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Happy, Beauty, Lucky

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"Don't stay up here. The wind is too strong", my travelling companions warn me. It is September 2011 and we have just reached Nara la, the last pass on the old trade route from Humla in northwestern Nepal to Tibet. While everybody else hurries on I stay back, overwhelmed by the views: on one side the green southern flanks of the Himalayas with their forested slopes; on the other side the dry and barren Tibetan plateau. The wind almost takes away my tripod. A few horses are grazing nearby and do not seam to notice.

From the pass, a road winds down to the border between Nepal and Tibet. The steep flanks of the Karnali valley offer a panoptic view of the neighbouring situation. On the left side of the river is Hilsa, the dusty border settlement in Nepal. It consists of a few dozen single-storey stone houses and two recently constructed, larger buildings that stand out with their blue metal roofing. A narrow suspension bridge crosses the Karnali river. On the other side, an unguarded fence and a simple, open gate indicate the borderline. A few hundred meters further north, irrigated fields and a newly paved road mark the beginning of the People’s Republic of China. The road leads to Purang, the actual port of entry on the Chinese side, and from there via Lhasa in the east or Kashgar in the northwest to the rest of China.

We check into one of the hotels in Hilsa, run by a friend of a friend. I am exhausted from the long walk and feel a head ache coming. My friend brings me a thermos of hot water and says, "You shouldn't have stayed in wind for so long up on that pass".

Through my window I watch the suspension bridge. It is the lifeline of the entire region. Whatever people buy in the villages south of here – rice, flour, noodles, soap, candles, shoes, clothes, blankets, beer, brandy, soft drinks, batteries, solar panels, television sets, kitchen utensils, entire stoves and blue metal roofing – is carried across this bridge.

My room is decorated with printed chinese fabric, featuring a tiger blowing a trumpet and the English words happy, beauty, lucky. A true comment on my state of mind.

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