Sunday, 23 September 2012

Charikot to Ilam, 25 hours of torture (don't worry, everything is arranged)

Charikot to Kathmandu

When travelling it is important to keep cultural differences in mind. Concepts such as time and comfort vary from country to country. When the president of the Nepal chess federation, Mr Rajesh Hari Joshi, invited me to play in Nepal, he painted a very flowery picture as any good salesman does. I am writing this post to enhance translation between Australian and Nepalese concepts.

Time. Nepalese time is very different to Australian time. The ratio is about 1-2.5. A two hour trip, like from Kathmandu to Charikot takes five hours. I would still have gone, but could have prepared better. 

Hot water. When we say "there is hot water" it is implied that there is constantly hot water. Here it
means that there is sometimes hot water. Same goes for Wi-fi. It is not that we cannot live without these luxuries, we just prefer to know. It makes it easier to plan ahead.

Details. Speaking of planning ahead, that is also something we like to do. For this reason we like to have some details about future planned events. When I last asked Mr RHJ about the next days travel plans he said " don't worry, everything has been arranged". When I persisted trying to get some detail, radio silence. I was not asking to be a pest. I was asking so that I know what to pack where. Like, should I get snacks? An extra t-shirt in my laptop bag, etc etc.

Alternatives. There are flights apparently for about $50. I would have gladly paid this to avoid the horror that I am now about to describe. Many westerners are a bit softer than easterners and are happy to pay, what for us is a small amount to avoid a whole night getting our internal organs rearranged on a dangerous potholed road. The plane-trip takes 45 minutes, the bus-ride 16+ hours. (just that leg) 

I hope these clarifications will improve communication in future. "Don't worry, everything is arranged" is NOT a satisfactory answer to an enquiry.  Anyway, on to the trip.

We left Charikot at 9am, only an hour after the scheduled departure time. An hour seems about standard. We had the same vehicle as the previous day for our trip to Kalinchowk. The driver was also the same guy which put me at ease as well. The first part, 6 hours, was not pleasant because of the lack of suspension, potholes, sections of dirt road and the near death experiences as trucks constantly try to pass each other on what is not a complete one lane road. Looking at the 1000metre drop right next to you can also be disconcerting if  one is not used to it. Luckily the view was very distracting. 

Waterfalls punctuate the landscape every few hundred metres and while slowing down the journey, do enhance the visual experience 

Another nice spot and a welcome stop. Being shaken around for hours on end and watching trucks approach at break-neck speed in the wrong lane down a steep hill only to turn at the last moment is exhausting.  

One of the reasons the 138km journey takes an average of five hours is because we are constantly going up and down mountains. I was authoritatively told that Charikot is only 32km from Kathmandu as the crow flies. Here we are at one Mude, the highest point, about 2400meters above sea level.

Finally we reached the valley where two big rivers meet, one from the mountains and one from China. We were not far from the border and had to pass several checkpoints as smuggling is rife in this area apparently. 

Kathmandu - Ilam
Now the true horror began. We were running late so didn't stop for any photo's. Unless you like pictures of garbage and waste, you are not missing much. Kathmandu valley is similar to the other valley's except it is heavily populated and garbage is just discarded everywhere. I did not see a single rubbish bin anywhere but plastic shopping bags full of refuse form little mounds all along the highway. Buses and trucks spew black smoke directly into the faces of pedestrians while young children run between cars to sell water and snacks to passing motorists. Kathmandu city is the most vile place I have ever far. 
I did not have to wait long break that record. For those readers who don't know me all that well I should point out that I have been travelling all over the globe since I was a child. We reached the buses area, not a station as such, at just after 3pm. The bus to Ilam was already waiting for us. Being a seasoned traveller I decided to visit the public facilities before jumping on the next bus. The only way you can possibly visualise what I saw next is if you dive head first into an open sewer. At this point I decided I would not eat until we arrived in Ilam. Nothing in, nothing out.  

Now we jumped onto the " Deluxe, Luxury Bus". There we met an old friend, Russian Grandmaster Alexander Fominihk, who was already thoroughly annoyed as he had not been met at the Airport by you Mr Joshi, as promised. Long story.
The seats were not all attached as required and the bus was many decades old with only emergency repairs ever performed. Anyway we made the best of it and patiently waited to reach the National Highway. We would call it a neglected country road.
 Our driver was a complete psycho. In the picture above he is harassing an ambulance in front of us by incessantly beeping and flashing his lights trying to overtake with trucks coming the other way. Naples drivers are pussies compared to the road-warriors here.

For the next fifteen hours we were shaken like popcorn in this old monstrosity while our psycho driver tried to overtake anything he could, braking when a speeding truck appeared in the approaching lane, swerved back into our lane, should I say, side of the road because it was all unmarked of course. We had a few little breaks either at official stops, comprising of stalls and a public cesspit or the side of the road.

Finally, the next morning a few people got off at the end of the highway, the town of Birtamod, near the Airport of Bhadrapur. From here it was a relatively painless three hours more into the mountains on an acceptable road. By this time we were all numb anyway.
We took a last break at the border of Ilam province, two hours from our final destination, Ilam city.

It is said that the road to heaven often leads through hell and this trip was definitely hell. Ilam on the other hand is heavenly.

As a final not I have just been informed that MR Rajesh Hari Joshi is arriving tomorrow, by plane of course. Don't worry, everything is arranged.

1 comment:

  1. Well river views are great but i wouldn't torture my butts on 24 hours road trip.