[This story is the first part of a four part series about my epic overland journey from Kathmandu, Nepal to New Delhi, India. My initial inclination was to shorten the whole story into one post, but decided that in its entirety, it does a pretty good job of capturing what its like to travel alone and independently off-the-beaten, traditional tourist path. Also, in some ways, the story captures the nature of this kind of travel and how it can test your resolve and give you unmediated, face-to-face encounters with humanity.]
(Kathmandu, Nepal) I first began to suspect I was being conned as the taxi rounded the corner–after spending an hour stuck in a water logged traffic jam–and the driver stopped abruptly in front of a shop whose name had no resemblance to the name of the agency on my bus ticket. The driver’s English vocabulary was limited to the words “fast,” “yes,” “go” and “WWF.” He had brought me here based on a note I had handed him that had, scribbled in Nepalese, what I was told were direction to the location where I was to board a bus to take me on the 34-hour journey from Kathmandu, Nepal to New Delhi, India.
A day earlier a black haired Nepalese travel agent in a cramped office in a Kathmandu alley had provided me with the bus ticket for the mere rupee equivalent of $30 USD, and he insisted that the scribbled note in Nepalese contained directions for a taxi driver to get me to the appropriate bus agent the following day.
The note certainly got me to a bus agent, although I had a sinking suspicion it wasn’t the right bus agent, but despite my insistence we’d arrived at the wrong place, the taxi driver hustled me into the shop to meet a woman who spoke no English, she only pointed me to a bench in the corner. After a lengthy wait I was hustled across the street to a rusty bus with a cracked windshield that was parked under an abandoned gas station awning.
The black haired Nepalese travel agent who had sold me the original ticket the day earlier, had also promised me that the $30 was buying me a ticket on a ‘tourist bus,’ a phrase that conjured images in my mind of a relaxing ride with a bus full of German, Dutch and Kiwi backpackers, all of us trading travel stories and drinking Cokes, as the Himalayan foothills rolled passed the tinted windows.
It seemed, upon boarding the rusty grey bus with the cracked windshield, that the black haired travel agent and I had quite different definitions of what consists of a ‘tourist bus.’
My bag, with all my worldly possessions, was shoved in the engine compartment at the rear of the lumbering bus and I was directed up its contorted stairs to find it completely empty—no Germans, Dutch or Kiwi backpackers to be found.
After a half-hour wait, and an hour past the scheduled departure time, the whoosh of the air brakes startled me, as the driver revved up and pulled his dinosaur into the middle of a muddy, jam packed arterial road—it seemed this tourist would be making the 34-hour journey to New Delhi alone—-if I wasn’t killed first.
Waiting for the bus’ departure, sitting in one of the 70 empty seats, I was so convinced I was somehow being tricked, conned or driven off to my demise, I quietly snapped photos of the bus, its license plates, its driver and the abandoned gas station’s ramshackle surroundings, complete with a group of gruff men placing burning trash in a barrel fire nestled under the gas station’s awning.
I was alone on a bus, not completely sure I even knew where it was going.
After reviewing in my mind how I got here, and convincing myself it would take quite an elaborate scheme for this all to be a setup, I settled in my upright seat with a book, and decided the only thing to do was to wait and see what happened.
Two pages into my reading, the bus came to an abrupt stop in front of a grey building, and out of it came a group of 42 Nepalese men and a monk. One by one they climbed the bus’ contorted staircase and after perplexed looks of disbelief to see a young tourist, with an equally confused looked on his face–tucked in the corner of the bus reading an English language book–they all proceeded to stow their bags and take their seats—including a man with freshly polished shoes and well-tailored pants, who took the seat next to me. None of them, it seemed, spoke a word of English.
34 hours on a bus, 42 Nepalese men, a tourist and a monk. I was either being conned or I had inadvertently walked into the opening line of a joke.
What you can do now: