Maurice describes the ordeal that was their journey from Pokhara to Jomsom.
There are several ways to get to Jomsom. And when the destination is somewhere relatively remote and high in the mountain sthose options are usually limited t oeither 1 or 2 options. When flying is one of them, you do it. Thats my free piece of advice.
Since we didnt have the funds to fly (grumblegrumblegrumbleaboutfunding) we were left with the good old 6 wheeled-bus or in our case a rickity steel crate. We managed to avoid taking a bus from Pokhara (since nobody could tell us whether it existed or where it left from and once we did locate it we couldnt get tickets anymore) so we settled for a rather comfortable taxi ride. As our heavily burdened taxi struggled up into the mountains we came across the bus we should have been on hanging precariously off the road with quite a significant drop below it. I guess we were in luck.
We finally lurched into the lovely settlement of Beni after 3 hours and when I say ‘lovely settlement’ I mean quite the opposite (but I promised to be civilised on this blog). Beni is a transport hub sending all manner of rickity crate with questionable road worthiness into the Lower Mustang region.Its a dusty, dirty assemblage of buses and jeeps interspersed with human faeces and sleeping dogs. Lovely, like I said. We refused to board the bus that was ready to leave, in spite of us being offered 4 perfectly suitable seats on the ground at the feet of other passengers. For a journey of 20 minutes we might have been tempted but not for one of 4 hours over bumpy roads. Our refusal was met with much disgust by passengers and driver alike who would now have to wait for 4 other victims.
We got ourselves the best seats in the next bus that left an hour later. But before we left we had to take on one additional passenger. And he was terriblydrunk. It did not help that the man escorting him to the bus was equally off his face (inebriated I mean). Together it took them about 5 minutes to circle the bus and locate the entrance after which actually getting into the bus proved horrifically challenging. As the drunk man, ably assisted by drunk friend tried to coax him up the stairs other passengers simply trampled over him to find their seats. After a good 10 minutes he had gotten no further than the area directly infront of the door and thats where he remained. He couldnt go any further.
He waved to his friend: ‘Thank you…and goodnight!’
His drunk friend seemed confused: “Goodnight…? But its not even 12 noon yet…’
Exactly. Very good point. We nodded in approval. Finally they were talking some sense. By now the whole bus was watching with avid attention.
Then the conversation turned more serious: ‘I feel mywhole life is gone to raising children. It seems like I was born to raise children’. Somewhere in there there was an argument for birth control but we let it slide.
Anyway time to leave. We pulled away leaving Beni in its permanent cloud of dust and hit the road. Drunk man sprawled on the floor was unconscious within minutes. Nothing could wake him at the frustration of other passenger sneeding to get in and out of the bus with their luggage. Thus it was simply dropped on him. Thats when the driver started putting hot chillies in the man’s mouth but even that only caused a momentary disruption in his drunken stupor. It was not long before we envied him. Yes you heard me correctly.
The road to Ghasa can be described from 2 points of views. Either its a road that has aspirations of becoming a rock quarry or its a rock quarry that has aspirations of becoming a road. Either way it was a rock quarry. Our rickity steel crate bounced over the boulders at a steady speed of 10km/hour throwing all its occupants left and right. This lasted 4 hours. It was only when a woman next to us described this part as ‘the highway’ insinuating that this was good, that we realised we needed a drink. But ofcourse the drunk man has finished all the booze.
It got worse. Considerably. Believe it or not. And then, it got even worse. I’ve skipped over the puncture we had already suffered with half an hour delay as it paled in comparison to what followed. The rain had started falling. The road became a muddy rock quarry and then it kicked steeply upwards. Soon we were confronted with a narrow road, a broken down truck, plenty of mud and a drop to our right that would be unhealthy explore. The truck opposite us had broken its axel and wasnt going anywhere in a hurry.
The narrow gap on the right was our only way up. We went for it. We got stuck. We all disembarked and the driver went for it again spinning wheels endlessly till we could all smell the clutch. And then we got stuck even further. The skidding and fishtailing of our bus forced us into the broken down truck knocking off our wing mirror and scraping the metal together till the truck had embedded itself into us – literally. This was the last straw for the driver. Who got out, picked up the biggest rock he could find and threw it at the broken down truck. This was followed by more stone throwing till the helpless vehicle was thoroughly dented and abused. Only then did the driver decide he should get us unstuck.
I was in favour of a good old push by the 20 strong men in our bus but they had no intention of listeningto the foreigner, yet. Instead they went for the sabotage route by deflating the tires of the broken down truck on the mountain side so that it would lean away from our vehicle. Thus if the truck ever had any hope of fixing its axel the driver would come back only to find he couldnt go anywhere anyway cos his tires were flat. We shook our heads. I tried to make the point that this was pretty sneeky and all the locals wholeheartedly agreed only to continue watching with great amusement. Needlessto say it did not work. Like I said the truck was embedded in us. But it was a good effort.
45 minutes of playing in the mud later we were no further to freeing ourselves. I tentatively suggested we could try pushing but they seemed to be losing patience with the foreigner who was yet to get his hands dirty. Eventually as a last resort we decided for a push and I jumped in with gusto and voila (after 10 minutes of nearly being crushed) we got free. Victory. Onwards to Ghasa! Wrong. First we needed to help the bus behind us pull the same manoeuvre and he wanted us to push – suddenly everyone wants a push! We obliged ofcourse.
5pm we rolled into Ghasa, made a quick bus change for the last bus to Jomsom and headed out into fading light. Another 3 hours of semi conscious head lolling on terrible roads, listening to the most awful music to grace the himalayas and we finally got to Jomsom. It was a challenging dayto say the least but we had arrived in the Annapurna Conservation Area! And we were excited!