The road to Pokhara is a bumpy one. A supposedly eight hour journey from the heart of Kathmandu to the mountainous, second-largest Nepali city, puts your nerves to the test. Winding gravel roads, hugging the mountain sides with mere inches to spare between two lanes of traffic and a vertical drop. The line of twenty some odd buses leave promptly at 8am each morning. A “tour bus” labeled with a ‘free wifi!’ sticker on the side (no such thing) carries Nepali nationals, experienced climbers, ameture trekkers, novice hikers, and us, through the hectic streets of Nepal’s capital.
It is an hour before we approach the outskirts of the city. We work through commuters, salespeople, and cows on the dirt road that kicks up a storm of dust and grime. My catnap abruptly ceases when our vehicle glides into a large pothole and the entire bus seems to be moving at side angle. We were all sure it was going to flip. We were pretty sure the bus was going to flip the entire time. Thankfully, it didn’t and the result is this fancy little article y’all are reading!
The scenery between Kathmandu and Pokhara is nothing short of spectacular. Rolling hills covered in manmade terraces line the way. Farmers and livestock alike tend to the areas full of vegetation. We notice a significant change in the lushness as we venture further northeast. A river follows us, although it is mostly dried up and will not return to full flow for several more weeks. Large boulders sit on the river edge and children playfully float on tubes gripping at each other and paddling through the current.
The bus was sure to make plenty of stops, not only for toilet and food, but it seemed like for Nepali people to take short trips from city side to countryside. We let off thrill seeking travelers along the way, those who signed up for rafting adventures, ziplining, and the like. Which is ok by me, because my friends and I all ended up with rows of our own. I tenderly curled my body into the most comfortable contorted position I could and dove into the book. The book entitled, “The Voice of Knowledge”. A feat that I had been told to read several times and was finally given the chance to, seeing that I can read on buses and had an extended period of time in which to do so. The book is short, a mere 150 or so pages, but it is so insightful and exactly the read I needed.
I don’t want to give away the details, because honestly I think everyone should read and interpret the book for themselves. But the reading and the journey helped me to come to some much needed realizations. It helped me to relieve my anxiety about the obviously unsafe roads, and dive deep into my soul. I mean the pitstop spliffs probably helped with that too. But, my travels took on new, more profound meaning during that trip to Pokhara and during my stay there too.
The more exciting part of the story was on the way back from Pokhara. Yes, we did that bus ride twice. No, this one was not any better. On a bus that leaves at 7:30am, one can do some simple math to say, “Hey, we should get in around 3:30pm to Kathmandu.” False. We did not get to Kathmandu at 3:30pm, nor any time relatively close to that. The road to Kathmandu, I’ll tell ya…what a trickster.
All began normally, we purchased pastries at the dust ridden bus station and found our seats on the brightly colored bus. This time beginning in our own rows because apparently people aren’t trying to get back to Kathmandu in any hurry. We stopped for breakfast and a toilet break, but about 3 hours into the ride, our bus stopped. It stopped in the road. The same road with the vertical drop staring right at me. It stopped on an incline, with traffic from both sides passing it, somehow. It stopped for an hour. The bus driver and his helper were both outside the vehicle looking at the engine, determining the problem. We sat patiently in our seats, as we have been on many buses before that broke down. It happens. A man comes from down the road with some sort of car part. I internally praise him and think, ‘Wow, thankfully this bus has AC and it isn’t super hot out’. We begin our journey again.
Pshhhhhh. The bus stops again. This time on the side of the road in a small pitstop area. We are stopped for thirty some minutes before the driver tries to start the engine again. Aha! It starts. We slowly pud along, while cartoon like horns beep at us to get by. I can’t help but laugh every time I hear it loudly blaring. We stop again, just for a moment but the atmosphere on the bus changes. A haze of aggravation and impatience begin to take over, with instant relief when the engine purrs again.
A fourth time. This is when we see the Nepali people slowly disembarking and finding other modes of transportation. An old woman and her granddaughter, who have been so incredibly patient and well behaved up until this point begin to shake their heads and look at us with a shrug of the shoulders. Thankfully, we have stopped at a normal bus pit stop and there are toilets, a restaurant and snack shack. I gravity immediately over to the snack shack that carried a treat I have been noticing on the roads for days. A cucumber sliced down the vertical center and smothered in a green jalapeno spicy sauce. A revelation, to be honest. The jazzy flavor took any angst out of my mind and replaced it with instant pleasure.
We waited. We waited a while. Finally, we all decided enough was enough and we gathered out items from the bus and stood by the side of the road waiting for van to pick us up. It was a really funny sight, a line of foreigners with huge backpacks in the middle of nowhere. A van picked us up, surprisingly quick. Seven foreigners, and fifteen Nepalese, and counting. The van was even more dangerous than the bus, playing chicken with oncoming traffic. All I could do was laugh as I became airborne. The old man sitting next to me, spoke to us and we all laughed in confusion. He asked for my water, which I gladly gave him just because he was awesome.
An hour later we arrived in the city, at a bus station that was totally unfamiliar to us. So we hopped in a taxi and took the thirty minute, bumper to bumper ride to our hostel.
It was 9:30pm when we arrived at our hostel. After thirteen hours of travel, we made it- and in one piece. The road to Pokhara cost us a total of twenty one hours and sixteen dollars.