As per the directions that they sent to us in July, in order to get to the All Hands Volunteer base in Nuwakot, we were to take a four-hour bus ride on a ‘local bus’ (as opposed to a ‘tourist bus’) and walk 45 minutes uphill to the base. Traveling by any means to any place in Kathmandu had proven to make our hair stand on end, so when we arrived by taxi to the ‘bus station’, we were already in sensory overload mode. The ‘bus station’ ticketing booth was a non-descript kiosk on a corner amidst a totally chaotic scene of dusty shops selling junk food, fruit carts, big colorfully-dressed families with kids running around, men coming up to us to ask where we were headed, old women begging for change, traffic whizzing by, goats on leashes, cows in the way, dogs milling around, trash scattered like confetti, and noisy buses parking haphazardly. It felt like everyone was staring at us—Westerners with big backpacks and obvious wealth. We were sweaty, stressed, and desperate to get out from under the spotlight on this busy, loud corner. Somehow, we bought our tickets and found our bus. We nervously parted with our backpacks as they were hoisted on top for the ride. As if a little reminder from the universe saying “You’re going to be okay,” as we climbed aboard, we were greeted by a couple of smiling elderly women, a few happy children, and a beautiful young woman dressed in a traditional bright, sparkly Nepalese garment who was holding a big baby boy who could only be described as a Buddha baby. The Buddha baby locked eyes with us and smiled as his mother bounced him on her lap saying, “Namaste! Namaste!” I’ll never forget the sense of calm that came over me upon seeing women, children, and a (Buddha) baby aboard our bus in the middle of this crazy Kathmandu bus station.
Inside, the bus was colorful and dirty. It turned out to be almost full with lots of men, but our Buddha baby was sitting across the aisle beaming at us. We wove through the dusty streets and bombed out of the city and up into the hills. The soundtrack of beautiful Nepalese music—complex sitar melodies and upbeat, trilling female voices—made the moment feel surreal. There is an interesting system on Nepalese buses—a teenage boy stands in the open doorway of the bus during the entire journey, hangs his head out, and bangs loudly on the side of the bus one, two, three, or more times in an apparent code to alert the driver of his surroundings in various situations like passing, backing up, or squeezing through tight spaces.
The ride was thrilling to say the least. We flew around curves, never knowing what or who might be coming the other way—constantly alerting everyone in the vicinity of our presence with a musical honk that sounded like “too-do-loo!” We barreled through tiny Nepali villages where people sat out front of their homes, watching the action on this one road that runs out of Kathmandu into the mountains. During much of the journey, because of mudslides or giant potholes, it seemed like the roads were being built as we approached—at one point we sat at a standstill for ten or more minutes while a dozen men shoveled a path so vehicles could pass. Along with everything about the ride itself, the odor of burning trash was a familiar reminder that we had entered the ‘third world’.
Our ride turned out to be closer to five hours. We were the last passengers on the bus and we were accidentally dropped off at the wrong bus stop, which presented us with a new adventure as we tried to follow the directions to the base. Luckily, a sweet family was sitting outside of their little storefront and the teenage boy spoke enough English to understand that we were volunteers with All Hands. His eyes lit up and he offered to walk us all the way to the base—we walked up winding roads, through a cow pasture (which the people here call ‘buffalo’), and up a long stone staircase. Exhausted from a heck of a day and dripping with sweat from lugging our backpacks up hill, we finally saw the All Hands banner strewn across the front of an old, previously abandoned, pink and blue hotel. We had arrived to our new home.