In 1995 I traveled with a lapsed Catholic nun from Lhasa to Shigatse. After several days Dorothy returned to Lhasa. We woke at dawn and breakfasted on Momos or dumpling and butter tea. I wanted to get an early start and Dorothy accompanied me to the southern edge of town. The Asia Friendship Highway ran as a two-lane dirt road west across the Tibetan plateau to Nepal. There was no bus service between the two nations and I stuck out my thumb, even though I had seen no Tibetan traveling by this ancient mode. Traffic was non-existent that morning and the sun spread across the sere highlands. Not a tree to the south. I waited an hour contemplating my folly. Around 8 a tourist van driven by a Nepalese stopped and offered a ride to the turning for Mount Kailash. The Tibetan guide was picking up foreign tourists at the holy peak the source of four rivers; Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali. I handed him $10 and sat in the front.

We proceeded along a broad treeless valley imitating the surface of the moon. I divined our location from a Nell’s map, as we crossed the Xiabu river and skirted a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra, the Yarlung Tsangpo, Dirt, rock, and more dust. No traffic. The van stopped for tea at Lhakse for lunch, Thukpa, Tibetan noodle soup.

South of town they dropped me at a T-bone intersection. G-219 led to Mount Kailesh 1300 kilometers in distance. The driver said two-three days by van. Maybe more. Never less. He said $20. I knew the road and the food got worse off the Friendship Highway and I bid them, “Kah-leh phe.”

The van roiled a trail of dust into the thin air. Within ten minutes there was no sign of Man save the untraveled road. Not even a turning sign pointing south to Nepal. The highway rose from the valley and I found out to where when another tourist van stopped to ask if I needed a ride to the border town of Zhangmu. It was a simple stupid question and I answered yes.

Two tourists slumped in the back overcome by the high altitude. They spoke not a word throughout the passage of G-318 to the Himalayas. We stopped for a bowl of soup at a forlorn filthy caravansary with a broad panorama from Everest to Phurbi Chyachu and farther to the east and west. The foreigners were barely breathing. The guide said this was 16500 feet. “From here down.”

After traversing the unpopulated plateau we dropped through avalanche-ravaged ravines to sleep in Zhangmu, altitude 7600 feet. The increase in oxygen revived the foreigners, but something was amiss with my stomach and intestines. I self-diagnosed through my Rough Planet guidebook I had a giardia infection. By the time we reached Kathmandu the next day I suffered from severe diarrhea, gas, stomach cramps, nausea, and dehydration. I booked myself into the Snowlands and stay in bed for several days on a brown rice soup and beer diet. My lips turned yellow from the Sulphur bubbling from my guts. I was really sick, but after four days I felt strong enough for a tour of the city. I had last been there in 1990. The hotel staff were happy to see me on my feet. Giardiasis was responsible for 500,000 annual deaths. I wasn’t one of them and was grateful to have the strength to walk upright, until I stepped out into the green sunlight. The walls glowed with an eerie emerald shine. Something was wrong with my eyes. I was wrong. It was a partial eclipse. I lifted my eyes to the union of sun and moon for a second. A solar eclipse. I had never seen one. not even a partial eclipse. It was October 24 1995. Kathmandu.

I celebrated with beer with the hotel’s Tibetan and Nepalese staff.

Suk-bo de-thang or cheers in Tibetan.

Thankful to be alive.

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