On the run to Kathmandu

Sunauli Travel Blog

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The bus to Kathmandu is due to leave Delhi at 11am. I assume that means 11am "Indian time" and turn up at noon. The travel agent stares sternly at me over his desk.

"You're late," he tells me. "One hour late."

"I know" I say. "I'm very sorry."

He sighs deeply at the irresponsibility of youth. "You are lucky" he says. "Bus also late. Wait here."

At 2pm we are still waiting. I make friends with the two English girls also waiting for the bus. They seem nice, though rather square. They keep saying things like "when I was your age..." and "I'm a bit old for that now". They are 27. It depresses me. I get so bored I go to smoke bongs in the toilet, and somehow manage to disconnect the pipe leading to the toilet cistern, spraying water everywhere. The pipe twists like a snake as I try to stop the water and I can't grab onto it. Finally I stumble out, dripping wet and very stoned, and scream to everyone in the waiting area - "THE TOILET TRIED TO KILL ME!!"

This promising beginning pretty much sets the pattern for the rest of the journey.

At about 2.30, a rickshaw shows up to drive us to the bus station. He drives for about half an hour until we are completely out of Delhi, and finally pulls up in the middle of a field.

"Oh" he says, in a tone of greatest surprise and concern. "Bus not here."

He thinks deeply, brow furrowed in concentration for a minute or so, then in a sudden flash of inspiration leaps up, drives back into the outskirts of Delhi, and stops at the bus station. "Bus!" he announces, beaming with pride. We thank him and pay him. "No tip?" he asks sadly. "I drive long way."

It is nearly 5 by the time the bus leaves. It is scorchingly hot and there are at least 50% more people on the bus than seats. They are packed all down the aisle, and there's a family of about 6 squashed into the drivers compartment. Do they really intend to sit like this all the way to Kathmandu I wonder? Finally we get moving, and the breath of air on my face perks me up a little. The hassle of the last few hours is over, and in 24 hours I'll be in Kathmandu. This is what I think. This is what I hope.

We've  been driving about 4 hours when there is a loud bump. A few minutes later we stop "for dinner". "One hour," they tell us. An hour later, we go back to the bus. It now only has 3 wheels. "One hour," they tell us. Another hour later they say exactly the same. Fuck it, I think. I'll have a quick nap on the grass now - make the most of being able to lie down. They can wake me up when the manage to fix the bus, and hopefully I'll be so groggy I'll be able to get back to sleep again in my seat. By the time I wake up I'll nearly be in Nepal.

I wake up on the grass at sunrise. The bus still has 3 wheels. "One hour," they tell me.

At 9am we're finally moving again. By noon I'm almost dying of heat. The wind in my face does no good whatsoever - it's about as refreshing as sticking a hairdryer down my throat. I'm dying for water, but although we make frequent stops, none of them are anywhere with any shops. Or toilets. Or anything at all. I feel like crying as I see shop after shop roll past me - so near yet so far. Finally we stop at a shop. It deals exclusively in brightly coloured woven animals in various sizes. No water at all.

"Jesus," I say to the English girls, "why the fuck are we here? Of all fucking things, why the hell would anyone on this bus want a brightly coloured woven animal right now? We can barely breathe in there as it is."

When we get back on the bus, every possible space is now occupied by an animal. It takes me 5 minutes to climb over them all just to get to my seat. I can't decide whether to laugh or cry.

We reach the Sunauli border about 8.10pm. It closes at 8. We are now stuck here another night - and by the next morning I am officially illegally present in India. Luckily, none of the officials on the border notice. Nor do they notice that the contents of my handbag is 2 different kinds of charas, one bag of weed, a pack of cigarettes, 2 chillums, one bong, and "The Howard Marks Book of Dope Stories". I can't help but wonder why they bother having a border at all.

The first thing that happens on crossing the border is I'm grabbed by some little Nepali guy who looks like he's been doing smack since the age of 10. He drags me into some little shed and locks the door. "Want charas?" he asks. "I have good one. Cheap and best. You not find this quality anywhere else."

"Man," I tell him, "I've just come from Paravati valley."

He stares down at the charas in his hand, then back up at me.

"Paravati?" he asks incredulously. "Can I buy some?"

At a cafe on the border, I meet an old American guy who's been living in India for the last 5 years. He tells me about crossing the Khyber Pass in the 70s, and sleeping rough round India for 3 years. He instantly becomes my new hero.

On the other side of the border, the road is being repaired. We grind for half an hour over the dustiest dirt track imaginable. We can't open the windows without choking, and by the time we get back to tarmac the bus is like an oven. Even the Nepalis are sweating. I feel better now though, because at least we've finally got to Nepal. People start getting off in their home villages, and soon there are even free seats. I spread myself over two and stare out the window.

Nepal looks nothing like I expected at all. Somehow I imagined that the second we crossed the border I'd be seeing snow-capped mountains, but instead all I see is vast amounts of red dust. As we head north the scenery gets more hilly, but not like the forested hills of north India. It reminds me more of some bits of Turkey - a lot of dusty red rocks and scrubby vegetation. But as we climb, the terraced red hills get more and more impressive, dropping dramatically to the fast-flowing river below. Finally, I start to get excited.

We are held up in traffic for 3 hours coming into Kathmandu, but even this doesn't have the power to piss me off any more. After the shear hell of the journey, I don't even have the energy to care. Finally, FINALLY, long after dark, we grind to a stop. I say goodbye to the English girls, the constantly smiling Nepali man who looks like an overgrown teddy bear, and the gorgeous Nepali guy who works on the bus. He's about to turn round and do the journey straight back to Delhi. I wonder how he's not suicidal by now.

I get a rickshaw to Thamel, exhausted but happy. It's been a gruelling 55 hours, but that's all the past now. I am in Kathmandu.

Saladin79 says:
This is a very amusing story. Great descriptions too. Sounds like India is a whole different world to the rest of Asia.
Posted on: May 30, 2008
Ape says:
The joys of travelling! Nice story!
Posted on: May 23, 2008
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