It took a couple of tries to actually get on the bus to head out to Gaighat. Tuesday, the first day I was to leave, a “banda,” or national strike was called. Bandas are fairly frequent and called by one group or another to protest/express frustration about something. The general public is typically forced into participation during “bandas” by a threat of vandalism by the organizers. Those who do not adhere by stopping all normal activity and persist to go about their normal business run the risk of being stopped, having their vehicles burnt, or their shops vandalized.
Currently, as Nepal is in the middle of a build up to national elections the and “rules of the game” are in the process of being determined every ethnic, religious, political, and caste group wants to be sure their perspective is given fair treatment. Calling bandas are one such way of doing this. There is currently some controversy over the amount of time that has been taken from schooling as a result of the frequent bandas and just recently all of the political parties have agreed to allow schools to remain open duing all forthcoming bandas.
This particular day, the strike is being called by the transportation union that is particularly affected by other groups’ bandas when their busses are burnt. They are not preventing people from going about their normal lives, but they are shutting down the national transportation network until the government agrees to provide security on busses and at checkpoints to protect them.
Luckily, a window of opportunity came on Wednesday as negotiations between the union and the government were held, and I was able to leave. With some help from two highly dedicated COCAP volunteers (Anil & Sagar) , I arrived at the bus station bright and early at 5am. The put me on the bus and assured me that the “bus staff,” of which there were three, would take good care of me, and made me promise to call upon my arrival to let them know I had made it safely.
I had only slept 3 hours the night before, in a strategic attempt to facilitate sleep on the 10 hour bus ride to Gaighat – this turned out not to be such a wise idea. I had completely neglected to consider the condition of the roads and the subsequent non-stop jostling into my brilliant plan. Though I’m generally a remarkable sleeper if I’m tired enough, sleeping with this level of shaking was simply asking too much.
Luckily, almost instantly upon departure, the bus ride turned into an incredible sightseeing opportunity. The lands of Nepal are reputed to be beautiful and I can confirm from what I’ve seen so far, the rumors haven’t been exaggerated. We passed green mountains topped with clouds rising up from wide rivers that rushed under suspension bridges longer than football fields. The patties and fields that created steps up the mountain sides were not standard rectangles, but cutouts of different shapes that followed the natural curvature of the mountain.
Once we came down out of the hills (after I said an infinite number of prayers of thanks for the motion sickness bracelets I was trying for the first time) and into the flat fertile Terai region we began to be flanked by lush forests, tall stalks of corn and neon green rice patties. We passed through the occasional town, but most “civilization” we passed was in the form of small hamlets filled with a mix of earthen, wood, dried brush, and occasionally concrete huts. I really found this scenery fascinating and was entertained by my people and scenery watching for the rest of the trip. [i’ll try to insert some pics to illustrate this, but can’t do it now – check back!]
My seatmate, a stick thin woman of possibly 19 who didn’t seem particularly happy to have me as her neighbor, managed to fold completely up into the seat and sleep for the majority of the trip, waking occasionally to shift positions. I’ve seen a lot of touching in Nepal, men holding hands as they walk women sitting with their arms on each other; the whole concept of personal space, and seemingly privacy are completely different here. Thus, after about four hours and an offer of gum at a rest stop she began to lean up against me and before long we were practically cuddling – which was nice as long as the bus was moving, but as soon as it got hot and the bus began to stop periodically it became a lot less sweet.
Though I never spoke with anyone directly, I also made “friends” with a few other passengers on the bus. One middle-aged man in particular seemed to look out for me by calling servers over when I was wasn’t being served at our lunch stop, by indicating that I could take an empty seat that opened up when 2 people got off the bus, and by helping me tie up the curtain so I could have the best possible view during our drive (unfortunately there wasn’t anything he could do about the 14’x14’ poster of Shakira covering part of the window).
Just before reaching Gaighat we drove through a small range of hills covered by tropical forest. I swear I made eye contact w/ a monkey I saw sitting in a tree, but when I looked excitedly around for verification from my traveling mates no one else had seemed to notice. All in all, even considering the lack of sleep, the journey was incredibly beautiful and passed without incident.
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Jun 16th, 2014