I should have mentioned we were having torrential rain every night. The next morning, W told us the road to Shigatse had been swept away, the bridge was gone and the river in town was flooding. We had two choices. We could go almost all the way back to Lhasa and take an alternative route to Shigatse, but there was no guarantee the roads further on were any better and we might get stuck again. Alternatively, we could cut our losses, go straight back to Lhasa and get a flight out. There were three a week to Kathmandu – Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday. This was Wednesday, so it seemed sensible to try for Thursday so that we could get out before the rush. No doubt every tour group was going to attempt the same thing. W called his manager, who called back to say that he had booked our flights but we would have to pay for them ourselves. There was a lot of argument about this, but eventually at 11:30 we set off along the road we had just come the day before. The difference this time was that we knew exactly how bad it would be.
Within an hour, we were back at the Gyantse Hotel booking in for another night. We had met a convoy coming the other way, which had already turned back from a point where the road was blocked. Part of the problem was vehicles stuck in the mud from the night before which had travelled later than we had and whose occupants had had to spend the night there. We realised how lucky we had been. W phoned his manager again and he agreed to change our flights to the Saturday.
The rest of the day became surreal. Everything we tried to do went wrong. We went to the monastery. It was closed. We went to Gyantse Dong (the castle). It was closed. Everyone in town was away helping to dam the river. We went to check on their progress and to see what the water level indicated for our chances of escape the next day. The military police stopped us. Our guide was taken away for questioning for almost two hours while we sat in the hotel, drank beer (not good for the headache) and sweated. W got a huge cheer when he returned, which he accepted with his usual modesty. We all respected him a lot by now, and this respect increased later that evening when two other groups, whose guides had not looked after them so well, returned dirty and tired having tried to find a way through to Shigatse – these were the already-mentioned Germans and a minibus full of Chinese. When W told us Shigatse was impossible, we believed him.
That night was my lowest point. I lay awake listening to the rain and worrying. When would we get out? Landslides and bridges could take days or even weeks to fix. What if the river flooded and we were trapped in the hotel? What if one of us got sick? What if we tried to get back and had an accident en route? – a distinct possibility given what I knew about the road. Should I be ringing home to remind people where our wills were and to get someone to adopt the cat? Things got really bleak – but next day dawned bright and sunny and W was optimistic. We met him after breakfast and he reported that the Germans had left at 8am to go back to Lhasa and, as they had not yet returned, he thought we should follow them. We rushed off to pack.
Find out how the journey went in Monday’s instalment.