Sunday, January 06, 2008

Buses in Nepal

Nepal has no trains, so to get between cities, you have to take the bus. They leave very regularly (every few minutes) to local destinations, but can take two hours to cover 30km as they make continual stops.

We would arrive at the local bus park, ask for our destination and be shown to an empty bus. A few minutes later, the driver gets on, starts up the bus and starts honking (bus horns sound like clown horns). The bus does not begin to fill up until it starts to move, when suddenly people rush up and jump on board. The bus seats quickly fill up, but the driver keeps stopping for more people. The whole journey is cramped, often draughty and very loud (bus horns are loud - louder even than the ambulance sirens). If the inside of the bus is completely full, people climb up and ride on the roof. As we were often the first people on the bus (we always headed to the bus park to start our journeys), we thought we would never have to do that...

We were just getting comfortable in our seats on the bus from Chitwan to Lumbini, when the bus stopped. The road was being blocked by a local village, as a toddler had just been struck and killed by a bus about a kilometer up the road. The villagers would block the road for several hours, to try to arrange compensation for the family. After about three hours, our bus driver negotiated a solution - we would walk past the blockade and board another bus for the rest of the journey.

However, it seems several other drivers also negotiated this deal - with the same ongoing bus. It was full. As there were no other buses leaving, we had to ride on the roof. As tourists, we were given priority and allowed to sit at the back, as opposed to on top of the pile of luggage at the front of the roof rack. The back was less comfortable (directly on the metal rack), but felt much safer. In the end, about twenty people rode on the roof - including several young children - for about three hours. We realized more than ever how reckless the drivers are, swerving in and out of their lane and constantly accelerating or slamming on the brakes. An experience we hope never to repeat!

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