A busted bus and lots of dust
via Haldwani, Banbassa, Mahendranagar, Kolapuri, Butwal, Manikamana, Mugling, Dadhing & Narayanghat
Note to self: do NOT, repeat not, take a bus ride across the Terai (flat lowland plains of Nepal) in pre-monsoon season. Unless you want to melt into your seat! I really thought there would be nothing left of me but a puddle on the grimy bus floor and at every stop I had to soak my chunni (scarf) in cold water and wrap it around my head like a coolie, to prevent my brain from exploding. I must have looked like a total dork (white lady with a dripping towel wrapped turban-style on her head, dripping down her shirt and face) but I so did not care. I was sweating so profusely I finally had to remove my glasses (they wouldn't stay on my face) so I could only marginally enjoy the wonderful scenery that begins at Narayanghat - green jagged hills and deep river gorges, hills covered with terraced rice paddies like giant emerald steps.
Well, Border Crossing #3 was an experiment. I'll never have to do it again. Next time I will go via the more common Bhairava/Senauli border crossing. Never in my life have I been so glad to see rain as I was in, oh what was the name of that little village where we stopped to fix the flat tire? As all the other bus passengers were shutting their windows against the rain I was cheering for joy and sticking my head out the window.
Riding across the Terai did give me a chance to see (even without my glasses) some of the changes in the emerging democracy. A half hour after departing the Immigration post (just a little concrete cinder block box that says "Tourist Information" - you would never know it was a govt. office - I realized something had been missing from the walls inside - the mandatory portraits of King Gyanendra and Queen Komal. These 2 are (or were) everywhere in Nepal, from the smallest juice shop to the biggest 5 star hotel, peering down at you like overweening parents. No more.
At the whistle-stop village where we paused to repair the busted tyre I wandered over to the snack stand, where everything is still made on beautful wood-fired clay ovens. There were Maoist posters with the face of leader Prachanda, advertising the big "Jana Sabha" (meeting of the people) tomorrow in Kathmandu. I knew what the posters said but played dumb and asked the hotel owner. "Maoist," he said. " The Maoists have put this poster." It was obvious from his tone that he would never have put it up himself, and was only keeping it out of fear. I began to see this poster everywhere.
At Narayanghat, clean-cut, energetic young men in red t-shirts (with the same Prachanda portrait) and carrying megaphones clambered aboard the bus and spoke authoritatively to the driver. Soon half a dozen civilian young men got on board, without, I noticed, paying any fare.
This happened at every stop between Narayanghat and Kathmandu, and I soon realized they were sending delegates and followers to tomorrow's meeting in Kathmandu (commandeering the bus free of charge). At the dinner stop, I saw buses packed with dozens of men riding on the rooftops, red flags waving from the bus's prow.
Everyone in town seems to be expecting something momentous from this meeting today in Tundikhel. My favourite hotel waiter Hari has agreed to go with me as translator, and I have to go get ready and meet him now. My camera is acting up (again!) so I don't know what photos I will be able to get but I will do my best. There should be at least 50 to 100,000 people there.
Caroline, back in Kathmandoooo!
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