Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nepal border to Kathmandu

Through the grimy window, looking out at the shacks clinging to the mountainside.

After crossing the Friendship Bridge which links Tibet to Nepal we walked down into the border town of Kodari. Sometimes borders don't make sense, someone in a palace somewhere drawing a line on a map. Other times, it is very clear. The immediate difference was felt by us as we entered Nepal. It was night and day. The pristine, strict Chinese border police made us go through several checks but on the Nepali side we walked around and had to seek out the visa office. In the room, very friendly older men, dressed in normal clothes helped us fill out the visa forms and pointed us in the direction of the bus to Kathmandu.

When travelling you learn a lot of lessons by doing things wrong the first time. And you say to yourself, 'ok, next time we'll do it differently'. Unfortunately some decisions are more complex. Take, for example, the trip from Kodari to Kathmandu. All we knew ahead of time was that there were 2 ways to get to Kathmandu: a private 4wd taxi or a bus. The first option being ten times more expensive.  So we opted for the bus, which was supposed to take around four and a half hours.

We bought the tickets from a bunch of teen agers that were working the bus stand. And they pointed to the bus that would be ours and said that it would leave at 11:30. Great. I look at my watch, it's 9am. Ok, fine. So we waited the two and a half hours. In the fifteen minutes before the bus left it filled to capacity and then well beyond capacity. Some seats, meant to fit 2 people holding 3 or 4 adult men. Then the aisle also filled with standing passengers. Then there was the roof. We saw at least a dozen young men clambering atop the bus to sit among the bags strapped above. Fortunately we had a seat with the correct number of people in it. Unfortunately we thought it'd be best to keep our bags on our laps.

The bus chugged forward, careening down the mountainside on mostly dirt roads. Adding to an already uncomfortable arrangement the window was open and soon my face was covered with a film of dust and my mouth was gritty. For hours, on one side or the other, there was a sheer drop down into a valley. The driver, not much older that the teenagers that sold us the tickets, drove wildly on down the cliffside road. It seriously took me nearly three hours until I remembered that cars drove on the other side of the road in Nepal. The bus would stop what seemed like every five minutes dropping off or picking up a passenger. Then it would stop at a police checkpoint, where an officer would come aboard, squeezing down the aisle to inspect the scene. To make the trip even more harrowing, this is a heavily travelled truck route, bringing goods to Nepal from China. (Bree says it was even scarier than Death Road in Bolivia).

The 4 1/2 hour trip turned into a 6 hour trip. The sun set and finally we saw Kathmandu. We had to get on another bus that we were told would take us to Thamel, the backpacker hub where our hotel was. It may have, but when we got off we had to get a taxi to really get to the hotel, which was a sight for sore eyes at 8pm. We immediately dropped our bags and went out to reward ourselves with pizza and beer.

All of this might seem like it was an awful time. It wasn't comfortable, true. But long, somewhat torturous days are few and far between and it all makes you appreciate the relaxing times more. You know that saying 'the journey is the destination', why can't it be both the journey and the destination? Or a series or journeys and destinations. All strung together and adding up to make something bigger. Anyway, the pizza and beer that night tasted like heaven.

- Matt