Therese McCarry

Therese McCarry is studying international development and pursuing a certificate in gender, peace, and security as a graduate student in the Master of Science in Foregin Service program at Georgetown University. Previously, she obtained her bachelor degree in business and anthropology from the University of Notre Dame. As an undergraduate student, she interned with the Foreign Commercial Service at the US Mission to the EU in Brussels. After graduation, she oversaw community engagement for a refugee resettlement agency in New York City before joining the Peace Corps in North Macedonia in the community development sector.



How Many Hours On a Bus?

20 Jun

I had been warned of the infamous bus ride from Kathmandu to the Bardiya district. I was told to expect around 17 hours on the bus. (For reference, Google Maps estimates the drive from point a to b at 14 hours without disruptions.) I had even heard the story of past AP Peace Fellows getting stuck when a monsoon season mudslide blocked the road. 

Leaving the Kathmandu bus station

In preparation for our journey, Prabal had been checking the weather reports to avoid too much rain. As we made our way to the central bus station in Kathmandu to catch our 2pm bus we even congratulated ourselves for the recent spat of dry weather that should have boded well for our journey. Our trip ended up being a good lesson in not celebrating your victories too early. 

A “road king” truck

After pulling out of the bus station we made rather slow progress leaving the city. Roads are quite traffic filled and we were still making stops to pick up passengers. But from my window seat I could enjoy the gradual transition as the city morphs into the countryside. The slightly elevated vantage point offered some great people watching and truck spotting. (All the commercial trucks are decked out with the best designs.) Although as we got further into the mountains, I found it best not to look too closely at any parts of the road that dropped off down the mountainside. 

Leaving Kathmandu valley

Within that first hour a little kid sitting on his mom’s lap behind me was clearly not feeling well and ended up being sick out the side of the moving bus window. It probably wasn’t a great omen for the beginning of our trip, but at the time it seemed like a small bump in the road for our merry band of bus mates. Soon we were picking up speed and the bus drivers turned on the radio. Now we’re talking!

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more fun, the drivers switch to playing music videos on the tv. The party bus is officially on its way! While some of the songs were more serious, the majority were duets in an almost call and response format. The leading lady is accompanied by her gang of friends and the leading man has his mates with him. Spirits were very high as I spent the time deciphering the video storylines and admired the choreographed group dances. 

Music video entertainment

We started to hit patches of unpaved roads which slowed our progress. In the stretches of traffic, snack vendors hopped on the bus and walked up and down the aisle selling cucumber slices covered in spices, and fresh lychees. 

Bus snack vendors

At 6pm, 4 hours after we left the central bus station, our bus came to a permanent stop on the road. After some moments of confusion, our bus mates started exiting the bus. From the road you could see a never ending line of vehicles parked bumper to bumper stretching far out as far as the eye could see in front of us. And as we stood there on the side of the road more and more cars started arriving and stopping behind our parked bus until you couldn’t see the end of the line in that direction as well.

The party bus had come to an abrupt end. Prabal and I had been so pleased with ourselves to avoid mudslides on the road, but our hubris had led us to a (dry) landslide road blockage instead. 

Parked on the road

From the side of the road we tried to see when cars in front of us started moving so we knew when to jump back on the bus. After an hour stopped at that same spot on the road, our now caravan of vehicles started inching forward but the progress was minimal. Every time the bus was stopped the engine was turned off which meant no ac. The humidity was excruciating and I’m pretty sure my back was essentially glued to the fabric of my seat chair.

As this very slow progress continued, night fell and it started to rain. The only way to get some breeze was to stick your head out the window and wait for a truck driving the other direction on the two lane highway to drive past. Through all this, the little guy behind me who had been sick was in surprisingly good spirits. I could hear him chatting, shifting around, and looking out the window like me. If he could keep a positive outlook, so could I. 

Parked on the road, but at night

At this point I started to doze off, but I distinctly remember around 2am looking out the window to see a group of men, presumably all passengers on a neighboring bus, collectively observing and attempting to direct traffic, not that I could imagine that would help much. Even late into the night, the bus vendors were out in full force and we had a couple more sellers hop on the bus. My best guess of how we got out of the traffic jam was that buses and trucks were taking turns passing vehicles in our lane by using the oncoming traffic lane. 

At around 4:30 in the morning, Prabal woke me up to say we were making a stop. During the night we finally extracted ourselves from the worst of the caravan-level traffic. Our rest stop didn’t have any electricity so the pit latrine break and the roadside restaurant visit were all conducted in the dark right before sunrise.

Some of the other bus mates had some morning dinner. In total on this trip our bus only stopped three times for food. Being afraid of getting food poisoning from one of these stops, I stuck with processed snacks and tea. But not too much tea, because I was looking to avoid the bathroom on the bus which, based on the smell, was not equipped to handle an unexpectedly long ride like ours. 

Before sunrise stop

The radio started again post sunrise on the bus, but I don’t think I heard a thing. Driving consistently meant consistent ac. I don’t think I’ve slept as deeply while sitting upright as I did after that sunrise stop. 

Feeling as refreshed as one can given the context, I got to enjoy a new stretch of traffic, but this time accompanied by near constant bus honking. The horns have an almost melodic ring to them and when multiple vehicles are honking at each other it actually sounds a bit like they’re talking to one another. (I was looking for some fresh entertainment since the music videos never came back on the tv.)

Getting into the heartland of the Terai (or plains) region of Nepal was quite exciting to explore through the view of the bus window. This southern region of Nepal has such a different topography than the area around the capital. And this is the area I’d traveled around the world to visit. Rolling grassland, rice paddies waiting for planting, goat herds along the road, clay walled and thatched roof houses – all really distinctive and beautiful.  

Changing scenery

By the time we finally made it to our destination, it was just before 5:30 in the evening. From start to finish, our trip took just about 27 and a half hours – 10 and a half hours more than estimated.

Made it to the hotel

Once we were finally off the bus, the last surprise of the ride was noticing my ankles had doubled in size partially from all the sitting and partially from some insect bites at the ring of exposed skin they could get to. But all in all, no other damage. I was ready to wipe the soot out of my nose, take a shower, and eat some food. 

We had arrived in Bardiya.

Posted By Therese McCarry

Posted Jun 20th, 2022

1 Comment

  • Iain Guest

    June 30, 2022

     

    Yikes!!! Wonderful piece of writing. You’re the latest of many Fellows to have endured this bus ride – it’s a real rite of passage – but it gets worse, and longer, every year. Love the image of stranded passengers directing traffic in the middle of the night! Hopefully, everything will seem easier after this…..

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