Traveling — but in lockdown, part 2
Here’s part 1 and this is where we’ve reached so far… diagrammatically.
Alright, let’s keep going!
So, we had to wait for 2 hours as planned and we were waiting to be rescued. However, the contact that was supposed to be there was undergoing childbirth and wasn’t available. So, his subordinate was in place, who wasn’t able to manage things that well.
As we kept waiting, 2 hours became 3 and then 4 and then 4.30 hrs. We were getting hungry, thirsty, and frustrated. The mismanagement was unbelievable, there was neither food, water, or shelter.
Finally, at around 5.30 pm when all the paperwork had arrived as a photograph - it was very blurry, nothing was legible on it. 🤦♂️
I called up the original contact and told him what happened in the last few hours ( without breaking down 😂). He got pissed about what was going on - he swept into action, and within the same hour, the approvals came in, (legible version this time).
And finally, we were in the car. Now, despite all the delays that had occurred, finally, I thought that everything was over, and maybe the article could have ended right here, but ….
The Hill Climb begins!
Nepal’s border is on the flatlands and my home is located in the hills, and so as a part of the journey, the car has to do a very long hill climb to Kathmandu valley. So, the drive went pretty smooth until the slope began, we had a good dinner on the way and after getting a much-required emotional rest, we were about to fall asleep.
Just as the climb was about to begin, at around 12 am we were stopped at a standard checkpoint — nothing unusual about it. On the map, we were at the point called “Bardibas”. We went to the checkpoint, and the police asked us for the driver’s license, and then they suddenly took the license!
You can take back the license after 4 am as the road ahead is blocked!
Are you freaking kidding me? I asked why the road ahead was blocked, they replied, “The road ahead is badly damaged and has not been repaired, so, in the view of safety, the road has been closed”
Wow! Instead of fixing the road, they just stop people from using it… what a great solution.
At this point, we were frustrated and tired, so I called my father and updated him about the situation, he said to keep patience and told me that he would find some solution. I was pretty sure that nothing can be arranged that late at night. So we found a good parking spot near the highway, and guess what? Since the police regularly stop people here, a bunch of lodges had sprung up nearby. Supply and demand!
So, we decided that we should opt for a cheap lodge, get some sleep, wake up fresh at 4 am and rush to my hometown. The deadline for the hard lockdown was 9 am, but we might be able to manage it…, so we went to lodge-hunting.
And just as I was about to knock on the lodge's door, a call came from my dad. I picked up and told him that we are about to find a lodge and rest. He said not to do that and asked me to go to the checkpoint as he has managed to get another contact in the police who has enough rank to allow passage.
This was some serious effort. I have no clue how he managed to find a person at 12.30 in the night for this. So, I went back to the checkpoint and told them that their senior officer will allow us to go as I handed over my phone to them. They said that they could not accept the call from the phone, the call should come through their own walkie-talkie device.
I updated this to my dad, who asked me to stay patient as I was insisting that we just rest in the lodge, as we were nearly out of energy for this. Then as I was waiting around, making conversation with other people who were stuck, I found out that,
One person had an urgent operation in Kathmandu, and he was not allowed.
Another elderly lady was sick and wasn’t conscious and she was not allowed.
It was just plain sad to watch all this going on, the government only cared about locking the place down, and nothing about ordinary citizens. First the detention center and now this.
Finally, just before 2 am, the call came through the walkie-talkie, and the police cleared us to go ahead and gave back all our documents. Till today, I have no idea how my father managed to arrange that call in the middle of the night!
Finally, the hill climb started! The road was very bumpy and I could not get any sleep, however, my brother was asleep. We kept on driving — about 5–6 hours of drive was remaining, so we were confident that we would be able to make it within the 9 am deadline.
Top of the Hill — Sindhuli
We went through several checkpoints, and all of them went through smoothly. Administratively, we weren’t blocked from here on out, and we were going up the hills on the extremely bumpy road.
As we were driving and talking, he told us that we’ve reached the highest point in the drive — the area is called “Sindhuli”, around 3 am and then the car suddenly stopped.
At this point, I was laughing at how wrong the trip was going. I thought I had planned everything I needed, but nope, each and everything had to go wrong. Just as we parked the car, my brother woke up from his sleep…, I told him about the situation, and he opted to sleep, as he couldn’t help in any way.
The driver parked the car, and we were trying to figure out what went wrong. I looked at my phone, and there was no signal available, I tried using the GPS — nothing useful. This is what it looked like:
It was completely dark, the fog was decreasing our sight, and since we were at the top of the hill, all the sides seemed to be like a cliff. It was getting colder as we tried to figure out what went wrong with the car. I strolled around and got some phone coverage and called up my dad once again, and updated him about the situation.
He said that he couldn’t do anything about this situation, and we had to figure it out, solve the problem and move on ahead. He asked me to send my location, I turned on my GPS and sent him the location, but the inaccuracy was about 600m…, i.e., it was showing three hills on the maps.
He said that it’s too far away for any sort of rescue operation at 3 am and we were on our own. So, we got to work. We systematically turned on the car, pressed every pedal, and checked what went wrong, and after an hour of flailing, we figured out that the issue was in the fuse box, one of the starter fuses wasn’t working.
So, we swapped around the fuses, and then tried to start the car… and by the miracle of the stars… It worked! The car finally started!
Alright, let’s go! That was the attitude I had at that moment, and we quickly got into the car, and just as the driver reversed the car out from the parking spot… he realized that the brakes have failed. Our patch caused the brakes to not work. Are you freaking kidding me?
- Our flight nearly got canceled and was delayed
- The idiot threw my suitcase in a pile of muck
- I have no clue whether all my expensive equipment still work
- Had to wait 5 hours for some stupid paperwork
- Wasn’t able to find water for 10+ hours
- Hadn’t eaten for 18+ hours
- Hadn’t slept for almost 2 days
- Got stuck at the checkpoint and had our license taken away
- The car got damaged mid-way of the drive
- The brake fails. Now? Seriously?
How much worse can this go?
#Spoilers — a little bit more🤭
So…, we were at it again, but this time, no matter what we did, we could not get the brakes working. We were pressing on the pedal from the car, but the discs never clamped on the wheel. The handbrake was working, but the standard brakes were not.
I again called up my dad and gave him the new update, at this point, he was too weary and said that nothing can be done. I was thinking that we should just start a fire like the show “Man vs. Wild” and wait for rescue, after all, we were on a highway. Although in lockdown, one car or vehicle will pass by us and help right?
It was 4 am, I was completely drained, my brother was in a deep sleep, and the driver was getting frustrated…, and this moment, I had the craziest idea — trust me, if I wasn’t that emotionally drained, I wouldn’t have even thought of this, but at this point, I just wanted to reach home, and I didn’t care how, it didn’t even matter if it risked my life. So, I went to the driver and said:
The handbrake still works right?
And the engine is fine and we have enough fuel?
So, let’s do this - let’s go ahead, we only have downhill journey left now, let’s keep the engine on and keep the car on the first or the second gear. If it’s on those gears, the car can’t physically go beyond a speed that we can’t control right?
Yes, I agree, it’s risky but doable.
The other option is to wait for rescue, and the next car that comes might not be able to tow us.
Yes, I agree, let’s go ahead, the sooner we reach a mechanic the better.
So…, we decided. Let’s go. Downhill. Without brakes. On a bumpy hillside.
The downhill journey starts!
I didn’t call up my dad this time. I just messaged him that we are going ahead, and we had no brakes. He never replied to that message. Off we went.
As we were going downhill, I was getting more and more drowsy, I hadn’t slept for almost 2 days now, and it was really catching up. Just as the car goes to a turn or a minor climb, I was able to close my eyes, and then when the car went downhill, suddenly my eyes were wide open!
Slow down, eyes down…. Speed up, wake up!
It was absolutely nerve-wracking to travel like this, in a car, downhill, without brakes. The perfect combo for disaster. However, we never shifted the car to the third gear and we were switching between the first two gears only, with occasional application of handbrakes.
And finally, after driving for 1.30 hrs in that state, we reached another checkpoint around 5.30 am. We were stopped again and told that we cannot proceed further until 6 am. So, we opted to get a quick 30 mins nap and continue later.
I dozed off here…, and then I suddenly woke up to the motion of the car going downhill! I panicked here, that’s when my brother had woken up and told me to calm down and leave the rest to him. He was completely fresh as he had managed to sleep for quite some time. I checked the clock, it was around 6.20 am, I hadn’t realized that we’d have been driving for more than 20 mins now. Either way, I tried to get some sleep while my brother kept an eye on things.
However, I could not get any sleep. Just as the car moved downhill, I used to be jerked back to consciousness. The sun steadily began to rise and I thought that it’s a new day, hopefully without any problems.
We were roughly 40kms away from our destination, but we had one small hill climb left to enter the valley pass, but I still thought that we could make it before the 9 am deadline. That’s exactly when my dad called and said that he’s going to meet us outside the valley rather than in our home due to the state of our car.
After 10 mins of smooth driving, we were stopped at another checkpoint, roughly around 6.30 am. This checkpoint was pretty much standard, nothing went wrong, we showed our paperwork and we got back in.
Just as we sat in the car, the driver asked me, “Have you seen my phone?”
Crap. We looked around for a moment, and then I called on his number: the phone wasn’t ringing inside the car, but the call was going ahead. This made us conclude that we had lost the phone somewhere. Great. Just great. Another unwanted problem that we had to solve.
I attempted to call again, and this time, someone picked up. I asked him where the phone was — he replied that it was in Bardibas! The place before the hill climb! This wasn’t possible as we were screwing around the car with the torches on our phones, also before I got knocked out in the car, I recalled the driver using his phone.
I had no clue what to say: Should I ask him to push ahead? Should I say we should turn back and get his phone? I had no clue what had to be done…, so I did the most “manager” thing possible, I asked him :
What should we do?
We should press on, we should get the car fixed asap by a mechanic, and then I could go back for my phone. Can you call the person back and ask him to leave the phone in the nearest police station so that I can pickup the phone on my way back?
I was relieved he gave that answer and I didn’t have to ask him to press forward, I called up the number again, and asked him to deposit the phone in the nearest police station, which the receiver agreed to, and then we drove ahead.
The final climb to the valley pass!
My dad called up telling us that he was halfway near the pass and asked about our location, but due to the phone fiasco we hadn’t moved an inch, so I told him we were 40kms from the destination, and we should be able to make it, it’s 7 am now, only 2 hours until the deadline.
As we were driving in our shady car, another problem came…, the fog started to set and this is what it looked like:
Yup, a very thick fog set in. On our left was a huge cliffside, and our right was another cliffside, that probably led down to a gorge, we could hardly see a few meters ahead, and due to this risk, we had to drive very slow and if you haven’t already forgotten, our brakes didn’t work either. 😂
The road was also pretty damaged in this section, so we had to be careful, otherwise, we would break another component of the car. We proceeded very carefully but, we were running out of time and since I could not see anything clearly outside the window, I could not find any distance markers that mentioned how far we were from our destination.
At 8.30 am — my dad called back, we didn’t have any clue where we were or even if we were driving in the right direction. We had made several turns and couldn’t tell where we were, and obviously, the GPS still wasn’t working.
There were only 30 mins left, and we were driving slowly, I got calls after calls from dad, but there was nothing we could do except ask him to wait and then suddenly I saw him!
My dad was right there waiting for us, we almost missed him due to the fog! But finally, some luck was on our side and I spotted him, I immediately asked to stop the car near him, and then greeted him. He was super relieved to see both of us, and we breathed a huge sigh of relief!
The reunion & rush to the valley
Just as we met and our greetings were over, I looked at the clock, and to our horror, it was already 9 am. We had already passed the deadline for entry to the valley.
Me and my dad were laughing, knowing that we were screwed, but my brother wanted to get home as soon as possible and didn’t want to stay stuck outside. Whereas I wanted to find a lodge, go to sleep, have a nice shower, enjoy/waste the day and go home the next day instead.
My dad firstly took the driver and his car to a nearby mechanic that he saw on the way, and decided that we should attempt to enter the valley, and if we are not allowed, we’d find a lodge. As it was only 9.15 am by the time we reached the valley pass checkpoint, he thought that we had a chance.
And what do you know? The stars aligned and the guards let us through! And after a short 30 mins drive, we reached home!
Casa dolce casa
Thank you so much for reading till the end. This was an extremely long and hectic story, but I hope that you enjoyed being a part of it. For the sake of completeness, here is a final map of everything about the whole trip.
Extra credit should go out to my parents, who supported us from that distance, day and night. I can only imagine how restless they must have been to only listening to what was going on and not being fully updated about the situation at hand.
Thank you so much for reading through, and feel free to share this story with others, the next listener, would have even more fun because they don’t know that I make it out alive. 😝 They will have the full thrill of the story and after this fiasco, please don’t ask me to travel.
#Spoilers — I’ve traveled after this too 😂
Oh? You thought it was over? 😂
Do you recall that I wanted to stay in the lodge and not enter the valley near the end of the trip?
Well, after I reached home, and slept straight for 17 hours when I woke up, I found out that there had been massive communal violence in Kathmandu. You can read the details here.
This means that, had I opted to stay in the lodge and not enter the valley… the next day, I would not have been able to enter for another week as the city went from lockdown to a curfew after the violence had erupted! 😂
So, I got a little lucky here.