© 2009 Benjamin Chernivsky Getting to know the real India:  26 hours of the public bus system...

The long haul to Nepal…

Nepal

The group part of this abroad – that of India – is now over. Nepal begins. In fact my journey to Nepal began 13 years ago when I was a teenager at Camp Leelanau, a boy’s Christian Science Summer Camp I ruthlessly attended every Summer as a boy. A bunch of my counselors attended Principia college at the time, and many of them went on their distinguished abroad to Nepal.

In fact, I’d almost give those counselors as much credit for my keen interest in traveling as the random National Geographics that lay around my home growing up. Returning to Camp Leelanau was like a realm into the exotic: my heroes, these counselors, would arrive at camp daft with colorful clothes, things and stories from their journeys afar.

Over the years I became fascinated with the idea of traveling with a group of Christian Scientists. I’d like to say we travel a bit differently than most people. In fact, I can say that now. We’re (and by that I mean my perception) always putting spiritual things first, challenging ourselves as ideas of God rather than apparatuses of this world. It’s fun, it’s broadening, it’s spiritual – it’s what we live for really. All of us. I won’t fill this blog with it, but you can talk to me about it anytime.

So two birds, one stone. That is my keen interest and curiosity blowing forth through India and now Nepal – I (really) only dreamed of going on an abroad with Principia. I remember last year studying in London and creeping the Principia website for it’s upcoming abroad programs. My heart beat faster at the idea of being a part of the India 2009 group.

I can’t be grateful enough for this opportunity to travel with Graham Thatcher (The Boss), Lyndsay Eaton (Fiver), and Guy Walker (Climate Hero). I know they’ll be a good crew to crawl the world’s highest mountains with because we’ve already faced a nasty battle together: the public buses of India.

Busing

Think: India’s fastest growth in road-usage ever, more trucks and buses, 2 lane highways, riddled with motorcycles and small autowallahs and scrambling cows and the such, jams – lots of jams. The bus is packed. These are all the people who couldn’t get an advanced train ticket between Delhi and Gorakhpur. They probably don’t have credit cards to purchase tickets online.

We quickly find out that buses don’t only transport people, and neither just between Delhi and Gorakhpur. We stop often on the way, picking up people waving down the bus while trucking on at 50km/h. The brakes screech and 4, 5, 6 people pack into an already full bus. Luggage piles up in the center row. At one point a few older women are hoisted up the high step from the night street and Guy and I decided to stand for the next 4 hours so they can sit. They don’t say thank-you, and neither do Indian’s ever really.

Seats don’t recline and often there is a mobile phone squawking with Hindi-electric tunes. It’s annoying to hear, it’s bumpy, it’s dark and the windows aren’t sealed, so it’s freakin’ cold all night long. At one point Graham crawls through the flood of luggage called an aisle and pulls out the 0-degree down bag. It keeps 3 of us warm, but Guy survives in a seat near us with just a few layers on.

Midnight, 2am, 6am – the bus stops often for pee and chai breaks. About 6 hours into the ride we discover the bus ride we thought would end after 14 hours is actually a 24 hour journey. And that turns into a 26 hour journey because of multiple traffic jams before midnight. This later turns into 39 hours and 3 buses. But really, after 8 hours the mundane of it all becomes tolerable. I think mostly because there is so much happening on these buses. Really it’s like a huge family working together. During breaks we whistle at one another when the bus turns on, because the system is ruthless. When the engine starts, the wheels roll, and that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be on the bus. Hollering to others, people jump in and sit down. It’s quite adventures. Really adventurous when you have a hot chai in one hand and peanuts in the other.

Nepalese buses are worse. The landscape between Delhi and Gorakpur, then Gorakpur to the boarder town, Sonaul, is quite flat. But going to Kathmandu shows the real mold of a country formed from the Himalayas: valleys, rivers, high passes and worthless cement blocks that would only stop a power-wheel from rolling of the edge. The buses are a bit smaller and a bit zippier, and it’s again overnight. Pitch black except for the moonlight, all I see out the window is a fog of moisture deep in a valley just a few feet from the roads edge, treetops I could touch, and occasionally the depth of a river from the curvy road. It’s a particularly starry night. I try not to focus on possible outcomes and plug my ears into an ipod playing the tunes of Hammock.

Chai and pee breaks are also different. Breath becomes visible in the moist cold and chai is now prepared in pitch black and over stone stoves fueled with bush-wood where most of the passengers crowd around. It’s partly to drink a warm beverage, partly to warm up together. The fire’s warm glow is a stark contrast from the wet and cold of the dark beyond the road, but from my best judgement of peeing into a field, I think there were some cabbage being grown opposite the cliff on the other side. Guy, who pooped nearby, also thinks this. Poor farmer is in for a surprise, I reason.

One Comment

  1. Vicki Traynor
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 9:37 pm | #

    Thanks for the up-date. Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving! We miss you and love you all!!!

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