Maoists, tapeworms, and Tibet…
I'll keep this brief – we've had a long few days, and I'm not really supposed to be using this system right now. But, lots of fun stories to report.
After a great evening in Thado Dhunga, we continued our journey north along the Karnali. Within hours, we left the forested hillsides of Humla and entered the drier, more barren terrain of the Tibetan Plateau. We hit our first big pass on the 7th, the Nara La, which at 14,400 feet is nearly as high as anything in the continental US! From there, a sharp descent led us to the harsh border town of Hilsa.
We had been in Maoist country since arriving in Simikot, but now it was real. Hilsa is completely controlled by the Maoists…Men in camoflage fatigues stroll through town and the ubiquitous hammer and sickle is painted on nearly every rock and structure. A massive new suspension bridge, courtesy of the Chinese, spans the Karnali. On one end flies the Chinese flag, on the other, the Maoist one. No Nepali government to be found in this border area.
As we suspected, we were visited by the Regional Commander of the Maoists on the evening of the 7th. A slight, polite, and well spoken man, he kindly asked me for our team's tax for the Maoist revolution: $100 per foreign member, and 5000 rupees for Pemba, our cook. I paid the money, and was issued a receipt with a smile and polite "dhanyabhad" – thank you in Nepali. That was it.
This morning we said a sad goodbye to our friends from Humla, the horse, donkey, and yak drivers who accompanied us and our piles of equipment from Simikot. They had purchased salt and rice in Hilsa to bring back down valley, the continuation of a centuries old trade between Nepal and Tibet. It was now time to wait for our liaison officer to arrive in Sher on the Tibet side of the border, which ended up taking some 6 hours. But, during that time, I had the opportunity to play my new role as resident Humla physician, diagnosing all sorts of maladies from severe hangovers to tendonitis, pink eye to food poisoning…and dispensing appropriate medication.
While we sat, waiting to hear that we could cross the border, a familiar face wandered to our camp. It was the Regional Commander of the Maoists. He wanted to speak with me, saying he needed ausadhi, or medicine. I began asking questions, and soon found out that, in addition to suffering from diahorrea for 3
days, he also disposed of a 2 foot tapeworm the day before. Hmmmm, quite an interesting situation. I was quite tempted to offer medication for his condition for the low, low cost of $500, but finally decided to take the better path and help solve his condition with medication I had in my kit. The karmic wheel spins round and round, and it is always best to stay on the positive side of things.
After hours of waiting in Hilsa, we finally got word that we could cross into Tibet. After clearing customs, we drove northward to Burang (Taklakot), the district headquarters of Ngari prefecture. On the way, we could see the snowy sentinels of Api, Saipal, Firnkopf, and Lama rising in the distance. And, suddenly, to our right, a massive snowy ridge materialized, partially masked in cloud. It was Gurla Mandhata, and it was quite a sight, thousands of feet of snow, ice and rock rising stalwartly from the brown hues of the Plateau.
But, more adventure lies between us and the mountain. Tomorrow, we drive to Lake Mansarovar and on to Darchen to begin our kora of Mount Kailash. We are all excited, doing well, and looking forward to our continuing adventure in this remote part of the Himalaya.
Stay tuned for more!!