Kathmandu to Pokhara – The trouble with buses in Nepal…

Day 8 – Nepal 2008

The departure for Pokhara this morning wasn’t exactly a rushed affair after last night’s bevvying. We sat around cramming a pretty decent breakfast into us for a good hour before saying bye to Marco and Gille and heading off to the station with the Germans. The bus we were planning to get was called a micro-bus by the locals and turned

out to be a pretty modern looking little mini-bus, probably about 15 seats or so. It was definately a step-up from the World War II doorless relics that the locals seemed to roll around in and the driver claimed, ‘5 hours to Pokhara,’ as we bought our £3 tickets. Shorter than expected, things were looking good.

This is Asia we’re talking about though and about half an hour later the expected snag arrived. And what a snag it was. It turned out that, just the night before, the police had uncovered the bodies of two students who had been missing for weeks, suspected abducted by a group called the Young Communist League. Their bodies had been found underneath the main road which leaves Kathmandu for Pokhara and the police had closed the road for further investigation. At first we had no idea about this, all we knew of it was that the bus pulled over at the side of the road among loads of other traffic and we were told we might have to wait a little while. After an hour of sweating and swearing at the side of the road one of the locals informed us of the reason and we felt suitably po-faced. ‘Fair dos Mr Policeman’, we thought and settled down for the wait.

While pretty damn boring, and far from ideal, it actually turned out to be an alright day. We ended up wandering around the street, buying sweets in random little shops and having Chai (a really sweet, hot, ultra-milky tea) with the locals. It was the kind of place I’d be too wussy to stop and explore normally, not a tourist restaurant in sight y’see, but it was really cool to see a much more real Nepali area, locals at their business and all. It also showed us even more how ridiculously friendly real Nepali people are. Here, outside of the central tourist traps, the folk were just so happy to help, and really interested to talk to you. We went in search of a toilet at one point and a family just invited us into their house to use theirs. The gesture was marred slightly by the fact that their squat toilet was in bits, shit all up the walls and harbouring a smell that you could cut a slice of and take home in your pocket, but they didn’t seem to know better and it was preferable to pissing in the gutter infront of 200 people. We chatted to the family for a while after and when we headed back to the bus we went off with a smile on our faces. There were a couple of little Nepalese girls on our bus too whom Cat and Steff pretty much fell in love with. The rest of the wait was spent listening to an 8 year old girl trying to recite all of our names over and over again. Well, it was cute the first 15 times…

It was getting on for 5pm and we’d pretty much written off the journey, the bus driver saying that it looked likely the road wouldn’t be reopened, and could stay closed for days. We were morosely thinking about how to spend our time in Kathmandu incarceration when suddenly stuff just started moving. If there was a signal then I didn’t see it, but one minute we were all waiting, and the next it was wacky races time. We hustled back on board the bus and off we went, 6 hours into our 5 hour journey and we were moving at last!

The elation at the sudden turn-around was short lived though when it transpired that our previous bus driver was actually the Nepalese equivalent of a sunday driver. We had naievely thought that the smaller, more modern bus would perhaps be a little safer, and probably more professionally driven. An hour in though and I was dreaming of being back on our old Last Resort bus, the only dangers being impenetrable fog and blind, blind corners. Unfortunately, coming with the smaller and newer bus package is a whole lot more speed and manouverability, something which our driver, the Nepali Michael Schumacher, seemed to be enjoying a whole lot. It was bloody terrifying, and made even worse by the fact that the driver had a friend, presumably the bus that left after us, but which obviously caught us at the road block. The two played a game of chicken the whole way to Pokhara, constantly overtaking each other, blind corners and all, a blast of the horn at each the only concession to oncoming traffic.

The only thing, in fact, that saved me from browning my britches was the fact that had anything actually tried to exit from my quivering posterior it would have instantly been slammed back up there by the constant, butt-shattering pummeling we were getting from the seats. Nepalese roads aren’t exactly the best kept, and driving over them at 70mph produces one hell of a bumpy ride. Picture a tennis player, playing keepie-uppie with a ball, just hitting it up in a vertical line, again and again. Then switch the ball with a person and the racket with a bus seat and you’ve got some idea of the abuse our asses endured. 6 hours of torture later and feeling about 5 inches shorter we arrived in Pokhara. I fell from the bus in a heap, blessing the solid earth beneath me and tried to think of the next step.

It was nearly 11pm by this stage so we took a bold step and gave in to one of the 15 or so touts who had formed a scrum around the door of the bus. He gave us a price, showed us a picture and we were sold by the fact that the room didn’t look like the inside of a bus. One short taxi ride to the U&I Hotel later and we were in our room, lying on the bed and ordering banana pancakes. That was one long, long, long journey…

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