The jeep ride from BC to Friendship Bridge at the border normally takes about 7 hours, 9 if you don’t cut across the mountain tracks but, instead, use the road built by the Chinese to carry the Olympic flame up to Everest. The best way to describe the ride is to imagine travelling in a bumper car at your local fair, but rather than being surrounded by hordes of people pushing and queuing for rides, you have some of the most beautiful views on earth just outside your window. Unfortunately for me the stunning views were the last thing on my mind, all I cared about was getting down to Friendship Bridge, crossing the border and into hospital as quickly as possible.
For the majority of the journey I lay across the back seats of the jeep trying to imagine I was anywhere but there. The constant bumping and jerking of the jeep as it weaved its way between boulders and ditches and up and down mountain tracks made the journey very unpleasant. On a number of occasions I felt so sick we had to stop to enable me to get some fresh air. China, unfortunately, doesn’t let any helicopters into Tibet, so a jeep is the quickest mode of transport. As we were travelling down it really struck me just how bad a situation a climber could find themselves in if they fell and broke some bones. The journey to the border where a helicopter can meet you and take you the rest of the way to hospital would be excruciating.
After what felt like a life time of driving we finally drew near Nylam, but as we did we noticed a massive tail back of traffic. Not long after we came to a complete stop. It was now 5.15p.m. only 45 minutes till the border shut. Anxiously I asked my escort whether we would make it in time. His answer implied that it didn’t really matter as he would arrange for me to stay in Nylam and cross the border first thing in the morning. I was amazed! For the past 7 hours I had been rolling about, in pain, in the back of the jeep and it apparently hadn’t occurred to him that I would rather be checking into hospital than into an hotel. Unfortunately my protests could not alter anything as the traffic had come to a standstill.
Finally the traffic started to move again and we reached Nylam at 5.50p.m. As the border crossing is a further 20 minutes drive past Nylam I reluctantly accepted that we weren’t going to make it. I really didn’t want to spend a night in Nylam so instead I tried to find out if there was anyone I could speak to about getting special permission to cross out of hours, but I might as well have been speaking to a brick wall. Instead my escort and driver dropped me off at a hotel and told me to meet them the next morning at 7.30a.m. when we would continue to the border.
Thankfully, that night I didn’t experience anywhere near as much pain as I had the previous night and managed to sleep soundly, only waking a couple of times. Whether the decrease in altitude had helped I didn’t know I was just relived to get a good night’s sleep. That morning, as promised, my driver and escort were waiting for me outside the hotel. They showed me a restaurant, across the road, where I could have breakfast while they sorted out my paperwork for crossing the border. As I had not eaten in 2 days I decided to try and eat something.
By 9:00am, when the border crossing opened, I was outside waiting to cross and 10 minutes later had crossed Friendship Bridge and was back in Nepal where I met Iswari’s men who had come to take me on to Kathmandu. The drive from the border to Kathmandu normally takes about four hours while a helicopter takes about 40 minutes. Earlier in the morning I had spoken to Iswari who was, in Kathmandu, arranging my evacuation. He wanted to know how I was feeling and whether I thought I needed a helicopter. Had it been the previous evening I would have chosen a helicopter without a second thought, but now as the pain was considerably less and I had a good night’s sleep and a little bit of toast under my belt, so to speak, I felt my situation wasn’t serious enough to warrant one. I would have felt guilty calling one out in case it was needed elsewhere for a real emergency. So, finally, after what seemed like the longest journey of my life I arrived back in Kathmandu where I went straight to hospital.