So today is the day of our grand adventure – we are on the way to Surkhet which is about a 12 to 15 hour drive. This would be a told of 800km – we are driving down as this will give us the opportunity to see the real Nepal – which means outside of Kathmandu Valley. The trip takes so long due to the road conditions – the roads are all open Surket when we leave. They had been closed due to the rainy season and a number of roads had been flooded.
Our first leg of the journey is to take the main road that is used for travel between Nepal and India. This road is considered a major highway however there is just room enough for two vehicles to pass most of the time. Rules of the road are hard to understand – first there is no speed limits and one isn’t really required as the roads are very bad with major runts and missing pavement. There are many curves in this road – drivers count on the driver a head to let them know it is safe to pass – it could be a wave of the hand. They do pass on blind corners and after about 10 near head ons some requiring that we need to come to a full stop – I stopped counting. It is like surfing through motorbikes, trucks, buses and cars. It is a sea of people – some sitting on top of the bus while others are hanging out which is very dangerous – we can actually touch the big trucks that pass us on the other side of the road. It is very, very scary however our driver is very experience but that is little comfort when you have a truck coming at you. But people seem to understand the system and they stop when they need to, pull over to let someone pass and just do what they need to do to make sure their safe. We took a number of turns that I thought we would flip over or go off the side which would be a cliff but we didn’t. The pollution is so bad that you can feel it – and when we washed our faces that night we could see it as well. Raju (he is the guy I am looking for a wife for) and a wonderful driver from ENPHO are taking us and do not seem to be too concerned – this is just the way it is.
As we drive past the various villages which appear to be one after another at this point – we catch glimpses of people in their everyday lives – the poverty is easier to see here as it is against this lush backdrop of banana, coconut, papaya and mango trees with tropical flowers blooming everywhere. It is a stark difference to seeing in there shanty shacks for mile upon mile. There are many little stores and tea houses that look like they are barely standing up – bamboo sticks and a thatch roof that looks like it has been up for many years. During the first half of our journey we learn that some parts of rural Nepal are worse off than others and this one certainly is – men, women, children – young and old are just sitting in groups in the hot sun – and it is very hot here. Looking at these images pass you over and over again for 3 hours starts to blur your mind – it is too much to take in.
We are ready to stop for lunch – and again we must keep an open mind. And I might add again – a very open mind. We stop at this place that has wonderful fish – fresh fish. The place was rustic with a stable attached – just some goats and chickens. We sat outside on this sort of veranda over looking the river- some of it over hung the cliff – the fish came deep fried – and actually tasted really good except for all the bones and no one could tell us what type of fish this was. Next came the daal bhaat (lentils with rice)and some type of fish soup. It was very tasty .
Then we continued our journey – we drove through this city – this was not a tourist area but very much so day to day life – all the vendors selling their wares – lots of cycle-rickshaws – no taxis here as people get around on the rickshaws-and these rickshaws can carry an awful lot. We saw some that were packed with bags and boxes and people. I wonder how they could even peddle these thinks. The city itself was very dusty and hot. People are out in the open selling whatever – it is a hard life sitting beside a road way in the dirt for 12 hours a day.
After we passed the city it was late afternoon and on the roadway in this part of Nepal we saw lots of people on bikes – peddling on the road which is not really safe. Some of them were carrying loads of wood – big bundles of wood that they somehow were able to balance. Women coming home with huge bundles of what looked like branches from trees or carrying big bags of rice on their heads. Also on the road were people coming home from the fields – lots of water buffalo (which is the main source of diary), as well as large herds of goats, cows and some lambs. This all makes driving even more difficult. We drove past a group of people on the road – a baby goat had been hit and this little boy was picking it up trying to get it to stand – no doubt he was responsible for the goat.
Pat was hanging on to the white knuckle hang on to your life thing on the top of the roof so hard that one side came off. I did not have one of those I was hanging on to the door handle – there are no seat belts so we get bounced and thrown all over the place. Ruja told Pat – we will fix after the trip. Pat pulled out her Swiss Army Knife – with screw driver and fix it. Ruja and the driver were very impressed by Swiss Army knife and a women who could use a screw driver.
There is little time here between dusk and total darkest – it seems too happened in like 15 minutes. So it really was our last look at all the villages – you can tell some of the wealthier villages as they have nicer homes and the outside is nice and neat as opposed to the poorest ones where people are living in homes that are half built or in little shacks . The air became thick with smoke as people cook over wood as it is cheaper and they use these fires for light as well. The air was certainly full of smoke so much so that it was hard to see at times.
When darkest came we came to our surprise to the most treacheries part of the road. The road was narrower and turns were sharper – these would be hairpin turns – part of the road had been washed out by the rains. This was even scarier then the first part of the trip – many close calls and lots of bouncing around. Just as we came out of this section of the road one of the big buses was overturned in the middle of the road – they use big branches all around and in front/back of the bus to indicate an accident. No people were in the bus so it was hard to say when it happened.
We made the decision to keep driving for another 3 hours however we will still not make it to Surkhet tonight which is another 2 1/2 hours away – 77kms believe or not. At this point we are pretty sore from sitting for so long and being bounced all over the place and decide to take a search and washroom break. They do have a washroom for travellers – not your Alberta type rest stop that is for sure. It is really dark and there is a candle at the enter way. Jessica goes in first and comes running out – to many bugs and geckos - I say I can’t wait another 3 hours I am going in – I was given a flashlight – which I did not turn on – remember this is a squat toilet – yeah it was special. I come out and say see I did it not a problem – so Pat and Jessica go in and within 2 seconds they are running out of there. Hundreds of spiders and geckos every where – I don’t care I made it. We decide to walk to a food place on the road side to look for a clearer spot – This would have been funny to see - 3 of us walking with Ruja going to a place that does not see white people much – and we looked beautiful as we had the wind blowing on us all day and our hair was standing on end – like really standing straight up. That person who ran the place was not that crazy about us using the washroom but he let us – Ruja did need to clean out the spiders before Jessica and Pat would use it. It was a weird experience as you felt like an outsider – people just stared at you and some not so nicely.
Off we go again. One of the things that really comes full force in rural Nepal is the number of check stops – we are stopped about 5 or 6 times and depending on the check point different things are looked at or asked. It certainly hits home that this is still a country in political unrest, In the city you will see the police or army carrying M16s – but it becomes so common place you don’t even think about here. Here out in the rural area it certainly has a different feel or maybe that was because it was dark.
We finally make it to a place that is about 5 kms away from India – it is very hot – unbarable – it is now 10:30 at night we have been traveling for about 14 hours at this point – a little over 700 kms. We are very tried and just want a shower and a bed to sleep in. We arrive at the hotel – Dreamland – don’t let the name fool you – think of the worse hotel possible – this may just be able to beat it. There was no air movement at all – it was so hot you could barely breath and the place was so dirty with our friend the geckos all over the place – not a good sign as where there are geckos there are other things. The good news is that Jessica and Pat’s room is freezing cold – it is so nice and the air conditioner is just going full tilt – I am excited. My room – not so much – the air conditioner is making all sorts of really werid noises – and there is no cooling- it is so hot. After a bit of conversation the decision is to move one of the beds in my room to Pat and Jessica’s room. It is easy to move a bed in Nepal – not much to it. Pat and I decide we will us my room as a smoking room – prefect. But first I will take a shower – that was a walk in and walk out situation – When I take a shower I like to be cleaner coming out. I decide to skip that. So off I go to Pat’s room – the bedding is not really what I would describe as clean – and Pat decides to go to my room to grab a pillow as hers was a little more then gross. She goes to my room and the door is locked and someone is in there. At this point all we can do is laugh.
We wake up at about 5 and as Pat bought clothes that she washed the day before and they were still wet – we come up with a plan to dry them faster – let’s put them over the air conditioner – not a good plan and don’t try this – our air conditioner shut down. Within minutes and I mean minutes the room was starting to warm up – we were besides are selves – not that we broke the machine but we would die of heat. Just when we thought this is it – the machine kicked back in. We will never do that again.
We are not eating breakfast here - for one thing I just couldn’t do it and the other they had to wake up the employees who were sleeping on the dining tables. We will just have breakfast else where. Unfortunately in this place there is no else where. Again I look at what is around me – water in all the ditches but hundreds of water lilies growing everywhere – all the fruit trees and bananas hanging from the trees – yet all around this is the worse poverty I have seen or pretty close to it. The heat is stifling and it is only 7:30 a.m. On our last leg of our journey someone else will be joining us – as we are running out of room he sits in the front with the driver and Raju - too bad it is bucket seats and a standard – but here everyone makes it work. Off we go – 77 kms in 2 ½ hours – really. Yes for most of the way the roads are very narrow – one vehicle wide and lots of steep cliffs – Pat is worried about the cliffs – I reassure her that I am sitting closes to the cliff so I will go first – so she doesn’t need to worry. This is a very slow trip however again the views are amazing. Most of this trip is in a national park which is watched over by the army. We go through – there are no villages. At of going through the park we arrive at a large village and stop for sweet tea and yet again a washroom. Raju is starting to catch on about our washroom issues so he goes to find us one that will be suitable – and he does a great job. However I will start to carry Freebze where ever I go. He explains that this is a very poor village and hygiene and cleaning is not good here. So we start again and continue. We finally arrive at Surkhet – again a better place then the one we left – the village itself is poor and as this is not a place where tourist or white people come we get stared at a lot but that is alright. The hotel is very, very basic but clean – that is just so wonderful.