On the road to & from Palpa

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In Nepal, travelling can be excruciating. However, spending hours on board an overcrowded bus, crammed in a small seat with minimal leg space as it makes its way up and down the winding roads that cuts through the hills can be an enjoyable adventure provided if you’re with a group of good friends.

And that was what my trip to Palpa in west Nepal was like — full of unanticipated adventure with a great group of friends.

***

The journey from Kathmandu started with the usual wait. We were told to be at the bus station at 7 am but we didn’t hit the road until 9 am. As we complained about the “hard seat” and the “eight-hour drive,” we were unaware of what to expect in the hours and days to follow.

The drive to Pala was scenic, and also scary. From a distance what looks like curvy lines sketched on the hilly terrain are actually the roads that connects towns and villages.

When we got to the bus station in Tansen, the district headquarter of Pala district, we were welcomed by further waiting time. We had to take this 13-seater van to Harthok, a small village that was our final destination.

As we waited for an hour inside the van, there were seven people who had been waiting there for almost three hours. The van wouldn’t move unless it was full; and when I say full, I mean without any space for anything or anyone.

When the van finally was on the road, there were 20 people plus a baby. There was this woman who started talking to us, gave tips and later kept insisting visiting the temple. Then there was this teenage boy who was sort of excited to see our “white” friend on the van. Then there was the man who was sitting in the middle and had to lean over two people to reach the window so he had could spit. And of course the baby, who thankfully didn’t cry at all.

As the van twisted and made swift turns through the narrow roads, my eyes were stuck on the window, trying not to think that a minor miss would lead us hundreds of feet down the hill.

But then, this ride and the twists and turns were nothing compared to the one we would be having the next day.

***

Speeding kills and all seven of us couldn’t stop thinking that as our driver sped his way through the winding blacktopped road that later turned into a dirt road en route to Rani Mahal, the 124-year-old palace in Palpa.

While a friend said that she felt like it was some sort of “death ride,” others thought of making some confessions or declaring our last wishes just in case. But we weren’t serious about that, of course not.

As our driver made swift turns, we screamed – it was like a rollercoaster ride. There were instances we thought that we might just miss that turn. And at times, while his eyes stared at passing women and not the steering, we were sort of concerned. But the driver was experienced enough to tackle those roads, and everything else, including the flat tire we had.

As we drove through the small settlements, we picked up people, the ones who needed a ride downhill. They included an elderly Canadian couple who were sightseeing in Palpa and locals, who suggested us things to see and do in their village.

On our return after our short hike, I think we were tried to feel the bouncy ride or notice the narrow roads. Our driver dropped us off in the same speed, and in no time we were sitting by the bonfire talking about “one of the most bumpy rides ever.” Meanwhile, we thought that we would have a smooth journey to Kathmandu the next day. Well, that’s what we thought. But not really.

***

The 12-hour return to Kathmandu was adventurous; I think that’s the best way to put it.

Thinking it would be best to take the night bus and reach Kathmandu early the following day, we opted for the 5 pm bus. The first 30 minutes was a joyride. The bus driver played his English play list—Rhianna and other dance anthems included—that tempted us to dance. It made us settle in a happy mood.

Soon the English songs faded and the Hindi and Nepali music became overpowering. Still no complains until the empty seats and the aisle started filling.

Usually night buses don’t cram passengers, but this had people everywhere – some were sitting on small stools and suitcases while others stood. It was pretty shocking that there were a few who were ready to stand up all the way to Kathmandu, and they did as well.

While people in the aisle shared their stories of the need to get to Kathmandu at the earliest, two women right behind my seat were the center of attention of the entire bus. People keenly watched them flirting with the man behind them (well, the man was flirting with them too), and listened to their conversations that revolved around music, movies, relationships and their personal lives. Well, by the first hour nothing remained personal. As the night progressed inside the bus, we also had to bear one of the girls picking on fight with some of the men in the bus. And we thought it couldn’t get worse until the bus was parked outside a small teashop in the middle of the highway.

The bus stopped exactly for two hours. From 1 am until 3 am, the driver took a long nap. To justify why he’d stopped and slept, he said that he didn’t want us to get to Kathmandu at 3 am—the city was roughly two hours away. Good point and pretty logical, but still it was pretty annoying to be inside a motionless vehicle for two hours. Good thing, we were close to a hotel that was serving tea.

Finally, after all that fuss, we reached Kathmandu at 5:30 am.

***

The journey was long and exhausting, but the destination was worth everything.

Palpa isn’t a famous tourist destination unlike other places in Nepal; it’s not the first place that comes to the mind like Pokhara. But it’s different: it’s a mix of nature and culture.

While a walk through the old Tansen bazaar is a good way to experience local culture and see old architecture, minutes away from this bustling town are small settlements, which is a good escape from the periphery of anything city-like.

We preferred to spend the few days in one of the villages in Harthok, and opted to stay in a local farmhouse, and not a hotel. A young venture, Srijana Farm Pvt. Ltd in Khasyauli – 5 is a locally-run guesthouse set up in a three-story mud house.

In fact it was a great choice – the local food and the hospitality was above excellence, and we were in the middle of a farm, away from all the dust, pollution and the chaos of the city. And this is what we actually wanted – a mini break.

So despite complaining about the journey and the excruciating bus rides, I think we’re taking comfort in the time spent in the village under the blue sky and starry nights. For us, this time, it’s the destination that mattered more than the journey.

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