My arms gripped the backpack. I gazed up like an ant looking through a crack in the ground. All around me, the giant creases of brown and green snatched clouds on their points as my lungs fought hard to absorb the thin air.
Ever since landing in Kathmandu, it seemed to me that everything in Nepal sat on a delicate balance, at constant threat of crumbling if man and nature didn’t play their part. All life seemed to jostle for space on the streets of the city, and the winding roads that led up to the border dangerously hung above gorges of green as they passed beneath waterfalls. It was as if the people had asked the land for permission before building.
Along with the rest of the group, I’d been whisked to the very edge of Nepal in a land cruiser, ready to be pushed into another country. Now, only a few yards from where I stood, the land dropped into a ravine. On the other side was China. In a way it was a replica of the Nepalese side with the same sandy peaks beneath open skies. But there was one striking difference. Clinging to the mountains on the Chinese side were multi-storey buildings that looked like toys perched precariously in crevices. The slightest jolt could have sent humanity’s intrusions tumbling away like dust. The echo of the major earthquake that had struck the area still hung in the air.
Led by the Nepalese guide and luggage porters, we crossed the ravine on the iconic Friendship Bridge. The guide mentioned that the bridge was built in the 1960s and served as a major trade route for Chinese goods into Nepal and India. It also boosted relations between the neighbours, hence the name.
Midway across the twenty five metre bridge was a simple red line indicating our last steps in Nepalese territory. As we crossed, everything changed. It was the same bridge, but somehow sturdier than the Nepalese side. Maybe it was an illusion created by the Chinese soldiers that now lined the perimeter with guns strapped to their chests.
Up ahead, the tightly controlled checkpoint came into view, a thought-out urban construction that seemed out of place in the rugged setting. The multi-storey buildings, now more visible, rose in steps around the distant peaks. But behind the show of might and money there was something else, like screaming underneath a blanket, as if the mountains were elbowing through a crowd. The ancient identity of the land was calling out. Yes, this was China, but it was also Tibet, the gateway to the Himalayas…
An unedited sample from my upcoming book, tentatively titled, Road to Shiva.
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