As I had meetings scheduled with International NGOs (for the second time since I never made the first) and did not want to get stopped or delayed by bandhas, I flew into Kathmandu. On the way back I didn’t have any urgent appointments scheduled. So, to save some money and also embody the “if the Nepali’s can do it, so can I” philosophy I’ve been cultivating I decided to take the bus back.
At 4:30am I hit the street to find a cab to take me to the bus station and through some combination of luck and broken Nepali of which I’m very proud, I found myself on the bus bound for Gaighat by 5am on the dot. Having been through this bus-ride before, I was prepared. I knew that I wouldn’t sleep, had a small assortment of snacks, charged batteries for my MP3 player, sufficient water, and my camera ready in case I had the chance to snap anything interesting.
When we pulled off the road a few hours later for breakfast I decided not to eat because I knew I could make it until lunch snacks, and wanted to use the time to take some pictures that I couldn’t get on a fast moving bus.
When the bus slowed to a stop about 30 minutes after our breakfast stop I thought nothing of it. That was until half of the passengers vacated the bus and our bus driver and other 2 bus staff (there is an excess of manpower here) disappeared around a corner just up the road. Seizing another chance to get some pictures of the hills I followed suit. Before long a man with decent English had struck up a conversation with me and informed me that we would be here for a while.
He explained that a woman and 2 children down the road were killed by a truck and it would be 6-8 hours before the road was clear. I was unclear if the delay was a result of carnage in the road or a show of respect for the deceased. But in any case, I was sure he was exaggerating a bit and that we couldn’t possibly be stuck for 6-8 hours. Turns out he spoke some truth and some exaggeration – but not as I had predicted.
As people leisurely strolled by in both directions it quickly became obvious that no one thought we were heading anywhere and I decided to take a walk to investigate the situation and see if I could locate my bus staff.
Sadly the road was indeed blocked because a fatal accident. Two local people had been killed by a hit-and-run driver and consequently grief-stricken members of the community were blocking the road as a protest that the police were not doing anything to apprehend the driver (and would continue to do so until the situation were satisfactorily addressed).
In under a mile I arrived at the epicenter, identifiable by a lazily chaotic throng of people, an overturned motorcycle, and a sheet covering what I presume were the deceased (I decided it was unnecessary to push my way to the center to look closely or take any pics). From what I could tell travelers and community members were talking, and periodically various men would break into impassioned speeches and then be engulfed by the crowd. I observed the scene for a bit and tried unsuccessfully to locating my bus staff. On my walk down I had seen several vehicles turning around to go back to wherever they came from and I got a touch nervous that my bus might do the same without me on it, so I decided to walk back to my bus.
Though my original informant was wrong about the details of the accident, he unfortunately was correct about the time of our delay. My bus did not return to Kathmandu, but instead for the next 8 hours we waited with passengers from all the other vehicles spilled onto the highway to make temporary encampments in whatever shade they could find as the heat of the day wore on. Vendors appeared from somewhere to provide snacks which we all used to try to keep us satiated ( even with the snacks I had by the time we had our first meal of the day at 8pm that night I was incredibly sorry I had skipped out on breakfast!).
At around 1pm a truck load of police officers came through, headed toward the site of the accident. I of course assumed they would simply clear the road and get traffic moving. But I was informed that they would actually negotiate with the villagers and that it would probably be another 2 hours. As predicted, roughly two hours later somehow the villagers were appeased and our temporary city vanished into moving ovens. Well, mostly moving… the next 2 hours were a period of intense stop and go as the jam was cleared up.
I’d like this adventure to end here. And though the detailed recounting will, the adventure itself lasted for another 2 chapters stretching over 14 hours. After dinner we endured another bandha caused by people protesting that their power was out (it magically got turned back on) and then in the middle of the night the bus broke down. As most of the passengers ultimately lay down in the middle of the empty highway and I chose the surprisingly smelly but more private luggage rack on the roof with a slight breeze, we were accompanied for three hours by an arrhythmic lullaby of banging and clanging.
By the time I rolled into Gaighat at 5am my expected 10 hour return trip had grown into 24.5. All this to cover a distance of roughly 280 kilometers (yeah… that’s less than 130 miles).
As funny as it is to tell the story of my crazy bus-adventure, I’m also can’t ignore the story’s less-funny broader implications. What serves me as fodder for crazy stories before I ultimately return to a life surrounded by order and stability is an inescapable reality for most Nepalis (and many other people around the world) that leads to a life of unpredictability and inefficiency. Scenarios like this also give me a deep and disheartening insight into the myriad of challenges facing such societies and ultimate respect for the members of them who are steadfastly committed to bringing change.
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Aug 7th, 2007