April 29, 2012

#Nepal #travelogue part 5: driving to Pokhara

This is the fifth of several posts about our recent totally awesome family vacation to Nepal. We worked with the fabulous folks at Geographic Expeditions to plan and book the trip.

After breakfast, we drove out of Chitwan to Meghouli airport again, where we met our driver that was to take us to Pokhara. A nice, big minivan with comfortable seats--seems to be the standard issue for Geographic Expedition drivers in Nepal.

The drive was expected to take about four hours, and on a map it looks a little more than 100 miles perhaps. That seemed a slow pace to us since we regularly drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas (550 miles) in under 10 hours. Right away we found out why travel is so slow in Nepal: The dirt tracks in Chitwan are often better driving surfaces than the paved roads in Nepalese villages.

Driving in cities and villages in Nepal is an exciting experience because the roads are dreadfully crowded with cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, motorbikes, rickshaws, and cows. It seems drivers spend more time honking and passing than they do in their normal lane of travel. But it doesn't feel dangerous in a city because you can't go more than 15 miles per hour at any given moment. A head-on collision will prove more of an annoyance than a danger.

The highways, however, are another matter.

First, "highway" is a generous term. Mostly these are what Americans and Brits would consider regular country roads, though not as well paved and far more crowded. Second, these highways are populated with regular cars, motorbikes, cargo trucks, and buses. The cargo trucks crawl along but are generally very courteous about giving way and letting faster cars pass.

The buses, however, are not much more than speeding death machines. Big and bulky, they are typically packed to the ceiling (and sometimes beyond) with people. Younger men often hang off the sides, holding on to the door handle. Within cities (not so much on the highways), it's common to see a dozen or more people riding on the top of the bus.

Buses are the only transportation many Nepalese have in rural areas.

View through the driver's window of a rural village.

And another.

This bus isn't following us... it's coming at us. Um, yeah. Which side of the road do you want?

This might be Bharatpur, I'm not sure.
Cities like this were few and far between, but they were busy and crowded and dusty, just like Kathmandu.

Coming up on a truck and getting ready to pass.

Another truck at some "welcome to town" sign.

Worse, the bus drivers are certifiably insane. They drive fast, pass on curves and bridges, and don't appear to know that they have a brake pedal. More than once I thought we were going to be done in by a bus. I don't know how common crashes are, but I guarantee any crash will be deadly.

One time, which I will never forget, we were crossing a narrow bridge, and four women were walking along our side, narrowing the bridge further. Our driver slowed because a bus was barreling down the hill from the other direction. As it turned the curve onto the bridge, it swayed like crazy, and if all four wheels stayed on the ground, I'd be shocked. It leaned heavily, and I swear it was just at the tipping point before it settled back onto all four wheels. Had it tipped over, it would have slammed into us at 40 miles per hour, head-on, and killed us all. There is no doubt.

Not too much farther along, maybe five miles, we passed the twisted, hulking remains of a bus that had gone off the road. I am sure most, if not all, on that bus, died. No idea how long ago that crash was. Shortly after, our driver stopped at a roadside restaurant. We ate our box lunches and bought sodas, and he sat on the grass off to the side, looking a little shaken.

Ignoring the buses, the drive was actually quite beautiful. We didn't get many good photographs, unfortunately. Houses in rural Nepal are painted the most cheerful and festive colors. The poverty is striking, with many families still using public water sources for washing clothes. Everything is agriculture outside the cities, and cities are small but busy. I'm glad we survived the drive.

We loved seeing the people in their daily activities, even if we weren't sure what they were doing.

Some of the houses were draped with the prayer flags we'd seen at the monkey temple.

Little shacks like this dotted the roadsides all through the country.

Most homes were colorful like this. This is the rule, not the exception.

Every storefront seemed to be a sidewalk display with a shallow, narrow room open to the street. Some had living space above or behind, but all were tiny.

Much of the drive was along this river gorge. Any accident would have sent us flying down the cliff.

Along the river, we saw four or five bridges like this with people walking over them. I can't imagine how they're attached at the ends or how safe they are. Must be terrifying. 

A lot of the landscape is very pretty. Nearly all of it is terraced for farming. I'm sure these terraces were first carved out a thousand years ago, or more.

We drove through Pokhara and did not stop, heading straight for Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge. More on that in the next post, but I'd say it's one for everyone's bucket list.

1 comment:

J P Hannan said...

I guess if you think your time on this Earth is predetermined and that you die at your allotted time then it must seem churlish to worry about your personal safety. What a terrifying and strangely emancipating way to view life!