After 18 hours of treading some of the most treacherous terrains on earth,
the group of 15 strangers firmly stood their ground, refusing to turn back.
"Okay, we'll go forward at dusk," Sonam, their paid guide, finally relented.
They faced a fast-paced, ten-hour trek of seemingly vertical miles. Without a
valid pass to cross the border, they had to continue this long and treacherous
journey, with the hope of seeking a better life in Nepal.
Walking was the
hardest at night, but Sonam was dead set on stealthily passing the four
checkpoints before dawn. Ascending in a zigzag line, they crossed two bridges
and reached the riverbank -- the third bridge was gone ! Sonam panicked and ran
up and down the river. Unable to find a suitable place to cross, the group
unfolded their plastic covers and tried to sleep.
By sunrise, Sonam had found
a passable path and instructed the group to pull off their shoes and roll up
their trousers. Ice floes spun in the current as they walked carefully over
unsteady rocks that lay in the wide river. They continued on their road to
freedom till nightfall, then crawled into a sheep pen. Cramped and curled into
one another, they slumbered, hoping no nomad or plateau cowboy would
turn them in for a few Yuan.
later, the now-close-knit group reached the foot of the long-awaited Nangpa
Pass, an 18,300-foot-high corridor of glaciers and sub-zero temperatures. "The
next three days will be your hardest," the guide warned them. "There isn't much
food left but we have to move on." Before daybreak, they stole past four white
tents of soldiers, the last military checkpoint before their freedom.
calf-deep snow pushed through the holes in their shoes like four through a
sieve. Tears froze in their eyes and their bodies were turning so numb that they
hardly felt anything. Within hours, they scaled the summit and crossed into
Nepal. But they knew they were still in the danger zone: some police officers
patrolling the border would not hesitate to turn them in for a profit.
Descending the Pass, they faced a sea of boulders. They spread out and climbed
one boulder at a time, banging knees and scraping their hands raw, hour after
hour after hour. When the old monk could tread no further, they made camp. The
next morning, the landscape of rocks gradually unfolded into lush green
mountainsides, furrowed brown fields and rice paddies that rumpled like a rug
across the more peaceful country. As the warm sun beat down on the refugees,
they got warmer.
Eight miles down, Sonam led them into a monastery where the
old monk could recuperate safely. "Go on. You must go further down to freedom,"
he urged. At dawn, the group pressed on.