I woke up at 5:45 to catch the bus to Pokhara.
My ticket listed a 6:30 report time for a 7:00 departure, and I had no intention of staying in Kathmandu a single day more.
I took a cold shower to jolt myself awake. Not that I had much choice — the power was out again.
I put on my hiking boots and stumbled downstairs.
To my surprise, the manager was waiting to see me off. I’d settled my bill the night before, so this was purely a gesture of courtesy.
I shook his hand and told him I’d be back.
He wished me a good trek, and we parted with a “namaste.”
Still sleepy, I stumbled through the pre-dawn streets of Kathmandu. There was a chill in the air; a light morning mist hung across the city. Without the bustling crowds, screaming touts, and smoggy scooters at every step, the city was almost peaceful.
I wore my new hiking boots on my feet, Holly’s hat on my head, and everything else on my back. My entire life, such as it was.
When I arrived at the location marked on my ticket, I was shocked. More than three dozen tourist buses sat in a long line, their engines idling in the cold Kathmandu morning. A continuous trickle of backpackers was walking towards the buses. Young travelers from all over the world, carrying their lives on their backs. Most of them looked just as tired and strung out as I felt.
I walked the whole length of the bus line without spotting my bus. They all kind of looked the same: big, luxury-type buses. They were painted different colors, but in shape and function, they were all pretty much the same. Now and then one would catch my eye as particularly shabby, or especially luxurious, but for the most part I could have gotten on any of these buses, and been none the wiser.
Young kids walked along the bus line, offering fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and overpriced candy bars to the sleepy tourists. It was a good racket; if I hadn’t been so focused on finding my bus before it took off without me, I would have bought a couple.
Eventually I found my red Swiss Travels bus. I opted to bring my backpack on board with me, instead of storing it in the dedicated luggage compartment. I snagged a window seat, and placed my luggage in the seat next to me. It was too early to talk to people.
I stared blankly out the window. A kid caught my eye, and held up his box of cinnamon rolls, questioningly. I shook my head.
Seven o’clock came and went. So did 7:30.
My bus slowly filled in, until about half of the seats were taken.
I had to imagine that in a normal tourism year, unaffected by the earthquake, all of these buses would be filled. As it was, it seemed awful wasteful to run so many half-filled buses.
Then, like some great lumbering Kraken, the line of busses began to move. First one pulled out, then another, then the next, all belching great black clouds of smoke as these giant hulks of metal shuttered to life. Even inside the bus, I covered my mouth.
The fleet of buses dispersed, each going their own separate routes. Some would go to Chitwan National Park, some would make for the Indian border, and others, like mine, were bound for Pokhara.
Slowly, torturously, the bus rose out of the Kathmandu valley. As we gained elevation, the extent of Kathmandu’s pollution problem became apparent. You could barely see the city from the rim of the valley, such a thick blanket of smog hung over things.
The further we moved from the tourist center of the city, the worse things looked. As with many of the Asian countries I had passed through prior, trash was scattered everywhere. Even high up on the edge of the valley, smog still hung thick in the air. Scooters, buses, and mining trucks all jostled for space on the barely-existent roads. Our driver would stop, seemingly at random, to pick up local passengers, or exchange a few words with a pedestrian on the side of the road. Sometimes, a person would climb atop the bus and strap some luggage on, or take something off. Then the bus would roll on.
Soon, we were out of Kathmandu.
Despite bing a “luxury tourist bus,” the ride was far from smooth. Nepal’s roads aren’t exactly well-maintained, and my guess is neither are the shocks on the tourist buses.
I put on my thick hat and laid my head on the window pane. The hat sheltered me against the jostling somewhat, but I still found myself waking up every time the bus went over a particularly large pothole. After smashing my nose into the window for the third time, I decided to stop trying to sleep.
I’ve never been able to read in moving cars — it gives me motion sickness. As a bookish kid who never much liked talking, let me tell you, I was ill through a good number of family road trips before I learned to just look out the window. Doesn’t matter if it’s a screen or a printed page, trying to read in a car or a bus just makes me nauseous.
So I stared out the window for the whole trip.
It took us eight hours to travel 120 miles.