Pokhara Madness

The last two days have been quite interesting.  The bandh or strike was lifted today, thankfully so we were able to get a tourist mini-van to get back to Kathmandu.

We got to the bus station yesterday in Pokhara thinking that we will be in Besi Sahar by bus directly but unfortunately, we weren’t aware that there was a strike in Nepal.  The ticket guy told us that we may or may not get to Besi Sahar on the bus because there is no bus going to Besi Sahar due to the strike.  We sat down and read our book until we got full confirmation that our bus is a no-go.  7:00am came and no bus.  Our bus was suppose to leave at 6:30am.  Doug asked me what I wanted to do.  We have two options, stay another night in Pokhara or until the bandh is lifted or take a chance and squeeze in the Kathmandu bus to Dumbre to find out if there are any jeeps to take us to Besi Sahar.  Dumbre is the main junction of the highway that connects to Besi Sahar.  We both decided to take the chance and go to Dumbre.

There were a few people in the same bus that are also going to Besi Sahar.  We met a very outspoken Spanish trekker who sat beside us.  Since we are add-ons to the Kathmandu bus, we were squeezed in the front right by the driver along with six other people and a small boy.  We were all packed so hard that leaving our seat would mean losing it.  All the buses left all at the same time and it was about 8:00am.  The bus rolled out about a few feet then stopped, for many minutes.  There is a strike ahead and police were helping clear the road for tourist buses.  The strike won’t allow any non-tourist bus to pass through.  All the buses that day had to have a green license plate and a big sign that had “Tourist Only” posted on the front of the bus.

It took us about an hour to move a mile.

We finally got going and the long bus ride to Dumbre was uneventful except for almost running over a cow, a goat and a dog.  We passed several towns and we saw military guards waving us through.  We got to Dumbre and walked down the bridge to see if we can find any jeep at all.  All the businesses were closed and no vehicles running at all.  We were getting worried together with the Spanish and Chinese trekker.  A Nepalese man was trying to tell the Chinese trekker that he can get a jeep if there are at least 10 people.  He appeared a bit drunk and I can smell alcohol in his breath but proceeded to ask him about the ride.  He led us to a house with a dark narrow corridor and at the end, I saw a couple of trekkers sitting around.  The man told us that his brother has a jeep and can take us all to Besi Sahar if there are enough people.

We asked him how much but he insisted to wait for his brother who owns the jeep.

There were ten trekkers including us and after about an hour, we met the brother.  He was chatting with the Spanish guy who was trying to find out more about the jeep ride.  Another older Chinese trekker started interrogating the brother asking him if this whole jeep ride is legal.  It started to inferiorate the brother but fortunately, the charming Spanish guy helped diffuse the situation.  He was trying to calm the brother and buttering him up a bit.  1100 rupees.  Of course, we were all not in agreement with the price because it is quite expensive.  The brother was calmed down and as he was walking away I asked him if that is the last price he can give us.  He knocked it down to 1000 rupees, last price.

Apparently, this whole jeep ride thing is not technically legal and the jeep doesn’t even have a green license plate.  The maoist (strikers) can harm the driver or burn us down anytime.  We had no choice and everyone hesitantly agreed.  We all want to get to Besi Sahar that day and there was absolutely no other vehicles running in Dumbre.  We were all outside talking and the only foreigners on the streets while local were watching us.  I did see a couple of tourist vans up the road going to Besi Sahar and I believe we may have been the last group to leave Dumbre.

The brother went away and told us that we will get his jeep.  The older Chinese trekker was pissed and told us that he will walk to Besi Sahar.  I am thinking to myself that he is in for a long haul.  It’s about 42km to Besi Sahar from Dumbre.  We’ve ridden the road on our mountain bike and there was absolutely no tea house or guest house along the way – we know because we looked forever before deciding to ride our bike all the way to Besi Sahar that day.  The man had a super thick guide book in Chinese and proceeded to walk out with his trekking poles.

The jeep came and it was tiny.  We immediately climbed in the back seat with our backpacks.  I didn’t want my back pack on the roof for that long bumpy ride.  I couldn’t trust the roof rack on the jeep.  The brother was cool about it since we have a small pack compared to other trekkers.  We had to all squeeze in the small jeep.  The older Chinese man was the 10th person and after everyone had their seats, I wasn’t sure how another person can fit in the jeep!  There were a few kids outside including the drunk brother with a white piece of paper and markers writing out in big bold letters “Tourist Only.”  They taped the sign one in the front and the other in the back.  It looked like writings of little kids.  I guess it’s visible enough and the words spelled out correctly.  They all bid us good bye with smiles and as the jeep backed-up, it bottomed out on the pavement with a loud crash.  Oops.  The brothers all looked at the damage for a few minutes then the driver got back in and continued to scrape the pavement until we were on the road.  Off we went!

According to the brother, the price we paid gets “shared” to his friends along the way, sort of a commission to let us through.  It’s the only way we can get to Besi Sahar so price is steep.  He is risking his jeep and the life of his brother who is also the driver.

The drive was pretty good as there were no vehicles around.  We caught up with the other two tourist vans that were escorted by a military truck with armed military men.  We joined the train of vehicles.

We all made it to Besi Sahar safe!

It’s really nice to be reunited with our mountain bikes again!  We checked in to the Himalayan Gateway Resort for the night and had a big dhal bat dinner.  We were pooped and that hot shower sure felt good.  We weren’t sure if the bandh will be in effect again the next day but that night, the strikers were scheduled for another two days of striking.

The next morning, I walked out to check the streets to see if businesses were open and asked people if the bandh was still in effect.  There was no strike today!  That means we can take a jeep or bus or mini-van to Kathmandu as scheduled.  We enjoyed a good breakfast, paid the bill and the hotel was able to arrange for a mini-jeep for us.  We will miss Himalayan Gateway Resort.  As Doug said, “Himalayan Gateway Resort in Besi Sahar is becoming a nice port in the storm.”  I am sure we will be back again.

One of the things we need to get use to is to travel with our bikes.  Transporting bikes is rough in Nepal or even in any Asian countries by land.  It’s something we still need to learn.  The mini-van had a very basic roof rack, that’s it.  We tried to fit the bikes in the van but it won’t fit.  So the driver took both our bikes and stacked it on the roof rack then tied it up with ropes.  Ouch.  It’s hard to see my bike stacked up that way and knowing that it will be a five hour bumpy ride.  Egad.

The mini-van ride was long and warm.  We met the other only passenger and he’s a teacher.  He teaches computer classes in Dubai and would travel to teach as volunteer.  He is also Welch.  A really nice man with a lot of experience traveling the world.  We chatted the whole way and made the trip not so boring.  We stopped for a quick morning snack of momos and tea in Mugling plus a potty stop so the driver can fill up his gas tank.

We arrived in Thamel and bid good bye to the Welch man.  A sadhu man came and gave me a tika (red powder dot on the forehead) then proceeded to put yellow flowers on top of my head.  He did the same to the Welch man.  He was telling us that it’s good luck then proceeded to ask for alms for his dinner.  The Welch man insisted that he does not have money.  I know he was going to do the same to me and I said the same.  We were so busy trying to get our bikes down it was really sort of chaotic with people walking by us to get through.  We assembled our bikes and then rode to our hotel to check in.

I found a couple of really bad scratches on my bike so I went to the bike shop, Himalayan Single Track to find out how bad it was.  We saw Santosh, who sold us the bikes from the same bike shop.  The bike mechanic checked my bike and said it’s just a scratch then showed me another bike with more bad scratches.  He told me not to worry, it is okay.  It’s really nice to have a bike shop to rely on and the service is outstanding always.  Every time we go to the store or to their bike shop, they are happy to see us and always happy to service our bike in anyway.

We’ve reunited with our bikes and we are also back in Thamel!

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