Bus Adventures in Nepal
By Dave Fox
One of the best ways to get to know a country is by risking your life on its local transportation. During my two weeks in Nepal, I took a bunch of different busses – usually with my wife Kattina. (She stayed an extra week and was not with me on my final ride from Pokhara to Kathmandu.)
Overall, I would say the rides were mostly safe. (And if you want total safety, you’ll increase your chances by staying home and hiding under the bed.)
Here’s a rundown of our Nepali bus adventures:
Local Minibus from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur is an easy day trip from Kathmandu (though once we arrived, we wished we were staying overnight). The one-hour ride cost 25 rupees each way (100 Nepali rupees equal roughly one US dollar).
The bus made frequent stops to pick up and drop off riders. The way people knew where the bus was going was: a boy of about 12 years old hung out the door and shouted the destination, really loudly, over and over for the entire hour. How he has any vocal cords left at the end of any given work day is a mystery to me.
On our lunchtime ride, there were seats for everyone. Our rush-hour return to Kathmandu was not so luxurious.
There was one seat left when we boarded. I let Kattina take it, and found a spot for myself on a metal ledge behind the driver. Perched above me, on a seat that faced sideways rather than forward, was a guy who reeked of booze.
Not that there’s anything wrong with reeking of booze, but he looked like he could pass out or vomit on me at any moment. He didn’t scare me, however, as much as the guy with the handsaw scared me.
As we got closer to Kathmandu, more and more people boarded. Approximately 7,382 people wedged themselves into the minibus’s mini aisles, squishing me into an ever-morphing variety of contortions. When the Saw Man got on, he was pressed against me, his jagged blade dangling two inches from my crotch.
As the crowd swelled, the blade moved away from my crotch, snagging the knee of my jeans, at which point I decided it was time to yelp. Once I did this, it occurred to the Saw Man that perhaps the overhead shelf would be a better place for him to rest his castration device.
Green Line Bus from Kathmandu to Sauraha
An American we met in Kathmandu recommended Green Line. Their busses, she said, were more expensive and less chaotic than the other tourist busses.
Our seven-hour journey from Kathmandu to Sauraha, on the fringe of Chitwan National Park, cost 2,300 rupees per person, and included a tasty lunch buffet along the way. To our shock, the bus also had wifi, which functioned startlingly well most of the time, even in rugged mountain areas.
Local Bus in Chitwan National Park
It’s illegal to camp in Chitwan National Park, and the law is strictly enforced by hungry tigers. So at the end of each day on our two-day, two-night jungle trek, we had to leave the park and travel to a homestay in the rural village of Pandav Nagar.
The minibus that arrived to ferry us out of tiger territory came adorned with a painting on the side of Bob Marley. Anil, our trekking guide, poked his head inside the crowded vehicle, then said, “We’ll sit up there,” and pointed to the roof.
Riding on the roof of a vehicle on the Indian Subcontinent is one of those travelers’ rites of passage I had yet to experience. Our ride was not comfortable (we were sitting on a luggage rack consisting of metal bars spaced six inches apart); however, it is safer than barreling down the road with a saw dangling two inches from your crotch.
Leaving the park area a couple of days later, we scored seats inside, which was nice because it was a chilly morning and our feet were wet after wading across a couple of rivers. The Nepali disco music that blared inside the bus was a bonus.
These rides were about 30 minutes each and cost 70 rupees per person.
Bus from Bharatpur to Pokhara
Bharatpur (not to be confused with the aforementioned Bhaktapur) is a biggish city on the outskirts of Chitwan. From there, we caught a standard bus (though for the four-hour ride to Nepal’s second largest city, Pokhara.
Price: 600 rupees per person. Reserved seating. No wifi. No disco. No saws. The ride was bouncy and squeaky, and it got us there.
Pokhara to Kathmandu
A very nice travel agent in Pokhara (whom I highly recommend; his name is Kaji; he also rents good-quality mountain bikes and offers biking tours at Chain ‘n’ Gear Mountain Bikes), pointed out to me that one of Green Line’s big selling points is their busses are air-conditioned. In early January, however, with low temperatures around five degrees Celsius / 40 Fahrenheit, Green Line’s busses do not actually use their aircon.
The Green Line bus back to Kathmandu would cost 2,300 rupees. A standard “tourist bus” was 600. No lunch or wifi, but you could buy lunch along the way for around 200 rupees. So if you are traveling in winter and can bear the thought of not being able to check Facebook for seven hours, these busses are a better deal.
Several companies drive this route. Kaji booked me a ticket with a company called Rainbow Adventure Travel. The bus had to stop at one point to change a flat tire. Otherwise, it was as comfortable as my Green Line trip from Kathmandu to Sauraha.
The journey took us through lots of colorful villages, past tea plantations, switchbacking up roads on steep mountains. It’s a gorgeous and only mildly nerve-wracking journey.
We left Pokhara at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Kathmandu at 3:30 p.m. – plenty of time to take one final wander in the Nepali capital before my midnight flight back to Singapore.
(I took a taxi to the airport.)