My dad always raved about crossing between Nepal and Tibet overland via the friendship bridge, deeming it one of the best experiences of his life. Since my route brought me from Nepal to China, I looked into retracing his footsteps to see for myself.
However, I got mixed reports about the route, both online and in person. The only fact I knew for sure was that the border crossing at Zhangmu, which my dad had previously used, shut down after the earthquake in April 2015 (the entire town, actually, might have slipped off the hillsides but nobody really knows for sure). Some travel agencies reassured me that the land route had reopened, and some online sources said that there was a separate border crossing but couldn’t agree on whether it had opened to tourists or not.
Eventually, I got a definitive answer from Land of Snows: yes, there is a separate border crossing called Kyirong, but no, it is not currently open for tourists, and it’s slated to open sometime during 2017, but nobody can say for sure. Also a fun Tibet travel fact: you actually can’t go to Tibet at all during March if you’re a foreign tourist, since many sensitive anniversary dates (e.g. of uprisings) are in March, so the Chinese government doesn’t process permits during that month to avoid social unrest. Good to know before you book a ticket there!
So, overland travel was out of the picture. That only left flying, which is pretty expensive out of Kathmandu – my flight from Kathmandu to Chengdu via Lhasa costed more than my flight from NYC to Colombo, Sri Lanka (which I got a fantastic deal on, but still).
Still, totally worth it, because the HIMALAYAS:
Going from Nepal to China, you fly right towards and around them. From Nepal to China, sit on the LEFT side of the plane, and from China to Nepal, sit on the RIGHT. Try to get a seat either as far up or down as possible, to avoid being over the wing.
I called in a few days early to specifically request the furthest back left hand window seat available, and thought I was all set. However, when I checked in and got my ticket, I saw that I was assigned an aisle seat. Thankfully they reassigned me pretty easily to a left hand window seat, and curiously one that was even further back than the one I initially confirmed. Alright, I’ll take it!
The view of the Himalayas and Mount Everest starts about 10 minutes in, and lasts for about a three minutes or so.
During that time, someone asked me a total of 4 times to help him take pictures with his phone. I obliged, since I would ask someone to do the same for me if I really did get stuck with an aisle seat, but I can’t say I felt too apologetic when I accidentally dropped his phone the fourth time. If you’re going to ask strangers to help take pictures with your shiny new iPhone 6/7, you should probably get a case to make sure it’s not slippery.
The Himalayas passed quickly, but the ensuing view was no less stunning.
Especially as we approached Lhasa:
This was a great way to say goodbye to Nepal. Considering that there are scenic flight services that cost hundreds of dollars by themselves, this flight actually turned out to be quite a steal!
Another tip: try to go as early in the morning as possible, since the clouds come in and the winds pick up, making it dangerous to fly in the afternoon. As a result, those flights are often canceled, and even if not, you won’t get to see the good view.