The Road to Kathmandu Nepal

Monday 16th January 2006.

Hazardous is an Inadequate Word

After passing through Bharatpur we began the steady climb up through the mountains towards Kathmandu. If I had thought that the road was dangerous previously I was much mistaken. Hazardous is simply an inadequate word. Travelling soon became simply suicidal. There were constant twists and turns, switchbacks and blind corners. Numerous signs, often every hundred metres or so, warned of falling rocks for the road was cut out of a steep cliff. The left side of the road – we were on that side – plunged 200 metres to a raging river below. It was a perfect white water rafting river with many boulders and looked icy cold. Very few barriers separated us from potential disaster. The barriers that existed were mere tokens – 30cm high at best and so infrequent to be almost useless.

White Knuckle Driving

If that wasn’t enough, the driver was determined to get to Kathmandu as quickly as possible. Overtaking the many vehicles now on the road on blind corners and crests was the norm. He was very skilful at avoiding an accident but we came very close on several hundred occasions. White knuckle driving I called it at the time – not so much from fear, thankfully, but merely to stop from being thrown around. I was sitting at the back and the handle on the backs of the two seats in front of me received a thorough workout with my clinging on for dear life. The van’s brakes also received severe testing on several occasions.

Toilet Stop

Half way along we stopped for a ten minute toilet break. The driver also needed a coffee. I didn’t drink anything during this trip; I didn’t need a bursting bladder in traffic like that! I did, however, manage to eat some of the food provided – and keep it down! Actually, I didn’t feel at all car sick despite the rough ride. Jade, however, was feeling a little jaded at times (OK – that’s a terrible pun and I admit it!).

Army Checkpoint

The journey of 140km normally takes about 4 hours. I though we were making very good time as we approached Kathmandu. At 16km from the city centre the traffic crawled to a stop. We had reached the queue for the army checkpoint. For over an hour we only moved about a kilometre. There were many slow moving buses and trucks as well as many private cars. Several times we saw male passengers get off the bus and go to the edge of the road and relieve themselves. On reaching the checkpoint at last we saw why there was such a long wait. The soldiers were asking all bus passengers to disembark, collect their luggage from the pack rack and line up for a bag check.

“Where are you from?”

As we pulled up near one of the buses a soldier opened the sliding door of our mini van. He ignored the driver and the hotel manager in the front seat. He looked at me and asked, in good English, where we were from and where we’d been. I told him we were all from Australia, we’d been to Chitwan National Park to see the animals, that we’d seen lots of birds and rhinos but no tigers. He laughed, closed the door and waved us on. He didn’t even ask to inspect our bags. Obviously he did not consider us a risk.

Nepal – the political reality

Less than a kilometre further on we witnessed the reason the army and the police were being more cautious than last week. We passed the police station that had been attacked and bombed on Saturday night. The Maoists responsible for the attack had come into Kathmandu by bus, hence the thorough checks of all bus passengers and their luggage. Reports of the incident were sketchy but it seems that at least a dozen police were killed.

Safe Arrival

We arrived at the Shangri La Hotel at 11:30am, an amazing time of five hours considering the roadblock and the heavy traffic. We checked in after talking to Ananta and Dorjee who were there to meet us. I washed and changed and then met Jade and Kane in the restaurant for lunch. After lunch I spent an hour sending a long email to Corinne and another to everyone on my mailing list. This latter email was all about my experiences at Chitwan.

I tried to meet with the hotel travel agent to ask him to arrange for me to fly home early. He was at the airport and so I didn’t get to see him until 5:30pm. I have asked him to try to get a seat from here to Bangkok and then to Melbourne on Thursday. This will give me two more days to explore Kathmandu.

During the afternoon I also rang Alexa McArthur in Tansen. We had a lovely ten minute discussion. She was very interested in how we had gone on the trek. She agree with me that it would be too difficult to get to Tansen this week and that there are no guarantees of getting back here in time for my flight on Sunday.


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