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Published: December 26th 2010
Pokhara – Its festival time you know “Inside the bus is full Nigel”
Our guide Sunil said. “Okay sure”
I replied “sure we can just wait for the next one”
. In a calm confident manner Sunil suggested something else.. “No No we go on roof...its better you know”.
In Nepal the buses have big roof racks for luggage, which are regularly used as an overflow when the bus gets full. Its not exactly comfortable...or safe....or legal for the matter, but on mountain the locals don't worry about such trivialities. Up I went and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible, putting my bag behind my back as a shock absorber, and sprawling my legs out across the metal bars. Copying my guide I sat with my back to the side of the bus against the side bar, with my arms holding onto the bar as well, so I was facing the other side of the bus, which is a mistake in my books, as I got thoroughly whacked in the side of the head by a few low lying branches I didn't see coming. At least I got a bit of free foliage for camouflage.
Its better you know
Me on the roof of our local bus
While I was sitting there doing my best to survive the hard turns on the windy mountain road back to Pokhara after the trek, mid drive I felt a hand grip my shoulder. Alarmed I whipped my head around to see the conductor who had clambered up the side of the bus like a stunt double to collect the bus fare! These lads are the unsung superheroes of the roads here doing death defying acts every minute of the day. All of it unnecessary of course, we could have just payed beforehand to save him climbing up the side of the bus.
Actually, I forgot to mention that on the trek me and the lads were on one of the most hilarious bus journeys imaginable. It started off fairly comically seeing as we had a bus driver who I would be surprised was over the age of 12 (see photo) and we had some of the liveliest passengers possible. At one stage a policeman stopped the bus, obviously even he thought a 12 year old driving the bus was a bit rich, but our conductor managed to convince him that this guy was a Wunderkind which he indeed was.
The roads in the mountain here make the death road in Bolivia look like childs play, and this kid would eat them for breakfast and ask for seconds.. please sir can I've some more. This road is made of rocks, mostly chiseled from the sheer cliff face itself, has never seen or heard of tarmac, and winds its way around some truly terrifying drops including the worlds deepest gorge! We even had to stop mid way, whilst a JCB made running repairs to the road, hacking away at the overhanging rock to lay some more rocks in the huge potholes.
Richard half jokingly, half deadly serious: “I think we're going to die”
One unforgettable section springs to mind when the bus slowed to a crawl to go through a particularly devilish section. It lay over an awesome drop and there was no margin for error. Four large staggered potholes lay consecutively in the way and the bus had to deeply enter and sway from left to right as it entered each one in turn. The bus clawed its way along each time swaying disturbingly when it entered each one. When the bus went into a deep left
pothole, Richie (who was delighted to have a window seat) was basically looking right down the deep drop below. I'll never forget that priceless look on Richies' face when he looked around at me with eyes wide open and said “I think were going to die!”
It was a definite cross your heart.. and shut your hole moment
, as Tommy Tiernan would say! All the while our conductor was holding onto the side of the bus with one hand, as usual, and he was even chatting away to his mate on the phone...!
Earlier on the bus journey, in a more relaxed flat section, an old apple farmer jumped on the bus with two big bags of apples, clearly on his way to sell them at the market. About 5 minutes up the road he realised he'd forgotten his money, and one of the friendly passengers legged it down the road to get money for him while our driver reversed as best he could. A problem for one on these buses is a problem for all and its great to see the camaraderie! During the journey passengers tried guessing the weight of the bag, accompanied by much gesturing and
JCB making running repairs
30 mins of waiting for our road to be made..
joking with the old farmer. The farmer dished out a few apples that looked delicious, and it was clear that a few of the lads were keen on buying one of the 30kg bags of apples. At one stage we stopped and we could see a big crowd around the farmer, with too young lads arguing/bartering with the old man, who was great at doing exaggerated 'this is my livelihood' gestures with his hands repeatedly thumping his chest. We were delighted with this display and watched keenly all the commotion. The lads eventually bought the bag, much to our amusement, for about 10 or 20 euros. Then, even more hilarious, some one else bought the other bag so the farmers job was done and he jumped off the bus even before he reached the market! The friendly locals gave me, Rich and Kev an apple, and they were truly scrumptious! This kind of 'always on the look our for a deal' attitude is part and parcel of everyday life in Nepal and India. Even on my way to the cafe where I'm writing this now in Delhi, someone offered me money for my laptop, and then when I jokingly refused,
Playboy of the Eastern World
Kev with the keys to his steed
he offered to trade my cables and charger for a leather jacket! Whaaatt?
Later on this funny bus journey, two men with large gas cannisters got on and plonked them down beside me. It was clear that I was duty bound to help the men restrain the cannisters from bumping around and killing everyone. Like I said a problem for one is a problem for all on these buses So even though these journeys are distinctly uncomfortable, they are enjoyable because of the experience you get with the friendly locals.
Anywhoos I was back in Pokhara to meet up with Rich and Kev, who were currently zipping around the place on motorbikes. It was also time for a shave and a thorough thumping on my back, neck and head from a hairdresser :-) Ah so nice to be back to hot water and fresh towels! The lads had rented bikes for about 7euro, of course not including insurance hehe. The next morning I decided to get a bike too, and I got a lovely 150cc 'sports' bike called the Yamaha FZ. The 'contract' entailed the guy handing me over the keys and saying you are now responsible for
the bike haha! Richie was using one of the guys personal bikes which was a span new Bajaj Pulsar with only 141 km on the odometer!! Not a chance would I give my new bike to anyone I didn't know! Funnily enough in India a month later I ended up renting a Pulsar for 2 weeks.. good old Bajaj.
The roads in Nepal are in a fairly terrible state of disrepair, and are prone to invasions of holy cows and water buffaloes. By far the most abundant hazards are the locals though..they simply don't have or don't understand the rules of the road. They will drive the wrong direction in your lane, swerve unexpectedly, merge from a minor road at top speed without even looking behind them and roundabouts are a bloody joke. They simply see them as obstacles to get around, zipping diagonally across to whichever exit they are looking for. I really don't understand why they have them if they don't tell people how to use them.
On our way out of the city Richie was on point, leading our way through the minefield of hazards, the best of which was two huge water buffalo happily
There's a number of these built by the Japanese dotted around the world, I've been to two now:-)
strolling along the middle of the main road. PUT YOUR LIVESTOCK IN FIELDS WITH FENCES YOU DOPES!!!
Water buffalo are big, dopey, happy animals that just sway their head around the place, and with a simple sway of the head they could knock us clean off or bike if they chose, and here they were just out for a stroll on the main road! Once out of the city it wasn't too bad and we raced around the place up to the peace pagoda that the lads had visited the day before. Once on the side road to the pagoda, they simply stopped tarmacking the road, and we got a free lesson in motocross. Kevin had never driven a bike before and was doing a sterling job of not killing himself on his moped:-) The peace pagoda was a nice viewing point and we surveyed the Pokhara valley, and the mountains we had just climbed around, which loomed in the distance.
We heard off some locals that another area called Sarangkot was a very nice place to get a view of the whole valley, and we were all up for a bit of a drive so decided to go
for it. Kev's moped struggled on some of the steep sections, and the roads were in a shocking state the higher up we got. Near the top Kev's moped gave up the ghost and refused to do any further uphill sections, but luckily there were none left and he could practically coast all the way back down to Pokhara once we were finished in Sarangkot:-)
The views were fairly superb up here and the sky was as usual crystal clear. Paragliders took off from a little field below us and we three stood and admired the goings on for a while in the shining sun. Pokhara valley is an impressive sight from Sarangkot, with the city and lake lying idyllically beside and partially enclosed by part of the Himalaya range. Pokhara has about 200,000 people and is similar in size to Cork, with the same refreshingly familiar laid back atmosphere. One small difference is that from where we stood we could gaze at the sumptuous peaks of Annapurna, Dhaulaghiri and Machupuchare. After a while of admiring the view we returned to Pokhara, with Kevin hilariously having to push his bike up any uphill sections we faced, much to myself
View from peace pagoda 2
the lovely Annapurnas in t he background
and Richards amusement hehe.
Kev's bike was goosed so myself and Richie went off for a tear along a lovely windy road, which the lads had driven the day before. Richard is a bike lover, and back home he owns a lovely, red 650cc Suzuki Bandit, which he misses dearly, so he was craving a bit of windy road action. I think his favourite thing in the entire world is that triangular caution sign that shows multiple twisty turns ahead:-) We raced the bikes around these roads, accelerating and braking harshly and it was great fun, if a bit dodgy at times with unexpected bumps in the road. Sure what is life but twists and turns on a bumpy, windy road.
The day before we took our guide Sunil out for a meal to say goodbye, and to thank him for all his help and guidance over the past 3 weeks. Sunil had no doubts enhanced our experience on the trek, telling us stories about the mountains and villages we passed through, and had gotten to know the three of us and shared many a laugh over card games and chess. The one thing about the guides though
is that it is in their interest to finish the trek as quickly as they can, and the trek may have been more enjoyable had we taken a few rest days to recover from illness and to acclimatise properly before undertaking Thorung La pass. Anyone thinking about doing treks here I would suggest to build at least 3 free days into their itineraries for R&R.
"Its festival time you know"
The night of our last meal with Sunil coincided with a festival, which seems to happen very often over here. The regular phrase we'd hear as an excuse for various inconveniences would be 'its festival time you know'
. Groups of kids sing and chant songs outside businesses until the owners give them some money for their party. Seems like a fun lesson in blackmail to me! Groups of kids also patrol the roads and organise little ambushes on vehicles, by blocking the roads and singing until you cough up some money for their parties. We had to run the gauntlet of a few of these as after the first two or three the novelty of these roadblocks wears off! Kev's drive head on for them at full
I do love them mountains!
speed tactic usually worked haha!
We thought about doing a safari trip for a few days, but seeing as we had no clean clothes we decided to head back to Kathmandu where we could use the time to see Mount Everest and have dinner with myself and Richards old workmates Bobby and Sujan, which was a great experience in itself.
So rested and freshly shaven we once again decided to brave the 8 hour local bus to Kathmandu.. Its better you know! Oh but wait.. Its festival time you know...........
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