Everyone has a ‘crazy’ bus ride story from traveling- which might as well involve holding a wolverine while it gives birth. This is not that type of story. This is a practical guide to riding buses in Nepal. You cannot know Nepal without knowing the buses.
A few notes and assumptions: there are old drivers and bold drivers. Average Nepali bus driver age appears to be 22. Holding you hand palm down and waving means you want a ride, it also means you want to cross the street.
There is no maximum passenger limit and a bus is never full. There are no straight roads-only sections to accelerate between corners. All corners are blind. All vehicles honk as they corner but never slow down. Not all corners have a sheer cliff on one side. But most do. A bus before you destroyed the guard rail.
A bus never leaves on time. However, once on the road, it is perpetually late and will risk every life to ‘make up time’. Buses crash in Nepal. A lot. This isn’t hyperbole. It’s really fucking dangerous.
There is no such thing as a short bus ride. As one experienced rider quipped, “I smoked all my hash in the 1st 12 hours and still had 18 hours to go.” Plan accordingly.
One bang on the side of the bus means stop. 2 or more means go. Sometimes you have to bang more than once for stop.
Seat cushions are for decorative purposes only.
The only music is Hindi-techno. If the speakers aren’t blown out it is not loud enough. A handful of songs have 1–2 lines in English as a chorus. It is okay to sing these lines loudly. *Authors note: If you wear headphones and listen to Western music- you’re soft and belong on the tourist bus with the AC and hand sanitizer.
Failing to negotiate a price before getting on the bus will result in a conversation which mainly goes: You can go back to Kathmandu. Over and over and over.
If you complain enough about having to pee the bus will probably stop for a brief moment. It is harder than it appears to jump in and out of a moving bus. No one wants to sit next to the kid who smells like pee.
On ‘sanctioned’ roadside bathroom breaks- men to the back; women to the front. This should be more than just a guideline for bathrooms.
If you are going to spew up your dhal bhaat holding your hand over your mouth and racing towards the side door will at least clear a path for you. The bus stopping is discretionary.
There are 5 basic seating options:
The bench seat in the back. This gives you 5 theoretical spots to spread out in. Typically, 8 people sit in the back row. The window seats offer the best view but when the bus stops (every 7–12 minutes) the dust will catch up to you and you’ll inhale dust and diesel exhaust until you start moving again. The back row is bouncy. If you are 5’11 there is approximately 5.5 inches of clearance between your head and the bus ceiling. The bus shocks have a minimum of 15 inches of travel in the back. The math isn’t in your favor. Most head wounds only bleed slightly.
The middle 15 rows of seats are small. Too small. And even if available the western guy with the big red beard normally gives up his seat to the Hindi grandmother. It’s just a matter of decency.
The front of the bus has a row of seats for 4–8 across from the driver and offers a great view of the country. You’ll also go head first through the windshield in event of an accident. There is leg room but not space for your feet.
The center bench is about 2×3 and has room for 5, perhaps 7. It is not clear where your legs go. If you sit next to the driver facing the back of the bus it’s less nerve wracking since you can’t see the road. 2nd gear is right at kidney height and used often.
When wedging yourself into a space find something soft like other human flesh to brace off. Metal is hard and sharp- and can result in a 6 inch laceration which ‘does not appear’ to need stitches
The area by the side door is prime real estate- if you sit down its pretty nice- minus being right at cock level for most of the bus- but when you sit here you’ll be told to move either because they think you’re uncomfortable or they know you’re comfortable. It’s not clear which.
The roof is the bonus seat. This used to be the luxury accommodation- but they passed a law against enjoying the ride and now you can only ride up top on very rough mountain roads where you get to try to decide if you’ll really be able to jump off the high side of the bus as it rolls down the cliff. You also have to decide when to abandon hope and jump, with the risk being getting left behind and having to chase the bus down on foot. Everyone will laugh at you if this happens. No one will laugh if you’re right. It’s really just a judgment call.
Riding is meditation in motion. The people are friendly, will stare at you and smile back if you let your guard down and dive into the sea of humanity. There are shared struggles, laughter, smells and concerns. It is never comfortable but it is always eventful, even if there aren’t any wolverines involved.
Originally published at medium.com