I’ve been in Nepal all of an hour when Kumar asks me what my plans are for this week. My carefully thought out answer is ” I dunno” Let’s go to my village he says, “Sounds good, when are we going?” “Tomorrow” That means getting up at five and spending eleven or twelve hours on a bus made before the invention of the wheel and never maintained since on some of crappiest roads in the world. Fantastic idea. Next morning Kumar picks me up bright and bushy tailed with a taxi full of things he needs to take down with him, including a full-sized television! This TV is the Chinese copy of some old cathode ray tube design that weighs a tonne and merits a seat on the bus. I hope it’ll make it in one piece.
Confusion reigns at Ratna Park bus station as it always does but precisely at six the bus driver starts the engine, the bus lurches forward, and we are on our way. What’s weird is that most of the seats are empty, what’s not so odd is that it doesn’t last long. Five people hop in at the first corner, then another five, and another, after ten minutes it starts feeling like a Nepalese bus ride and half an hour later when a box of chickens is loaded, and the Hindi music is cranked up to ear-splitting levels it’s confirmed I’m back in Asia!
The ride out of Kathmandu valley is pretty smooth, and then the roadworks start. The government in their wisdom and undoubtedly eying up some juicy kickbacks from roading contractors have embarked on a road widening and improvements strategy that sees what were previously serviceable roads ripped to pieces and then pretty much left as they are that you’re lucky to see one road crew staring at a drainage ditch, but you’ll be driving through seventy kilometres of potholes, washouts and rock slides for the privilege. As it’s dry season the dust clouds take on epic proportions, and everyone dons their face mask, and the driver squints his eyes to determine which pothole to hit next. People get jostled about; bags come flying out of the luggage rack, nobody escapes this ride without some bruises!
All of a sudden we come to a halt behind a row of trucks and busses. Everyone climbs out of the bus and with a few others I walk up the line to see what the hold up is. A truck carrying gravel has overheated and is blocking the traffic while waiting for the engine to cool down and for someone to fetch some water to top up the radiator. Everyone has an opinion on how to speed things up, and the driver just sits in his cab and smiles. He knows it’s going to take a while. Half an hour later the engine is deemed to have sufficiently cooled down the driver starts the truck, everyone cheers, and the radiator promptly dumps all the water out of the top vent, not quite cold enough then. Of course eventually, the truck gets restarted and lurches to the side of the road while all other traffic pushes past. It only takes ten minutes for everything to come to a dead stop again. This time it’s a rock breaker on a road widening mission. The only thing that avoids another lengthy delay is an ambulance coming from the other side.The rock breaker operator becomes a dozer driver and pushes the spoil off the side of the cliff. We squeeze through as soon as the ambulance clears the gap. Then we stop for lunch.
Everywhere else people would be spitting tacks her they just shrug their shoulders. We eat our Dal Bhat in some grotty looking joint, and it’s quite tasty. Lunch over we exit the roadworks once we go through Charikot the driver puts his foot down, and we make excellent time to Jiri averaging almost 25 kilometres an hour. Here we fill the bus full to the brim with farmers coming from the market and I end up with people hanging all over me and elbowing me in the head. Eventually, I get to have a small child in my lap and a rabbit between my feet.
It’s five in the afternoon when we finally get off the bus.
Now it’s just a question of dragging the TV up the hill, and we’re home and hosed. Luckily Kumar has this in hand and in short order a man who looks twice my age arrives, puts the enormous load on one shoulder and carries it to the house.
In the ill-fated words of Bush, the younger “Mission accomplished! “