We took a local, bumpy bus from Siliguri to the Indian border town Panitanki. The journey took about an hour. Once in Panatanki we located the immigration check post where we got stamped out of India. We then walked across a very long bridge to Nepal. Getting the Nepali visa on arrival was simple. We were asked to fill in three forms, two about our personal data (passport numbers etc) and about the details of our travels in Nepal and the third about the electronics we were bringing in with us (what it was, brand and very crucially the colour of the object – stating the value of the equipment, we were told, was not necessary). A 15 day visa cost $25. We were even given change when we didn’t have the exact amount – what a different experience from our crossing from Thailand into Cambodia few years back. The border crossing was smooth sailing, what followed was anything but.
The charming young lad from the bus company did a very good job of selling his company’s bus to Pokhara to us. We were allowed to look inside the “deluxe” bus, and assured that this was a direct bus with no stops. Having agreed to go with this bus we were taken to a hotel run by the same tour company where we ate decent food and foraged into the market of Kakarvitta, the border town on the Nepalese side. At 3pm our bus was ready to depart, and it was then that we got the first hint things might not be exactly as promised.
Throughout our travels in India, whenever we mentioned to other backpackers that we were planning on taking the bus from the Nepalese border we were greeted with much the same response: “you’re in for a rough ride”. In Darjeeling an old American gentleman told us a harrowing tale of his 27-hour journey on Nepal’s terrifying roads. We were by this point too committed to our plans to change, and we had encountered some pretty terrible bus journeys before. How bad could it be?
Despite the fact that we were told we had some of the last seats on the bus, it seemed remarkably empty as it set off. A few Nepalese people sat near the front, while we were towards the back where we were told the only seats left were. The only other foreign tourist, a Swedish-Bangladeshi woman named Namuj sat with us beside Philipp. Somehow we had also managed to miss the huge crack running through the bus windshield when first inspecting, fully visible through the open cab door.
Before long we began stopping at every little village to pick up and drop off people. Bags of cement appeared in the aisle of the bus. Mercifully though, unlike our experience in Myanmar some years ago, everyone was able to find seats. Soon the bus was full, and dust was blowing in through the windows. After a brief stop for dinner there was even a Nepalese movie with English subtitles – spoiled only by the fact that the subtitles were far to small to read from the back of the bus. The real trauma was still to come.
Some time shortly before 3am, the bus turned on to a new road, one surely not fit for anything except the most sturdy of four-wheel-drives. Soon we were being thrown up in the air like popcorn kernels in a pan as the bus navigated the rocky surface of the road. Maintaining sleep was next to impossible, and then, inexplicably, the bus’s sound system turned back on. Ear splitting Hindi music blasted out of the speaker less than two metres from our bouncing heads as we climbed the hills. When one of the people from the bus company came to collect a fare from a new passenger our pleas for the music to stop were met only with bemused laughter. After an hour or so of this psychological torture the bus stopped to let the men get off to pee. We remonstrated with the guys running the bus again, and with the aid of a couple of passengers translating we were able to finally get the music turned off. A half hour later we turned off the road onto a slightly better surface and the worst of our ordeal was over. With just a couple of hours left to Pokhara we were finally able to try to find some rest again.
Once in Pokhara we left the bus and immediately were surrounded by eager taxi drivers. None of them seemed to have heard of our guesthouse, so we opted to take a local bus to Lakeside. We had no trouble finding our guesthouse. We dropped off our bags, cleaned up a bit and went for a little explore with our new friend. Pokhara lake is very near to our guesthouse so we headed there first. We took lots of photos on the bank of the lake and in the moored, colourful boats and then helped Namuj to find her hostel, which turned out to be on top of a hill on an edge of a forest. We then returned to our guesthouse to for a short nap as the rough night we had was catching up with us. In the late afternoon we were joined by Alicia, who arrived from Hong Kong, after a lengthy plane journey involving 3 transfers. Alicia was picked up from the airport by Binod who would be our guide for the next 3 days on the Ghandruk trek.