I’ve crossed many an international border.
Each time is full of excitement, adventure, and a little anxiety. Several experiences stand out in my mind.
Crossing into Cambodia from Thailand we stood at the little open air kiosk arguing with the border patrol about how much we were required to pay. Our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook stated a $20 visa fee but the man in uniform was asking $35. After agreeing that we would each pay $30 he stamped our passports with a $20 visa and blatantly pocketed the difference.
Leaving Cambodia was just as memorable. We caught a van, chalk-full of goats and grains as well as many humans, from Phnom Pehn to the Mekong River. The bus driver pointed Tate and I in the direction of a little boat on the river bank. We climbed in the boat and several hours later were told to get out to get our passports stamped because we were in Vietnam. Five weeks later we again crossed the Mekong in a little canoe to cross back into Thailand from Laos.
Years later we found ourselves in India and desperate to get to Nepal as soon as possible. We are pretty low-budget backpackers when we travel but we treated ourselves to a private, air conditioned car and driver for the 10 hour drive to the border (best $100 ever spent). Border towns are rarely the cultural hotspots in a country but this little dustbowl in Northern India was one the worst I’ve seen, just a few shacks in the middle of nowhere. After arguing with our driver, who didn’t speak one word of English, over the agreed upon cost we grabbed our bags from the trunk and headed for the little wooden shack that served as border patrol. As our driver pulled away we were told that Nepal was in a “bandh” or country-wide strike. No motor vehicles, no commerce of any kind, no internet access, no atms. After our initial shock we were able to ascertain that tourists were allowed to spend money (if they had it) and thus hotels and restaurants were more or less open. We had no choice but to cross over and join the bored and broke travelers in the tiny border town in Nepal.
These were all very memorable border crossings but not as unique and shocking as the experience of crossing from Nepal into Tibet.
It was June 2010 and at that time the only way to travel through Tibet was in a group tour sanctioned by the Chinese government (I think it’s still that way but it changes all the time). Tate and I booked our one week tour from Kathmandu and climbed on a bus with a dozen other travelers from around the world, eager to catch a view of Everest and see the people and land shrouded with history and propaganda.
At the border we were sent through metal detectors and our bodies scanned over with wands. Next, each of our belongings was picked through by hand by guards who couldn’t have been more than 18 years old. What were they looking for? Not drugs or weapons. They were looking for anything that would bring an outside perspective of Tibet into the country. This included any map and any and all information on the Dalai Lama. Yes, they ripped maps out of guidebooks if they showed Tibet as having borders between it and China. They even looked through each and every picture on peoples digital cameras and if they so much as found a picture from Dharamsala, the home of the exiled Dalai Lama, they would delete it.
Why bring this up today? Because the Dalai Lama himself is in Charlottesville at this very moment! I’m embarrassed to admit that we dropped the ball on getting tickets to his presentation but it has made me think about all the love and light that this man has brought to the world.
My favorite Dalai Lama quote is one on presence.
“When asked in an interview what surprises him most, the Dalai Lama replied, ‘Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.’ ”
I will leave you with one more quote for today.
“Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now.” -Denis Waitley