1 February 2017 (Wednesday)
If your destination is just Pokhara with nothing in between, I say don’t even dream of taking a car there from Kathmandu. You have Nepal Airlines, Buddha Air, Yeti Airlines, take your pick. Just fly and stay off the ground.
But if you happen to be travelling with a group of photographers who want to see how the locals live, then you don’t really have much of a choice but to travel by land.
According to Google Maps, Pokhara is about five hours’ drive away from Kathmandu.
What Google Maps failed to mention is the state of the roads in Nepal and how riding a vehicle with practically non-existent suspension can speed up the aging process. If you want to see how I look like on the verge of dying, watch the video below and skip to 5:25.
The mode of transport
The vehicle we rented was a 15-seater Toyota Hiace, but if you want to stuff luggage at the back of the van, the last row which has four seats can be folded to the side to make space, leaving us with 11 seats.
There were seven of us including Sukur the driver and Priya the local guide. As far as space was concerned, we had plenty.
Now make no mistake, the Toyota Hiace is a decent vehicle. In fact when I was in New Zealand a few months ago, we rented one of these and it was plenty comfortable for nine people.
But here’s what you need to know about the roads in Nepal
The road in the image I captured below is actually quite wide – at least enough for two vehicles abreast. And don’t worry, it’s not dirt road all the way to Pokhara.
The problem starts at the bendy parts of the road – which as you can see from the map – is practically the whole way. If you click on the map below and zoom in, you can see that a major part of the Prithvi Highway runs alongside rivers, which explains the snake-like bends and turns we had to endure for more than seven hours.
During my waking moments, I remember Prithvi Highway to be quite narrow. There are two reasons why narrow roads are immediate problems to passengers:
1) To avoid incoming cars, vehicles from both sides of the road are forced to drive very close to the sides, where all the pebbles and rocks are. If you are in a van like moi, that means being in a mini earthquake for seven hours.
2) If you are stuck behind a large slow truck carrying heavy things, you can’t really safely overtake them. This means you get to enjoy your mini earthquake fest longer as you proceed at snail pace.
But Sukur our driver does overtake slow vehicles – all the time. The drivers have a system where the slow vehicle in front will honk to indicate that the are no incoming cars and it’s relatively safe to speed up and pass them. Every seasoned Nepali driver does this apparently.
How to combat nausea
The sceneries on the way were a delight, but motion sickness will spoil any beautiful sceneries in front of you. My vomit meds didn’t really work on me, so I would sleep as much as I could. When I couldn’t sleep anymore, I found that taking sweets helped. My sugar level however skyrocketed as I continuously popped them into my mouth like my life depended on it.
What we saw on the way that made travelling on land worth it
We actually came across a local wedding and with the help of Priya, they let us join them and even take photographs!
In Nepali culture, red is an auspicious colour, representing happiness and celebration. Little wonder then, that throughout my time in Nepal, red seems to be the predominant colour not only at special events, but also on normal days.
The bride’s and groom’s feet are washed by the bride’s relatives with water from the huge copper bowl. This ceremony is called Godadhuwa ceremony.
Approximately 81% of Nepalis are Hindus and Hindu weddings are known to last many days. There are multiple rituals to be observed, blessings to be asked and given, prayers to be carried out and gifts to be exchanged. We did not have the time (or expressed permission) to stay and confirm this, but if you’re interested, this article has extensive information on the ceremonies and rituals involved pre, during and post Nepali wedding ceremonies.
Nepali children have characteristically large eyes and rosy cheeks – simply gorgeous.
When this man saw a group of photographers (that’s us) taking a huge interest in this lovely young lady, he introduced himself as the father. I can’t remember how old the father is, but the girl is either 14 or 16. What a pair they make!
After about half an hour, we thanked them for their hospitality, excused ourselves and went on our way (to find lunch).
Not so far away from the place where the wedding took place is a restaurant called Blue Heaven. Coincidentally, we were in the region of a small town on the bank of Trishuli River called Malekhu, famous for its various types of fish.
The fish might look small and simple, but they were finger lickin’ good. I actually went and refilled my plate. Twice.
The place where we ate served vegetarian food. I’m not sure if it’s because there were two of us in a group who couldn’t eat meat or if it’s because Nepalese restaurants typically serve mostly vegetable dishes. But whatever it is, if you pass ever by Malekhu, I insist that you try out the fish. It’s their specialty. This simple, down-to-earth, humble looking dish is fresh, crispy and seasoned to perfection.
Praying on the go
Nepal only has about 4% Muslim population which meant that I had to avoid eating meat because they are most probably non-halal, and I had trouble finding a place to pray outside the hotel room.
To those who don’t know, Muslims pray five times a day at a given time range throughout the day. A musafir (Arabic for traveller) is allowed the convenience of combining and compressing the length of their daily prayers. Despite this allowance, the snail pace at which we travelled to Pokhara meant that I wouldn’t be able to reach the hotel in time to perform my daylight prayers.
But no matter. All I needed was my compass to determine the direction of the Kaabah and a clean place to pray. I picked a nice spot by the river where it was quiet, had a nice gentle breeze and prayed there.
Our local guide Priya was so fascinated by the whole process she took a picture of me praying. She said she had never seen a Muslim pray before.
When I was done, I found my group mates waiting for me while drinking coffee and Masala tea. I said my thanks and we went on our way to Pokhara.
Fly or Drive?
It really depends on your travel style. If you need to get to Pokhara fast for work or something specific, then nothing beats flying (except money).
As I typed this post and looking at the pictures and the videos I’ve taken, no matter how torturous the road was, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. If I had to do it all over again, I would still take the road. The people I met, the places I visited and the things I saw made the whole thing worth it.
I would also pay extra for a more comfortable vehicle. As a rule, avoid vans. They don’t do well on holey, pebbley roads.
This post covers some things that I didn’t or couldn’t show in the video, so if you haven’t seen my vlog, clickety click!
Thank you for reading!