On the buses
17.10.2016 - 25.10.2016 27 °C
Back in Nepal to spend more time at the village school, I’ve decided to base myself in Pokhara and commute each day. There were many different considerations, and it’s a decision not taken lightly, least of all because of the logistics of transportation. Upon arrival in Pokhara towards the end of the Dashain festival, a high priority was to come to grips with the local bus system before I was due at school.
Of course, I had done the trip a few times in both directions on my last visit to the area, but never unescorted. So I knew I had to take a short ride around the lake to the Siddhartha Highway and change over to the Bhumdi bus; but where and at what time? The plan for Day 1 was to simply arrive at the bus-stop in good time and ask the ‘conductor’ on every likely bus, if they were going to Bhumdi. It worked! I had to wait a long time, but eventually the question was answered with a nod rather than a shake, and I was on my way.
Now it’s been a week and a half and the bus journey has become almost second nature. It’s far from comfortable, but I still look forward to it every day – all part of the adventure.
The first leg around the lake to Birauta is so brief it’s barely worth mentioning. But Birauta itself is full of noise and colour. It’s a major intersection controlled by a roundabout, and there’s a large tree at the bus-stop throwing shade for waiting passengers, fruit vendors, shoe repairers and the odd calf that might be hanging around. Nobody but the pedestrians takes notice of the pedestrian crossing.
While I wait I am startled almost every time by the arrival of an aeroplane flying very low over the surrounding buildings as it comes in to land at the nearby airport. Meanwhile at road-level, the buses come careening around the roundabout and screech to a stop, with the conductors hanging out the door, shouting the destination like rapid-fire. You have to be quick to step up to the door, or else they are already pulling away from the kerb.
Since that first day I’ve come to recognise some basic characteristics of the Bhumdi bus, and have even guessed accurately a couple of times. It’s pretty much always green, quite high off the ground, medium-sized and, most telling of all, it’s the party bus! The blaring music and over-the-top decorations are a dead giveaway.
For about 20 minutes we climb out of the Pokhara valley, heading south on the more-or-less sealed highway. People get on and off, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. At times it seems as though they step over the side of the hill into thin air, but I can only assume there is a steep path that I can’t see from the bus.
Then we hit the Pumdi-Bhumdi Road and everything changes. With steep, bumpy hairpin bends all the way up the mountain, it’s a slow, bone-and-bladder-rattling ride. But with any luck it only takes another 15-20 minutes to get to the school, and the upside is the stunning rural scenery along the way. The longest journey so far has taken a little over an hour, due to not just one but two roadblocks on this last stretch of road. Guess who was late for class?