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Nepal 2014

Day 1. Kathmandu to Shivalaya (via Jiri) by bus. 4/2014

NEPAL | Saturday, 31 May 2014 | Views [5345] | Comments [1]

On the map the road to Shivalaya winds east and north from Kathmandu approximately 220 km. Look closely and you'll see hairpins and switchbacks, but these gross changes of direction only hint at the true nature of the road. It should also be marked with health and hazard warnings and strong cautions to those of delicate disposition as it will severely test the most seasoned traveller.

We caught the 8.00 from the old bus station somewhat apprehensively as no one could give us an ETA. "6 to 12 hours" we were told. We quickly found out why: after a promising start, 20km out of the city it became a narrow, poorly maintained, potholed roller coaster track.

From the moment we left the bus station we were treated to a continuous pounding in relentless 4:4 time of Nepali/ Hindi Bollywood-style, boy-girl, call-answer love songs punctuated by boisterous choruses and enthusiastic percussion. I never realized that these ballads go on (and on and on) for a good 15 minutes at a time, enough to try your patience, but... They quickly became the least troublesome hazard of the journey. Your attention became rigidly focused on preventing blunt trauma to skull and shins, crushed vertebrae, bruised organs and internal hemorrhage.

No-one told us the best seats are nearest the front. Logic says if you don't want to be scared to death, don't want to watch the driver on his mobile or look at the road ahead, sit at the back. But the nearer you are to the back axle, the worse the ride. The Indian-made Mahindra bus had obviously been proven tough and proved again to be so. It was not going to be cowed by a few axle-breaking holes and adverse cambers. It was going to teach the road a lesson. Bumps became spine jarring kicks in the coccyx, and potholes launched us into the broken overhead console, broken, it seems by skull impacts. The seats were steeply inclined; deliberately I believe, because if I'd been seated vertically I would have been compressed several inches shorter. 

All seats were filled but nevertheless the bus stopped frequently to take on passengers. At one point 2 families totaling 13 people boarded the already standing-room filled bus. Youngsters were told to give up their seats to elders and the journey continued with passengers 2 and 3 to a seat, seated on luggage stacked in the aisles, patiently cross-legged on the floor or standing. Mothers nursed their infants, elders dozed and others cheerfully chatted.

A constant thought I'll confess is "What if the brakes fail?" They ground and juddered violently much of the time as the driver wrestled for control. Occasionally a steep downhill would have a run-off lane for vehicle brake failures terminating in a pile of sand to arrest the wayward vehicle. Or were they the site of mass graves? I couldn't decide.

I will never again complain about air turbulence. This was worse than the worst you could possibly imagine, plus sudden stops that threw you into the seat in front, near collisions with- and squeezing by other overloaded vehicles on broken road edges with precipitous drops. Sick bags were regularly passed around and filled. And the saxophone-riff horn was in constant use. 

And through this all, the Nepalis travelled calmly and cheerfully. No one complained about being evicted from their paid-for seats, the wounds received or their lunch vomited into a blue plastic bag and dropped out of a window. 

Ten and a half hours later we arrived to a cheerful solo on the horn and found lodging for the night. My pedometer recorded 46,657 bumps for the ride. We were beaten up and exhausted and quickly faded into nightmares of death by blunt instrument.

But what about our bus driver? What an incredible feat of mastery to manage that heaving beast all day, and the next morning from 5.30am we could hear his cheerful horn riff inviting passengers to join him and Mahindra in teaching the road more painful lessons in dominance on the return leg to Kathmandu.  

Nothing will ever induce me to join him!


As an aside, it would be entertaining to see a full 32-seat bus of Western travelers having to share their space with twice that number of strangers on an autobahn, never mind on that punishing road. We have much to learn from the Nepalis.


Tags: bus to jiri, everest base camp, kathmandu, shivalaya




Loved reading your account - I walked to base camp from Jiri in 2013 with the Jiri to Namche walk by far the best part. I loved the bus ride. We (the only westerners) were given pride of place seats behind the driver. As the bus left Kathmandu it stopped every 5 mins and more and more people got on. Nobody would sit at the back - spooky ? We couldnt move there were people and what appeared to be all their worldly goods including a box full of live hens, piled high in the front few rows and as you pointed out the Nepali music was full blast all the way. It was stinking hot but everyone was having a great time. The only break we got was the police checkpoints. The locals parted to let us out and sign in then help us back to our priveleged seats at the front.

  Mike Jan 20, 2015 3:37 PM

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