At the time of writing it is April 22, 2014. We have been in Kathmandu for a few days to get used to the country and to feel more comfortable in this strange world. And although Kathmandu is a beautiful city, it is not the goal of our trip to Nepal. We want to go into the Himalayas: we are going to do the Annapurna Circuit Trek. A trek of about 160-200km through the Himalayas.
It’s quite a pure experience, although nowadays there is a road along most of the route. This is not a busy road, and alternative paths are often constructed to avoid the road. In 2014, the situation was even different, with part of the road still under construction. By the way, “road” is quite an honor: it is a 2-track dirt track in most places.
Through the hotel owner we found out how it is all organised. We have organized our permits (lots of stamps and passport photos, take the time for this, and remember to have passport photos taken before you leave!) and we have reserved the tourist bus to Bandipur. We have to leave early in the morning and pay the equivalent of 10 EUR for a bus trip that will take about 6 hours. We deliberately opted for a tourist bus, to get used to the local customs and inconveniences. As authentic as it sounds, a Nepalese local bus is not made for the Dutch: I am 1.87 and my wife 1.76. That is just under 30 centimeters longer than a Nepali.
The bustrip: Kathmandu-Bandipur
As said, we take the tourist bus. The bus is indeed a Western bus, with air conditioning (which they did’t turn on initially). With this bus we drive out of the city, the impressive Kathmandu with its noise, dust, smog and dirt. When we leave the city, the road goes uphill. The traffic gets heavier, but the number of scooters decreases. The place is occupied by sooty trucks, decorated with all kinds of bells and whistles, mostly Indian made.
The traffic in Nepal is not what you are used to as a European – let alone the US. You can overtake anywhere, anytime, regardless of the speed difference or the chance of oncoming traffic. You will find road works haphazardly and children also work here under appalling conditions. The ride goes well for us through the beautiful Nepalese hill country (they call it hills up to 4000m here).
357 / 5.000
Anyway, after a long drive we arrive in Bandipur. Here we change to the local bus to Besisahar. This is quite chaotic, one boy yells that we must have that bus, another stops the bus and before you know it we are on the bus. We notice that we have to pay considerably more than the local population, but we do not enter into the discussion.
The van is small, the music is loud. The smells are penetrating but not annoying and the dust is everywhere. After a few hours of shaking up and down we arrive in Besisahar, a town where we change to a local bus to avoid the first 3km. A mistake indeed…
When we arrive in Besisahar, the boy from the bus tries to steal a few rupees from us and 2 Canadian boys by taking the backpacks from the roof. However, 1 of the Canadian boys is already climbing on the roof and I grab the bags. Not that we are too frugal to tip a little, but the way we did it was very unpleasant. This passed without discussion.
We eat something, walk through the village, wait for the next bus to Bhulbule. Nobody knows when it will come. But he’s coming. However, it takes more than an hour to get out of the village: the bus drives to the end, is not full yet, and turns around again. People join in every round. And chickens, and goats, bicycles, jerry cans and whatnot.
There is no timetable here, nor do bus stops. People don’t walk: the bus drives right up to the person. If someone is standing 10m away, the bus will stop again. A good exercise for my patience. At the last round it turns out that we still have to get something stamped. Not entirely clear why and even more unclear why this was not done in 1 of the five previous rounds…
As soon as we leave the village, semi-urban life changes. Small huts take the places of the stacked houses, goats are slaughtered along the way. The drive is very short and on reflection we could have walked. We didn’t want to walk this road because of the dust. But the only traffic is our bus.
In Bhulbule it is deserted. We soon learn why: most people (especially Israeli and American tourists) take the jeep as far as Chame and thus skip the first stages.
We are in a lovely lodge and tomorrow we start the walk to Ghermu. The food here is delicious and it’s quiet. The ceilings are low, electricity is not obvious and the rooms are small and devoid of any luxury. 2 single beds, a pillow. A small bulb for some light and a view of the river and the dusty valley, far away the first snow on the mountains.
Read more about my Annapurna Circuit trek:
Annapurna Circuit day 1: Kathmandu – Besisahar – Bhulbule