A tractor ride and the highway

mid hill highway in nepal
My co-travelers. We had to stop in the middle of the road, not very far from Burtibang but before taking that Tractor ride, because the driver said the jeep ran out of gas!

To the plains,

I traveled a distance of about 96 kilometers in the past 36 hours. Of those thirty-six hours, I spent almost 11 hours in Jeeps (four in total including a Hulas Mustang) AND a tractor with six wheels. Of those 11 hours 2 may have been spent taking breaks and waiting for the next jeep. This is a HIGHWAY that will, after its completion, connect many rural villages of hilly Nepal with each other, to district headquarters and, of course, to Kathmandu.

The road is still under construction and there are no bridges at many places which means passengers have to change jeeps whenever a major river comes (it’s the same river twice). And there are landslides at two points. Passengers have to walk for as long as four kilometers (half a hour or so) at such blockades so as to meet a waiting jeep. And if there is no jeep waiting, they have to wait for it. AND if there is no jeep at all (“one has just left and will come back only after 1.5 hrs and other one is broken”) you hop into a tractor and complete the journey. The tractor part, though not entirely new as I had seen people traveling in tractors in Karnali highway in 2007 when it was being constructed. I had willingly and for fun had tried that for a few minutes. Today it was not a matter of choice. It was compulsion. Well, may be not. I could have chosen to walk for two hours under the mid day fully bright sun. Like many of my jolly travel mates (that’s a separate story) I preferred a tractor ride over trekking. And it was so unique an experience for me that I was tempted to make (and successfully made, after several attempts) an international call to share the experience live.

The ‘bumpy’ tractor ride

Yesterday evening. Stayed at a friend’s home! Never thought that I would reach that place. But that happened. At the altitude of 1100 meters the village, on the banks of a crystal clear stream that is not crossable without a bridge, looked pristine, peaceful and simply beautiful. I walked by the paddy fields as sun setting and it started drizzled resulting in a thin rainbow. Talked to village elders and professionals on the topic of my choice. Visited THE FM radio station that also serves as the office of a community newspaper. The high school was hosting the final match of basketball tournament and students competed in singing duet songs (dohori geet) as part of the competition. People are, by and large, satisfied.

I was fortunate that I completed the journey in ONLY four jeeps and a tractor. “I rode five jeeps last month as the ….Khola (stream) was too swollen for a jeep to cross it.” I am omitting the name of the stream deliberately but that should matter much to the point this whole description makes. The road is a lifeline to the people of Nepal. People love to travel in vehicles- even if that means suffering the painful bumps in a tractor. Walking is simply a second option to be considered if it’s absolutely unavoidable. Oh, the fare! Guess how much did I pay for the journey (or journeys- depending upon how you count)? More than 1000. Add to that the cost for my overnight stay and food. This is not where poor people travel which should not be interpreted as me being rich. Seriously, Rs 1000+ for 91 kilometer.

My journey, on the other hand, is far from complete even after a half an hour torturous tractor drive. But the road practically ends at this point, a small bazaar (bigger than my expectation in fact). The trekking begins on a road (not highway) for about six hours where vehicles don’t ply (bad condition). It will be a lonely trip from tomorrow. May be not because it has never been since I left home on Saturday (1 Oct). I keep on meeting people. Just that sometime I feel too lazy to start conversation and continue the talk. But people start to talk themselves. And today’s group of young men returning their home to celebrate Dasain was particularly outspoken (especially in terms screaming profanity, swearing and booing girls). But they weren’t as bad as I description of them may have portrayed. This much for now. Thoughts about tomorrow’s journey is starting to overpower my thought process.

[There may not be an update tomorrow because there will not be GSM cell phone signals available in the village (and the area) I will be heading to. But then Ncell seems to have planted their cell phone towers all over these hills. If they have done the same in the hill of my destination as well, my iPad will be connected for sure. I appreciate the quality of their EDGE data service. Better than Nepal Telecom’s GPRS service.]

PS: Meat of a wild boar, killed last night by a local hunter, as served in the lunch this PM.

From the hills

[PS, added later: The road that I traveled on part of what is called Pushpalal Madhyapahadi Rajmarga. The 96 KM is the stretch that covers the length of Baglung district (which is a miniature version of Nepal)- from Baglung Bazaar to Burtibang. I stopped overnight in a village called Hatiya Galkot that lies somewhere in the middle of those two large settlements.]