The Bus With no Windshield
My plan was to ride to Butwal in central Nepal then leave the Mahendra Highway and head north on the Siddhartha Highway, which winds up through the foothills of the Himalaya to Pokhara. I’d yet to ride in the Himalaya and I’d heard that it was dangerous but I figured I’d gather information along the way then decide if I wanted to try it. I rode east for several days, passing through the villages of Kohalpur, Chaulahi and Mourighat where I crossed the Arjun Khola on a modern bridge and climbed over the Sivalik Mountain Range. It took the best part of a day to make it back down to the flatlands, and I was looking forward to some easy riding. The countryside didn’t change much. There were lots of dusty, little towns and farms. I’d be riding through dense jungle one moment and past farmer’s fields the next. Invariably, my presence caused a stir, especially among the kids. As soon as they spotted me they’d drop what they were doing and head out at a dead run.
“Bye bye!” They would shout as they ran, “Bye bye!” I’d slow so they could catch up. They’d swarm around, touching my bicycle and me and smiling and laughing. It was like the circus had come to town. I kept cookies or fruit in my handlebar bag and handed goodies out at these impromptu roadside gatherings.
One day, the late afternoon sun caught me a few dozen kilometers west of Butwal. I flagged down a bus, and a half dozen riders piled out and helped me get my gear on board. One fellow scampered up the ladder to the roof while others threw him my panniers. When my luggage had been secured, they grabbed my bike and hauled it to the top of the bus, too. Then we all scrambled back on board, the driver gunned the engine and the old tub slowly accelerated. As we rattled down the road, Indian music blaring on the stereo, a passing bus tossed a rock and it came through our bus’s windshield. Luckily, no one was hurt, but the glass was destroyed. Several men jumped out and removed the broken shards, so that now there was no windshield at all. The broken glass was simply left at the side of the road.
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I got off in Butwal and found a hotel. I had dinner in the restaurant and got to talking with the owner’s son, who spoke English. I told him of my plan to ride up through the Himalaya to Pokhara, and I asked his advice. He shook his head. “That road is narrow, winding and steep. There are no shoulders and what pavement there is, is in bad condition. There’s a lot of bus and truck traffic and they hang over the edge of the road! I do not recommend trying to ride a bicycle to Pokhara.”
I took his advice and the next morning, I packed up and rode to the bus terminal. I bought a ticket to Pokhara and loaded my gear on the bus. As I was securing my bike to the roof rack, I saw the old bucket that I’d come to town in the day before. I’d assumed that they would take it out of service long enough to replace the windshield but no, they had no intention of putting new glass in that old beater. From now on, it would simply be known as ‘The Bus With No Windshield.’