Ready for adventure? If you've come all the way to Nepal, then chances are the answer is yes. The lure of the highest mountains on Earth draws huge numbers of thrill-seeking travelers to this small mountainous land. But you don't need to climb Everest if excitement is what you're after. Just hop on a local bus. Challenging topography has played a big part in hampering the creation of roads and other infrastructure in this rugged country. In fact, the latest UN report cites Nepal as the second-least developed nation on Earth outside of Africa. So, expect some harrowing journeys that might leave you questioning why you ever left home. But you didn't come here to be comfortable, did you? With this in mind, I've compiled the following list of tips for surviving a long ride on a Nepali bus. Let the adventure begin...
- Remember: patience is a virtue. Be prepared to wonder if it would have been faster to walk to your destination than to take a bus. Local buses will seemingly spend more time stopping to exchange passengers than actually moving. My first two long bus journeys covered a combined 400 kilometers (250 miles), but took over 18 hours put together, averaging just 22km/hour (less than 14 miles per hour!) Be patient, you'll get there eventually!
- Don't be deceived by appearances. Your bus may appear to be on its final trip before heading off to the junkyard, but I assure you, somehow it will get you to where you need to go!
- Just because the writing on the outside of the bus boldly proclaims "DVD Coach", "Video Coach", or any similar designation, don't expect televised entertainment inside. In fact, there almost surely will be none!
- Choose your seat wisely. Don't sit in the far back of the bus, especially if the road is exceedingly rough. Your bus may not have functioning shocks, and if you sit in the rear, every jolt will threaten to launch you from your seat and into the ceiling.
- Before picking your seat, check the cushion to make sure nothing sharp is exposed. I spent one painful ride getting jabbed in the behind after every (jarringly frequent) bump!
- Look if you dare. You will go by some of the most spectacular mountainous scenery on the planet, but it will be difficult to appreciate it. The bus ride will likely be so rough that all of your energy will be devoted to just staying seated. Alternatively, you could just give in and be tossed around like a rag-doll in your seat, like one passenger in this video vividly demonstrates:
- Try not to look out of the front window during the journey. Buses will attempt to pass other vehicles in situations considered suicidal by western standards. There's nothing you can do about it, so it's better if you don't even look. Trust me.
- Become accustomed to hearing constant honking from your driver as well as other vehicles. This is not an expression of anger. They're just signalling their presence to other motorists. In fact, it's also a macho thing; Nepalese males think you aren't a true man if you don't honk! "Push horn!"
- Think fast. Drink and eat sparingly for two or three hours leading up to the journey. Unless you're on a tourist bus, it's very possible that the coach won't make any planned stops for food or bathroom breaks. And if you're seated near the back, it will require tremendous effort to push your way to the front through the overstuffed vehicle, hop off the bus, find a place to relieve yourself, and rush back before you are left behind!
- Prepare to get cozy with your neighbors. Be warned: the bus will likely not be considered full until every single cubic inch of volume is occupied, including the aisles, the roof, and any available space for someone to dangle out of the open door.
- Weak stomachs need not apply. Rough roads, snaking turns, and high altitude are a recipe for nausea. Try to distract yourself if a nearby passenger begins vomiting, and bring a plastic bag if you're afraid you will do the same!
- Remember that special Nepali pastime when taking the window seat. Sit next to the window if you want to view the stunning countryside. But don't open the window while sitting next to a local if you're not prepared for them to spit over your shoulder. Spitting is not considered rude in Nepal, and is practically a national pastime practiced by all: young, old, male and female. Sometimes passengers may even spit in the aisle of the bus!
- You shall overcome. The bumpy, rock-strewn "road" in front of you may look traversable only by Jeep, but you will find that this is not true. Your bus can do it too!
- Try riding high. For the best views, try riding on top of the bus. But bring something soft to sit on as the metal rails of the roof rack are definitely not ergonomically designed. And hold on tight when you come up to a curve; it's a long way down that thar mountain!
- Don't forget: it could be worse. If you feel too cramped for comfort during your journey, just remember that it could be worse. You could be squeezed into a Safa Tempo, the tiny Nepali-made vehicle that serves as inner-city public transport.
- Be careful: pork will seek its revenge. Take every opportunity to relieve the tension of the uncomfortable ride. For example, go ahead and laugh at the curious farm animals that may approach you at rural bus stops. Just don't let the hungry pigs bite!
- Open up and engage the person sitting next to you. Nepalis are some of the friendliest people in the world and many speak good English. On one trip I discovered that the man at my side was a Sherpa (an ethnic group famed for their high altitude exploits) who had climbed Mt. Everest nine times!
|With Jangbu Sherpa, scourge of Everest|
- If you get stuck for hours, don't anger the gods by becoming upset. Nepal's roads are some of the most dangerous in the world, and it's quite possible that a fatal accident has occurred up ahead. One bus trip of mine was delayed for nearly three hours due to the death of two motorcyclists.
- Shiva will protect you. Think your luck has finally run out and you will not survive this harrowing journey? Have no fear! The God Shiva, artfully painted on the front of your bus, will ensure your safe passage. Wait a minute, isn't Shiva the God of Destruction? Hmm, better that you didn't know that. You'll be fine.
So there you have it! You are now prepared for the exciting world of travel within Nepal. And if you find yourself squeezed on an overcrowded bus, fighting motion-sickness, and cursing the decision not to fly to your destination, just remember how great a story you'll have to share when you get home. No one will ever again have grounds to question your bravery.