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Weird & Wonderful Nepal - Part I

When you travel between cities and villages in Nepal, the local bus network is the most reliable way to travel. There are a number of bus parks in Kathmandu that serve as hubs for different routes. Here you’ll get on the required bus, which will leave at fairly regular intervals, but not at all according to any fixed or adhered-to schedule. The seats are designed with the physique of the average Nepali in mind: about 10cm shorter and with legs much shorter than the average South African’s, and a seat width that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of pear-shaped individuals at all.

The bus might not be 100% full when you leave, but don’t be fooled by the initial façade of personal space. The bus stops as frequently as possible to gather more passengers into its seats. Sometimes it stops for long periods of time waiting for more passengers. No-one is hurried and there is no haste or impatience discernible in the countenances of your fellow travelers, only a calm resignation that the journey will start sometime and end sometime after that. Soon the interior of the bus is filled to the brim with passengers sitting and standing, far beyond the safety capacity of the vehicle. Yet as you start travelling, the bus driver will not miss an opportunity to gather another 20 or 50 or 60 Rupees when there appears a new passenger by the roadside.

Now, to get to your final destination, it might be necessary for your to change to a different bus en route. This is usually where the real fun starts. When you disembark from the first bus and get in the next, you will find that you’ll have to wait even longer for this one to start on its journey. The reason is quite simply that this bus carries not only passengers, but cargo as well. Bear in mind that it has no cargo hold. It isn’t towing a trailer. There is only two places for the cargo to go: on the roof and in the aisle between the seats. Because much of the central and northern parts of Nepal is reached via narrow, winding roads cut into mountains (excuse me, hills) so steep it might as well be considered cliffs, where very few people have access to their own vehicles, buses bring every imaginable kind of household item to them. Usually bags of rice and other grains are packed so high that you have difficulty reaching the door when you have to disembark. Bottles of household gas, electronic goods and many other items travel with you to some unknown destination deep in the countryside. Eventually it will ease someone’s life in one way or another, but today, on this bus, you will not experience comfort.

What you will experience, is a mixture of interactions with your fellow travelers. Some will scowl at you from their seats. Others might ask you why you are on the bus, where you are going, who you are going to meet and what you are going to do there. Some of these will be suspicious of you, but others will welcome you and start a conversation. Many kind people will help you find your stop and offer you a seat, while others will make rude jokes from their seats about the foreigner’s inability to enjoy a 4 hour journey standing on one foot in a rocking bus because her ankle is injured.In a word, you get the same mixed crowd on these buses as you might in other parts of the world.

Special credit is reserved for the jump boys. They work tirelessly from the start to the end of the journey, helping passengers with their luggage, climbing onto the roof of the bus and back inside (whether it’s stationary or moving), loading and unloading cargo, and basically hanging outside the bus when it gets too full, in order to ensure that every last passengers fits in the bus.

When the bus capacity reaches a point where the passengers start to feel crowded, some will get on the roof and enjoy the rest of the journey in the fresh air. Of course, that’s not a smooth journey either, but many prefer fresh air and sitting to stale air and standing. To my dismay, it remains one of That-Man’s ambitions to take his turn on the roof of one of these buses someday, and though i encourage many of his ambitions, this one is on my squelch-if-you-can list.

This is my conclusion about bus transport in Nepal: It’s not for the faint of heart, stomach, back or knee, and definitely not for someone in a hurry, but it’s still the most affordable public transport option, as well as an authentic Nepali experience for those who prefer to do what the locals do when they travel. In the end, you haven’t really experienced Nepal if you haven’t traveled by bus.

Someday i might just gather enough courage to tell you about the motorbikes . . .

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