The Day the Luggage Ran Away & Other Random Tales
Downstairs at 6am to meet the porter and eat breakfast. Considering that breakfast isn’t supposed to start till 7am and we had been told it would be a minimal breakfast it was good, scrambled egg, toast and jam, bacon and fried potatoes, washed down with black coffee. By 6:30am we we ready to leave the hotel. Our porter, Sumesh, had gone out and arranged a taxi while we were eating and bartered the price down for us. A handy guy!
At the bus station the voucher we had had to be swapped to tickets for the bus, this was achieved effortlessly. We stood out the way and Sumesh took care of it. I’m starting to like this. Some Israeli travellers weren’t having as much luck, the ticket office had rejected their bus voucher and wouldn’t convert it into tickets for the bus. Sumesh rang the ticket company then sorted out with the ticket office to get their tickets. He also sorted their seats on the bus. Very nice of him, he didn’t have to do any of that.
The bus was old but not totally dilapidated. The seats were OK and the windows had glass in. That and a working engine was good enough. We set off into the hills on a single track road. It was full of lorries and trucks and we had to stop every 30 seconds to get the two vehicles to pass, usually with only inches to spare. Even when we were moving it wasn’t at speed, probably 25kph was the fastest we went. There are many small villages hanging on to the edge of the steep valley walls and the bus kept stopping to pick up more people. There was source for about 50 people sitting and I think we had about another 20 on the roof and probably about 20 standing in the aisle. It was extremely crowded and tightly packed and the people in the middle was usually lean on the seat or hang over my seat so I’d have either sometimes arse crushing me or their arm knocking my head at every corner or bump. Personal space was an unknown concept.
Then the strangest thing, this women decided to stand next to me then put her head on the top of the seat in front of me and lean over. With her body basically leaning on me and her face almost in mine she then attempted to sleep. I was crushed. She also coughed often so I probably have some horrible disease. I couldn’t get her to move, she didn’t respond to pushing, shouting or shuffling. In fact any space given to her, even accidentally, was immediately filled as she leant over further and further. At this point the bus was also full to bursting and she now had no chance of standing up straight even if she wanted to. Finally we reached a large town and she left. In most other countries woman would sue for sexual harassment with less contact than this women had and my defence wouldn’t go down so good, “well officer, she literally put herself in my hands and wouldn’t move”.
After the stop for lunch it was more of the same. There are police and military checkpoints every so often and the bus will usually stop just before them and force everyone sitting on the roof to get into the bus, then just around the corner after the checkpoint they are allowed back on the roof. The officers manning the checkpoint must know what is going on, it’s so obvious. In addition the checkpoints are interesting, the officers will wander around the bus, some even board and take a look then get off again and we are waved through. No sniffer dogs, no detectors, no ID checks. So what are they looking for?
The bus is carrying all manner of stuff. Bags of cement, boxes of floor tiles, 50kg bags of rice are dragged on and laid in the aisle. We are also carrying three huge drums of diesel (presumably for the bus to get back to Kathmandu with), the diesel vapour is filling the bus and it stinks. By early afternoon the floor is hidden under this weighty load. On top is far more, rice, piping, metals, building materials, etc. The bus is also ram packed full with people. The woman sitting on the floor beside me has filled one sick bag and after throwing it out the door asks for another. The passengers are having difficulty balancing on the rice in the aisle and also giving the woman enough space as she sits on the floor and throws up. A woman has just sat on the guy in front of me and has not been pushed away. The woman beside me who’s standing keeps leaning on me but moves when I shove her. She turns and sits on my bag, this crushes into Annemarie and she shouts. The woman stands up again. Then she tries to sit on the arm rest of my seat, unfortunately the seats are narrow and my shoulders don’t fit next to Annemarie who is pinned against the window. The woman gives up and finds someone else to lean on.
The road then takes a turn for the worse. We have been on a single track, winding road following the edge of the mountains but always closer to the top than the bottom. We are hundreds of metres above the valley floor and the edges are near vertical for much of this. A Canadian guy sitting on the opposite side of the bus comments that if we go over the edge he can’t see far enough down to where we would stop rolling. It’s at this point we reach the landslide section. Big chunks of the hillside are missing and the rubble is strewn over the road to a depth of a couple of metres. The bus drives up into the loose stones and gravel and continues slowly. We lurch left and right and I’m very sure I felt the wheels lose traction and the bus slide towards the edge. But somehow this old and grossly overloaded bus makes it over the gravel and huge some very steep slopes where the landslide has been more severe. This continues for a few kilometres and progress is incredibly slow.
We reach Dunche (pronounced doon shay) just after 3pm. This is the last major settlement before the end of the journey. A few trekkers get off and many locals get off giving us an aisle devoid of people for the first time since we left Kathmandu. At this point the Canadian guy informed us that two goats had just been placed on the roof of the bus. It’s better than in the bus I suppose… The peace was short lived, within 100m we picked up about 10 more men. We drove off, but at the end of the town was yet another military checkpoint. All the men is the aisle got off and wandered slowly down the road, they stopped at the corner and just hung around. At the same time the military were on the roof looking around and in the bus looking at people. I wonder what they were looking for? Maybe they should try starting simple, ask the driver “Is this bus dangerously overloaded?”, or, “When was this bus last serviced?”. But no, they ignore the safety stuff and just look around. For all we know the cement or rice bags could be a cover for drugs, no-one would know… Finally the check is over and we can continue. We drive the 50m or so down the road then stop and pick up the men who got off at the checkpoint. Dodgy, very dodgy. Maybe the police should be asking them some questions?
Not long after picking these guys up there is a few bangs from on the roof. Then many people are shouting loudly and the driver slams on the brakes for an emergency stop. Everyone has their head out the window looking at what’s going on. One of the goats has fallen off the roof and is running away. Luckily (or not for the goat ) it is quickly caught and its punishment is to ride in the bus with us.
The last few kilometres into Syabrubesi are almost all downhill. We descend a few hundred metres of vertical height on switchbacks. The driver clearly trusts his brakes and doesn’t bother with the gears as we go downhill. He brakes hard into every 170° hairpin bend and doesn’t even change gear! By the bottom the brakes stink and sound like a rusty bike. But we are here, after only 9.5hrs we have travelled about 130km (~80 miles). We need to relax and eat!
Posted from Syapru Besi, Central Region, Nepal.