After what turned into a raucous night, with that ‘last day of term’ feel, crews were up early and ready for the off as instructed this morning.
‘Action’ Mac Mackenny got the cars into formation for the journey to the first military checkpoint. After some jostling, the crews were through the first barrier and headed for the Tibetan border.
On the way, the gorge was awakening with birds singing and wild monkeys and pine martens jumping into the trees – which were a novelty to see in themselves. We descended 1000m in less than 20 mins. A sudden burst of dust alerted us to a landslide further up the pass, focusing the drivers as they avoided the rocks on the road.
Once at the grand building of the Tibetan/Chinese border, the unavoidable waiting time began. This border crossing only opened as an international border pass for foreigners in September 2017 after the Nepalese earthquake of 2015, which closed the roads to the old pass of Zhangmu.
Just an hour later, the co-drivers and support crews walked over the rickety bridge into Nepal after an emotional goodbye with Tom, Jimmi and the Navo Tours team. Thank you for looking after us.
The contrast across the bridge couldn’t be more different, with the concrete statement building replaced by a simple tin shed.
Once our passport details had been registered, it was a precarious bus ride down the mountain to immigration and a wait for the cars and drivers to appear.
As the cars were driven to immigration, the Carnets were collected and the waiting game started again, this time with tea and coffee served at a nearby hotel.
A flurry of engines over an hour or so later, and the rally was on its way… to another checkpoint.
When we finally got underway proper, the road took many twists and turns with the terrain differing between rough tarmac to rutted tracks as wenegotiated the four passes to Kathmandu.
Up and down the mountains, through Lantang National Park, famous for its snow leopards, and small hillside villages where the children were returning from school. They waved in delight at the 15 classic and vintage cars and crews making a sudden appearance in their lives.
Because of the rough roads, the rally reformed its convoy. While the Banisters in the advance car went ahead, Liz Wenman lead the main pack through numerous police and military check points.
Despite reassurances from our Nepalese agents, the roads got worse and worse, much more deteriorated than we’d been advised. Hours flew by and the sun started to set as we inched nearer to Kathmandu.
The pack separated into the eleven cars at the front with Liz and three cars bringing up the rear, with the Collins’ Mk2 Jaguar suffering cooling fan difficulties and the low-slung XK150 and Mercedes 280SL struggling to keep up as its tried to navigate the rough roads.
As we approached the finish line, well into the evening, Car 11, the Rolls Royce of James Hall-Smith and Ed Talbot, and Car 2, David and Julia Little’s Bentley Super Sports, both lost their headlights so relied on the vehicle in front and a hand-held torch to illuminate their way.
As the road smoothed out, the hundreds of trucks driving out of the city suddenly appeared on the roads, proving even more troublesome than the terrain.
When we finally arrived at the Yak and Yeti Hotel, there was a rush of tears and beers as we waited for the final crews to arrive.
At just before midnight, the final crews arrived and there were hugs all round. We’d done it! The first group of westerners to drive up and over the Himalayas, from Chengdu to Kathmandu.