Rajan, the owner of Earthbound Expeditions (who organized our trek) met us at the hotel in Kathmandu upon arrival and laid down the details of our trek. He was amazingly thorough and very personable, giving us a customized trip and top-notch service. The drive from Kathmandu to the Besi Sahar, the start of the Annapurna trek is “supposed” to take 4-5 hours. We were scheduled to take the $5 per person tourist bus the next day. However, Rajan mentioned, kind-of as an afterthought, the other more expensive option. For $125, we could hire a private driver to bring us, our guide and our porter to the start of the trek in a Land Rover. For Americans, this was a no-brainer yet for most Nepali people $125 was not an option given that the average salary is less than $2 a day. For them $125 is a lot of money.
We opted for the driver and this ended up being a very good idea and worth every penny. Having never been to Nepal, we had no idea the dire, dangerous situation of the roads or the incredible amount of traffic. Leaving Kathmandu, there is only one highway out and it has only two lines, one per direction. Thus the drive is notorious for huge traffic jams, which we instantly experienced. We moved out of Kathmandu at a snail’s pace, being surrounded by three-wheeled carts, motorbikes carrying entire families, buses (with people riding on the top, out the sides and holding on the back), bicycles and rickshaws. Plus there was the usual amount of cows living in the streets and other livestock.
Apparently it was a holiday week in Nepal and everyone was returning home on the one and only route to their villages. As we drove out of the congested, polluted city, the traffic somehow managed to go, but in no order whatsoever. We arrived outside of the city and into the immense, lovely green Kathmandu Valley and finally got a visual of our situation. One look at the rows and rows of traffic dwindling down the curvy, windy roads of the valley made me realize that this was going to be yet another long day (it was only our third day out of the States and the first two were spent flying). Instead of 4-5 hours, it ended up being 9 long hours of hell. The traffic was jammed up all the way the mountain on each side and the drivers had to do their best to move around all the old, broken down cars and trucks on the narrow, mountainous road. Feeling quite restless, at one point, my father, our guide and I all got out of the car and actually walked a few hours. It was faster than driving however the pollution was intense and the road conditions were dangerous. I actually twisted my ankle an hour into the walk (what bad luck at the start of a 100-mile hike) and it swelled madly. I kept walking since there was nowhere else to go. (Thankfully the swelling stopped and I was fully recovered in two days! I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to come all this way and have to go back!).
When we finally arrived in Besi Sari, we were utterly exhausted, dehydrated and famished. We were also behind a day in trekking that would have to be made up. Here are some great photos of that daunting drive from hell:
One of my favorite site: The eye-catching,crazily decorated trucks. Not only were they colorful and decorated to the max, their horns were hilarious sounding and used often.
A common site: How people get from place to place in Nepal when cars are expensive. Any way works…even on top of the bus!
This is why it takes so long. What happens, as often does, when a truck or car breaks down and you have to try to pass? A huge traffic jam.
The road conditions were pitiful. At points the road was washed away by landslides or there were big huge potholes. No wonder all the breakdowns!
When all else fails, walk.
Yet we were rewarded by all the lovely views of the countryside and what was to come.
And, the beautiful smiles of the children dressed in their school uniforms, waving at us joyfully and yelling out “namaste”.
Yet, the first sight of the mighty Himalayas in the distance instantly calmed us and made our frustrations disappear.
Finally, we were in the countryside and traffic moved!
And we drove alongside villagers going about their daily business.