The runaway ghost train

Our final day’s trekking brought us back down to our starting point, Shyaphru Besi, via a winding mountain path that would have given us superb views if it wasn’t for the clouds. The narrow wet trail overhanging the cliff edge wasn’t for the faint-hearted, particularly as we crossed (small) waterfalls, leaping from rock-to-rock. But this was a walk in the park (well, jungle) compared to our journey to and from Kathmandu…

Before I say any more, let me point out that I’m writing this from the comfort of a hotel bed safely back in Kathmandu. Our limbs are all still attached, and other than a cold, we’re both in good spirits.

A number of people have told us they recently saw a TV show about the worst roads in the world, and Nepal was featured. Deservedly so. The people at the shop we hired our sleeping bags from told us the roads have actually got worse rather than better in recent years – a huge rise in the number of trucks carrying goods across the country have torn the often untarmaced surface apart, with post-monsoon maintenance unable to keep up with the rate of destruction.

If the bumpy dirt road to Everest Base Camp was a rollercoaster, then this was (at times) a runaway ghost train.

Most of the ten hour journey was fine – surfaced roads, not that much overtaking on blind corners, even a break for a quick lunch. For something little more than a school bus, it was crowded (40 seated, 20 standing, 20 on the roof), but we had seats. And the cargo (a stack of TVs, sacks of rice, gas bottles, and a couple of live chickens perched in the head-height luggage rack for good measure) didn’t shift around too much.

The hair-raising bits were where there had been landslides, and road gave way to an undesirable combination of mud, boulders, waterfalls and sheer drops, and the bus company was diligently trying to ensure the full distance from start to finish was covered, in spite of the obstacles. Seeing the skeleton of a former bus lying on the hillside beneath us as we were leaving Kathmandu did not inspire confidence!

Anyway, the road was a challenge, and the driver was nothing short of amazing in his abilities to navigate the, well, seemingly unnavigable. A combination of momentum, lurching up to 30 degrees before hurtling back to the centre line, massive tires, and the sheer willpower of the (occasionally screaming) people on board seemed to get us through. We’re hoping the photos will do it justice.

We had to walk a bit where the road was actually entirely impassable, and for our return journey this had got worse, with us needing to hot-foot it over saturated mud that felt very much like another landslide waiting to happen. But we were triumphant!

For the way back, we decided for the first time to play our “I’m a wealthyish westerner, get me out here” trump card and take a jeep, which meant we got out and walked all the risky bits, and had the luxury of only 10 people in the vehicle for most of it. We met a lovely couple of honeymooning Australians, Mitch and Kirsty who offered us a ride – and we’ve been spending some time in Kathmandu chilling out (and celebrating the end of the journey) with them before they head off to the beaches of Thailand.

Our advice to anyone else going to Langtang – think seriously about taking a jeep, or going elsewhere! We won’t be repeating the experience – instead we will just cling to our memories (of clinging on for dear life) via the now oft-recited phrase “the bus would have done it!”

Simon

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