Wednesday 26th August: Bus to Kathmandu
We got up at 5:30 after a sleepless night. It had been awful. All night we had lain in bed listening to each other tossing, turning and groaning. The power had not been restored and the fans didn't work. We were too hot and we had been attacked by mosquitoes. Bzzzz all night, and their bites are quite aggravating. It was my first experience of mosquito bites and no one had warned my to bring a net.
We left for the bus station at what we thought was 6:00, but were later told it was 6:10 because Nepal is 10 minutes ahead of India (can that be true? If so, why? we didn't believe it). It had rained all night and everywhere was muddy. Rucksacks stowed on the bus we went for breakfast: egg and toast with tea. Not too bad at all.
The bus departed at 7:05 and was scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu at 15:00. The bus was surprisingly comfortable, at least to start with. The roads out of town were muddy and in some cases completely flooded. British drivers would have shied away from far less, but the bus must have been built like a tank.
We headed out of town. The low ground was flooded but the vegetation was leafier and greener than anything I had seen in my journey across the north Indian plain. Soon we were going up hill, nothing very steep initially, but a pleasant change after absolute flatness of the Indian plain. It was raining and overcast and, yes, you've guessed: I couldn't take any photographs with my slow film. We continued heading upwards. Now the mountains around us were spectacular. The road was bumpy. At 9:40 we stopped for food but as none of us was hungry we wandered around. Ben started sketching and was instantly surrounded by curious locals.
Food stop on road to Kathmandu The journey continued, up and up.The roads were narrow ands the U turns were frequent (I noted in my dairy that Mrs Thatcher wouldn't have liked it, so her Lady's not for turning speech must have been haunting me). We went no where except up, for over three hours, zigging and zagging higher and higher up the narrow, twisting roads. The driver's mate, sitting on the roof banging signals, warning when we were too near the edge. I thought of my grandmother. She was scared of mountain passes, and even in Wales had tried to persuade my dad to drive on the wrong side of the road so she wouldn't be close to the precipice. Was I scared? Not really, the scale was too large to comprehend. The driver did it every day - the odds must have been in our favour. I settled into a calm acceptance that sometimes there were only inches between us and oblivion and the driver couldn't see the road round round an impossible looking bend, but shouted to his mate on the roof.
The scenery was breathtaking. Steep, very steep, terraced slope emerging through the clouds. I was amazed by how apparently so few people had cultivated so much or the, to me, inaccessible slopes.
View from road to Kathmandu
After what seemed like climbing for ever I realised we had started out descent. Down to the Kathmandu valley. The journey must have been more interesting and comfortable than the train. I realised I had not been constantly referring to my watch.
We didn't descend for long. A lorry in front of us had broken down in the middle of the road. What a place - this must have been half way from somewhere to no where. Hours from anywhere. Another lorry had tried to squeeze past on the outside. Oh brave driver, and the road had crumbled away, leaving his lorry stuck at a precarious angle. Another lorry had tried to pass on the inside and had slipped into the ditch, also at a precarious angle. (Maybe the first lorry tried the inside track, and the 2nd the outside - would make more sense, just).
Accident block the road
The road was blocked. Lorry drivers and bus passengers wandered around aimlessly in the damp drizzle. An hour later it still seemed as though we would be stuck for hours. We were strangely resigned to it. The lorry drivers were busy working by the lorry. Lots of shouting and calling and then amazingly one of the ditched lorries drove off. Somehow the crowd of drivers had managed to jack it up and move it away. A group of men the started to rebuild the road, filling in the ditch with rocks and rubble. In almost no more time at all, and to everyones great relief, the traffic jam slowly cleared and we moved off, recommencing our decent into the Kathmandu valley. We were now nearly 2½ hours late.
The road became worse and worse. We were bumped around so much our teeth banged together and we thought our bones were rattling! We were frequently thrown into the air only to crash down again heavily on the seats or our neighbours. It seemed that the bus too was leaving the road and crashing down with a thud. Downhill travel was very uncomfortable, but after descending about 1000 feet we began to climb again. We seemed to be going nowhere, then at about 4pm when were were all travel weary we saw a sign: "Kathmandu 26km". Nearly there, not long now! But the road deteriorated still further and was now barely more than a sand track. We were all feeling sick. Was it travel sickness or hunger? We hadn't eaten since 6:30 that morning.
At 5:00pm we arrived in Kathmandu. A journey of less than 200 km had taken over 10 hours - but what an experience. In total three days to travel from Delhi to Kathmandu. We decided that having done it once we didn't need to do it again and, next week when our stay was over, for the sake of time and comfort, we would leave by plane.
Before we could properly leave the bus we were surrounded by boys and young men touting for hotel business. We eventually chose one (maybe at random, maybe because he has annoyed us less than the others) and we were given a free taxi ride to the Ruby Guest House, across the river from the central district of the city.
The Ruby Guest house appeared drab and uninspiring. We really wanted to look at others before making our choice, and eventually we did so, but the hotel tout was very upset. At one point we even considered camping - there was a sign to a campsite just further out than the Ruby - but the idea of insecurity put us off. Would we dare to leave the tent? We settled on the Ruby Guest House (or did it aspire to Hotel?). Our room (between three) cost 20 Nepalese rupees plus Rs2/- tax. Rs22/- was about £1. That couldn't be bad, and the proprietor and his tout were friendly enough.
After making ourselves at home we went to look for a decent restaurant. We wandered through some of the main streets of Kathmandu and admired the style and the architecture, which had once been grand but was now, away from Durbar Square which was being smartened up by a new coat of paint (see ladders in picture below), decayed and somewhat shabby. Nevertheless we saw road cleaners and rubbish bins, something I hadn't seen in Agra (but then was it fair to compare? This after all was the capital city and home of the King).
We ate buffalo steak and chips followed by rice pudding in a blackout the Mona Lisa restaurant. After no food all day I ate far too much. The blackouts were something we would become accustomed to. (I later realised that the Indian reliance on old fashioned ice boxes with ice supplied from factories with their own generators was a more effective way of keeping things cold that the Nepalese reliance on refrigerators which seldom worked for lack of power.)
The power was intermittent all evening and I wrote much of my dairy squinting in the dark. Sadly the mosquitoes are not intermittent but a constant irritation. We are covered in bites.