A bit of a problem?

We are in Bamda, Tibet, at the junction of the N318 and the N214 (N30.23437 E97.27020). You may have trouble finding it on a map! We had trouble finding it on the ground.

All the Anglophone group are here and in good health, if a bit stressed out. The altitude is over 4000 meters and a brisk 100m walk gives you a headache. We have with us an oxygen cylinder provided by China Swan, we decided to test it today, it works.

The French however have a bit of a problem. Yesterday afternoon one of the three French vans (Roger's) broke his front left constant velocity joint (that's the bit that joins the engine to the wheels and is rather important!). But before we go into the consequences of this in detail a little background information will help.

We all have to leave China by the 9th of October 2002 when our 90 day visas expire or face a substantial fine each day. We were on a schedule, agreed between China Swan and the French that got us to the Nepalese border a few days before the 9th.

Unfortunately one of the original four French vans was involved in accident some weeks ago and that delayed the French a couple of days. Because the Anglophone and French group must travel together in Tibet we were all late getting into Tibet.

The schedule agreed with China Swan requires us to cover 2249 kilometers in 9 traveling days. An average of 250 kilometers per day. During the last five days we have averaged about 100 kilometers per day.

So to put it simply we were late and are getting later.

Now to return the immobile French van. Because it was getting late the French van was towed a few kilometers down the road to a delightful wild camp site by a river. It was decided that the problem could not be fixed without parts from France and that to get these would take at least 5 days and the nearest place they could be sent, by air, was Lhasa. The parts were ordered from France by Iridium phone via Roger's son.

The problem was how to get an immobile 6 metre long campervan over 1000 kilometers (over appalling roads) quickly. The only solution was to find a Chinese truck willing and able to carry the campervan to Lhasa. The only place to look for such a truck was the next town on our route, Bamda.

Les has a close look.So next morning the four Anglophone vans set off to Bamda carrying Serge, Roger and the French speaking guide "Simon". The three French vans remained by the river and out of contact (there is very little GSM phone coverage in Tibet). It was planned that we would be in Bamda by lunch time where a truck would be hired to carry the immobile van to Lhasa. The journey to Bamda took six hours with Mog towing Womble up one muddy hill and leading the group "cross country" to avoid a section of road that even Mog would baulk at!. We were delayed by mud, rivers and broken down trucks. At one point several road workers helped us level a particularly rough patch of ground, one of them had two sticks of dynamite in his pocket.

The French had some notes about Bamda from the 2000 trip that made them think Bamda was a reasonable sized town, with garages, fuel and even an airfield.

At first the reality appeared rather different. When we arrived at where Bamda should be we found only a triangle of dilapidated buildings at the junction of the N318 and the N214. The main "street" was a mud river with strategically place tyres to use as stepping stones to get from one side to the other. This was one of the most desolate and depressing places we had seen. There was no fuel, no water and no garage! This could not be the Bamda we were looking for, so we continued a few kilometers down the N214 where we were relived to see in the distance a second Bamda.The best end of Bamda One.

This was worse! Indeed the road into Bamda Two was so bad that only Mog was sent on to reconnoiter. Nothing but a few mud houses and a police station. We returned to Bamda One which at least had public telephones and a GSM phone mast.

After a phone call to China Swan to update them on our position and to enquire about visa extensions en-route to Lhasa, Serge, Roger and Simon went in search of a truck owner willing to collect the immobile van and bring it to Bamda (if not to Lhasa). Surprisingly this was done and around 17:30 Serge, Roger and Simon set off back to the French vans in a passing truck with a promise that a suitable truck would be at the French camp site at 08:00 on the following day Wednesday the 2nd of October.

Because the French and Anglophone groups must travel together in Tibet (only one set of permits were provided by China Swan) the four Anglophone vans are now parked a few kilometers passed Bamda waiting for news of the French who are out of radio range and unable to use their GSM phones. Did Serge, Roger and Simon make it back? Did the truck turn up at 08:00? Could they load Roger's campervan on it? In one piece? How long will it take the truck and two campervans to get to Bamda?

Stop Press: The three French vans are here, intact. 2002-10-02 18:00.

Stephen Stewart.

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