Friday, January 21, 2011

Going on a Bus Trip...

According to the travel agent, he got me the best seat on the micro. And, the micro would go straight from Kathmandu to Tulsipur—no stops.

My seat—number 3—should actually have been number 4. With all the people going down to Dang for the Maghi festival, the micro company decided to accommodate the demand by overstuffing their vehicles. My seat was also right in front of the cheap seats—the bench behind the driver where people who were just going from one village to the next sat. I ended up sharing my bench with three young men on their way home to celebrate the festival, and all the men who hopped onto our micro, used the cheap seats, and hopped out. The conductor decided that mine was an easy place to sit as any. He motioned for me to make room for him to sit when he wasn’t shuffling people on and off the micro. Make that five people on one bench.

The ride from Tulsipur to Nepalgunj was the quickest, and easiest. Me and another foreigner shared a jeep. Our ride was only interrupted twice by Tharu men and women blocking the road and singing and dancing until we paid the festival toll—twenty rupees at one point, and ten rupees at another.

I was put on a bus going to Dhangadi by the hotel staff from the place I stayed in Nepalgunj. Very kind of them. The bus was a video coach—meaning, there was a TV up front that played Nepali and Hindi music videos. Culturally very informative, and engaging to the village woman and her toddler who sat next to me. An hour into our trip, the driver learned that the road out of Nepalgunj was closed till noon. Some local political unrest had caused the road to be shut down. So, our driver pulled over at a convenient place—rows of teashops—where we could disperse and feed ourselves while we waited for the road to open. Once it did, the ride was slow going. We went through a national forest, where we were stopped at each army outpost. A soldier was sent on board to look around, examine the contents of our bags, and question the driver about where the bus had come from and where it was going. Some of these soldiers were quite intimidating in stature—Nepali men aren’t that big, but these sure were—and others looked like mere boys, with their fatigues hanging off their shoulders and their khukheri knives appearing oversized on their belts.

Once we were past the checkpoints and over the Karnali Bridge, the bus stopped at every village and hamlet the let people on and off. Soon, I was seated next to a Tharu girl, with a complete stranger’s grandson seated on her lap. The aisle was filled with standing passengers.

“How far is it to Dhangadi?” I asked the Tharu girl in Nepali. We had been on the road at least two hours by then, and I had been told the trip was 3 and a half hours, maybe 4.

“Oh, its VERY far!” she told me. “I don’t know how far, but VERY far. Several hours at least.” I should have known her perception of what was near or far was different than mine.

Then, people began to get sick, including the girl next to me. I quickly switched seats with her so she could be near the window, and put the grandson on my lap. The conductor was yelling at the girl, “ho, bahini, don’t put your head out the window! Use this plastic bag!” and stopped the bus to pick up two clods of dirt to cover the vomit in the aisle. “Next time, just tell us you’re not feeling well, bahini,” the grandfather said. He then turned to me. “Is hajur going to Dhangadi too?” he politely asked. I answered the affirmative. “oh, well then, my grandson can just sit with you.” The boy was indifferent to whoever’s lap he sat on. He was possibly five or six years old, and made himself comfortable on me, fitting his head in the space between my neck and collarbone and proceeding to doze.

When we got to an area with cell service, I had three missed calls from my contact in Dhangadi.

“Where are you?!” he asked when I called him back.

“Um, still on the bus. We just arrived in…” I looked out the window and read the location on one of the store signs and told him the name.

“Oh, that’s 30 kilometers out. Maybe you have an hour left.”

It took two.

My bus from Dhangadi to Kathmandu left at 4:45AM. My travel buddies included Rick Holland, Steve Lawson, John Piper, John MacArthur, CJ Mahaney and Milton Vincent. The 15+ hour bus trip was as good as any to catch up on sermons I had downloaded and not listened to, in between mentally processing what I had learned on my trip and praying. Earbuds would also provide a welcome barrier to the guy next to me attempting to converse with me. While I never get attention from strange men in the States, it seems that all the ones I had sat near on these buses wanted to engage me in conversation—something they would never do with a Nepali girl. These conversations would take place in English. I decided to hide the fact that I spoke Nepali from them. Then our conversation would just be limited to their English vocabulary, which would usually run out within five minutes. If they found out I spoke Nepali, the questions would never end.

Finding a taxi from Kalanki to Pulchowk was easy: there were half a dozen drivers waiting outside the bus, harassing passengers about where they were going next. I bartered my driver from 350 rupees down to 300—no one would use the meter at this time of night, and during the day, it would cost about 250 anyway. He didn’t know where St. Mary’s School was, which was surprising to me as its one of the oldest and largest schools in Patan. I guided him through alleys and unpaved roads—“go left,” “now turn right,” “yes, go toward Jhamsikel,” “ok, stop right here.”

Home. 8:45PM. Almost exactly a week after I'd left it.