Tihar, or Diwali, came last week and I went to Pokhara for a mini vacation. After a rainstorm, dinner at a Nepali family’s house, and an impromptu whiskey with an old friend passing through Kathmandu, Kendra and I headed out to Pokhara via microbus on Tuesday morning. A day of travel on each end, we spent three full days in the town and it was a relaxing respite. We didn’t realize we chose to travel on the biggest day of the Diwali festival—the equivalent of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in the States—until we arrived at the bus park and were told the microbuses were full and we’d need to take a tourist bus. Tourist buses are just what they sound like, big bus-sized vehicles that transport…tourists. Microbuses on the other hand, are large-sized vans that typically carry Nepalis and are a mellower, cheaper, faster, and safer ride according to Kendra who had taken each type on her trip to and from Pokhara the last time around. Discouraged and disappointed, we wandered around for a bit longer and happened to find an empty microbus, destination Pokhara. I hopped into the 15-seater after somewhat reluctantly relinquishing my big pack to be carried atop the van (strapped down? I hope so…). A few people got in, then a few more. Then more. And more. And more and more and more. 27 people in a 15-person van kind of full.
Kendra and I shared the back row of this van with a husband and wife and their four-ish year old daughter on their laps. As people were piling in and on top of other people, a man was directed to our back seat. I, ugly American that I am, stupidly thought I might have some say in the matter of squishing a sixth person onto our already overcrowded four-person seat and just put my hand out and said “no.” Ha. For the next six hours I would be squished against the wall of the van, Kendra’s left butt cheek half on my right thigh, and this Nepali man sleeping on her shoulder.
We stopped for a 15-minute stuff-your-face-with-dal-bhat break that was much appreciated by us ladies in the van who had not jumped out during the thirty-second pee-on-the-side-of-the-road break. As we got back in the car, Kendra and I sat and watched the men in the row in front of us fix the makeshift seat that was helping accommodate a few of the extra riders in our microbus: a piece of plywood placed across a narrow aisle and topped off which a flowery cushion. Seeing the curious looks on our faces, one of the men looked at us and simply said, “dis is Nepal.” The young Nepali sleeping on Kendra’s shoulder woke up at one point to sheepishly apologize for the unintentional snugglefest they were having and said, in reference to the 40 oz Everest beer he’d downed at our dhal bat rest stop, “sorry so tired, maybe it the beer.”
But eventually we made it to Pokhara and were unfortunately greeted by clouds rather than mountains. The available room at our guesthouse contained both a double and single bed and in trying to bargain down the price seeing as we had no need for the extra bed, we settled on 800 rupees. When we returned downstairs to formally check in and reiterated our new price to the manager, he responded with “oh maybe 800 but maybe 1000 also okay too.”