing up, I started feeling the heat so I sat on the ground covering my head with my scarf. Our Sherpas were in touch with his counterpart on the Tibetan side. So every ten minutes we kept bugging him for updates. Because no one had enough patience to wait in the dust and sun. But, he was so kind and calm, every time we asked him, he replied very politely and gave a satisfactory answer with smile “Don’t worry, be patient and we won’t disappoint you. We will take you to your destination safely and bring back”. That answer gave us some strength and we forgot everything. It was like we were having a small picnic sitting down with everyone. Sounds crazy but it’s true. I was thinking about my entire journey right from start till today and I realized how it started with pain and problems but now everything is positive where I had only thoughts of the dip in Mansarovar and parikrama of Kailash. These feelings kept me energetic and positive that my trek to Kailash Mansarovar is about to begin. We were waiting for more than four hours and was hungry too but was got some packed food and water from Sherpas and we were all up again.
Survival in no man’s land between 2 countries
Sun was going down and clouds were passing by. By now, it started getting cold and we had to wear another layer of warm clothes. We rushed to piled up duffle bags to take out jacket and warm lower. It was very cold as we were in open space near Karnali river where the chilled wind was blowing. Moreover, it was paining to sit on hard surface because of my tail bone injury. I could not sit properly and could not stand also because of cold. We felt the sudden drop in temperature in evening. It was dark now and we were really stuck in the middle of nowhere. Siddharth advised us to sit in close circle and started teaching power yoga which gave some warmth that time.
It was completely dark by now and we saw China immigration office lights switching off. I didn’t want any more surprises that night and just wanted to cross the border. Was bit worried about the thought of spending the night in that cold desert land. Officially, we had nowhere to go. We have exited Nepal and China is not taking us in. Some of us thought of asking help from foreign minister over Twitter, but we already had given our mobiles. We really felt helpless and had no clue what’s happening. I was the youngest one in the group and was feeling too cold, just imagine how difficult it would have been for the elder ones out of which most people were above 50. Now we had the challenge to take care of ourselves and survive for an entire night in open space. Also, how to get into Tibet was still a question that time?
And you know what, it’s not the end here and there was more to come. Lord Shiva was actually taking a final test to check our strength. It started raining. Oh my God, what could be worse than this, you are stranded in no man’s land between two countries, you have no place to hide and now nature plays a game with you. But, it was so kind of our Sherpa, that he took a call and announced that everybody to go back to Nepal side guesthouse. We immediately rushed towards guesthouse through the friendship bridge, which was not at all friendly this time. We reached to the same room and thankfully it was not occupied.
We were actually shocked by the behavior and communication from the Chinese immigration office. It was a bit irresponsible on their side. How could they hold us for so long and did not communicate anything? Nobody had ever thought of this will happen. Maybe it was the test of patience or determination, but that experience was horrible. Our Sherpas started cooking dinner and served in that worst condition. That’s the very friendly relation between Nepal and India I could see. You will never feel as if you are in another country. On the other hand, we had a bad experience with China even before entering their land. We were not sure how things will turn up once we get inside. After exiting Nepal we again entered on the same date, nobody was sure if it was officially right or wrong. We just saved our lives, that’s all we knew. Rest was up to Shiva.
That night we slept with terrific experience of life and also with the hope of crossing border the next morning.