Bad Road In Tibet

My visa for China was running out at the end of October 1995. My overland departure to Nepal had been delayed by a massive avalanche smothering Tibet-Nepal Friendship Highway, but the staff at the Snowlands Hotel in Lhasa announced that a rough track had been opened through the fall area and I bought a ticket to Kathmandu. The bus only went as far as Shigatze, where we switched to a van, since the makeshift road couldn’t support the weight of a fully loaded van.

We reached the distressed stretch in the afternoon. The driver hadn’t exaggerated about the condition of the road and he suggested that we walk across the freshly cleared half-mile path.

“Rock fall. Hit van. Die.”

He wasn’t joking.

Some of the stones were bigger than a house, although a few tourists complained about the walk.

I ignored their whining and hurried to the other side of the fall. The rest joined me a minute later, but a German tourist lingered, shooting pictures of the impressive chasm with his Leica.

Someone shouted and we looked up the steep slope. A gigantic rock had shaken loose the grip of the scree and was starting to tumble gathering speed. The tourist was in its path. We yelled to him, but he was focusing the lenses on the Himalayas.

“My husband,” cried a middle-aged woman. “Hilf ihm.”

Like what?” I asked, for he was too faraway from safety to help him.

“Something,” pleaded a German woman.

“There is nothing to do.” The Tibetan guide shook his head. The man’s fate was in the hands of the Gods, but we continued to shout.

He finally heard us and waved with a smile.

We pointed at the bounding boulder and he realized the danger, running to the right. The rock bounced in that direction. He juked to the left and the boulder followed suit. The tourist froze in his tracks, as the stone bounced in the air.

His wife screamed.

Her husband was destined for death far from Germany, except the boulder landed twenty feet before him and caromed over his head to smash down the slope to the river below.

The German woman sobbed with relief, as her husband rejoined her. All the Tibetans touched him for good luck. The man laughed foolishly, knowing in another path of existence he was dead.

The van traversed the dirt track and the driver muttered to the guide about stupid tourists.

They understood the power of the mountains and fear fate.

We reached the Nepalese border at sunset. The van dropped us at a hotel. I stayed at a different one than the Germans, because he had used up his life’s allotment for luck and being around him wasn’t a risk for anyone other than the foolhardy. The Tibetans felt the same way and we drank beer, toasting the stars and heavens and the Himalayas.

With respect.

Because they deserved it.

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