It only took 8.5 hours to travel 198km…mainly thanks to the 25km traffic jam we sat in for 3 hours!
The road from Kathmandu to Pokhara is usually only wide enough for two vehicles, so when trucks and buses overheated on the steep hills, it meant a long wait, a lot of patience and courtesy from drivers was in order. Too often, our driver turned off the engine, and at one point, I listened to 3 songs before we started up again! The road was full of potholes and so even if there was no traffic, the journey was going to be a long one!
A continual line of trucks, cars, bikes and buses snaked across the edge of the cliffs. Trucks laden with gas tanks, food and live buffalo puffed up the steep hills. Local buses heaved with people. Some so full, people were squashed up against the windows, their luggage all around them and small children sitting on their knees. We were in a tourist bus and so had the luxury of one person to a seat. However, there was no air-con so all the windows were wide open to get some fresh, humid air circulating around the otherwise stuffy bus.
The warm, damp air in the trees was still much fresher than in Kathmandu. Cloud draped across the hills and spilled down into the valleys below.
We had only one near head on collision…that I saw! A truck and motorbike were passing another truck going uphill! Our driver slammed on the brakes and we all sat in stunned silence, collectively holding our breathes as the truck swerved to avoid us and lazily puffed on by. I started to watch the road and where we were going at one point, but decided my blood pressure would be through the roof by the time I reached Pokhara so stopped. I figure we must have had several other near misses as the bus lurched to a stop and swerved, the suspension creaking and groaning plenty more times!
On one side of the road, the cliff climbed vertical, towering over us. On the other side, land dropped away to the river far below. The river started out as a narrow gorge, much like the landscaped through NZs Waihi Gorge. It became a braided river in places, again similar to NZs South Island rivers…except the water was a murky brown instead of a glacial, icy blue colour.
The river suddenly widened to become about a 50 metre wide fast-flowing Mass. Water bubbled over invisible rocks and eddies twirled, trying to flow back against the current. Long swing bridges spanned the vast chasms allowing people to cross the river and access shops for supplies. The alternative looked to be a long walk for several days…or taking a chance at swimming.
We came across little villages and towns every 10 minutes of so. All were full of tiny shops selling the same chips, soft drinks, cigarettes, snacks and alcohol. It made me wonder how they all survived, and how they got the products there in the first place!
Probably the scariest construction I have seen yet was a tin shack built over the edge of a cliff. The shack itself wasn’t the problem. It was the rickety, haphazardly-placed bamboo poles stretching down into the jungle growth below to support the shack that had my heart pounding.
Haystacks grew out of the ground in front of homes to provide feed for cows and goats. The animals were usually tied up under their own shelter. Very rarely, one was roaming free providing yet another obstacle for buses, trucks and bikes to negotiate.
We eventually left the river and followed a windy route through the valleys and into the heart of the mountain range. Traffic thinned but our pace remained slow.
|Snow capped mountains poking through the clouds
A break in the clouds gave us a glimpse of snow covered mountain peaks towering high above the other mountains. They seemed unnaturally high compared to anything I have seen before. For the first time, I had a shot of fear laced with adrenalin and I wondered if I really would survive the trek to Mt Everest base camp in October.
As we reached the outskirts of Pokhara, a raft of emotions washed over me. Relief as it was the end of the bus ride from hell. Anticipation of what my home stay and host family would be like. Excitement to see the beautiful lakes and mountains Pokhara is renowned for. Curiosity to find out what school held for me the next day. And fatigue! Believe it or not, even after sitting down for 8.5 hours, I slept like a log for 12 hours that night!