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Everybody has their own stories to tell. You don’t have to fly across the world to be worldly, and you don’t need to have an abundance of stamps in your passport to have an adventure, but it sure does help.
Nepal is a beautiful country. It’s full of incredible architecture, has a rich cultural background, immensely kind people and mountains – lots and lots of mountains! If you’re lucky enough to catch an English-speaking taxi driver in Kathmandu, the chances are they will tell you about Nepal’s mountains and ask you how big the mountains in your country are in comparison. I once told my taxi driver the exact height of Mount Snowdon, the biggest mountain in Wales, and he actually cried tears of laughter. It was adorable and humiliating at the same time. Way to go Mr Taxi Man!
Anyway, my time in Nepal was short but sweet. I loved it there – the sights, the smells, the people and the food. As wonderful as it was, though, it was also a terrifying, confusing and an all-round ‘what the f***’ experience.
There’s one story in particular that sticks out in my mind whenever I think about my visit. Actually, I shouldn’t call it a story, because that word makes you think it’s a work of fiction, when it’s really not.
I promise you, it’s not.
I recount this experience time and time again, and more often than not people believe every single word of it. And why wouldn’t they?! It’s true, and not exactly something I’d lie about. There have been one or two people, though, who find the absurd series of events a little too absurd and have jokingly declared me a compulsive liar.
Back in 2012, there were a lot of roadblocks in Nepal, a lot of checkpoints and a lot of official-looking men in uniform. I don’t know how it is now, but back then it was common practice for these men to board the bus and ask to see the passport and visa of any foreigners on board. They normally had some sort of gun with them, or a baton, but they never seemed threatening, and normally on seeing that the Westerner’s passport and visa are valid and that everyone else on-board are clearly of Nepali origin, they’d leave.
So, I was on a bus from Sonauli to Sauraha, and somewhere along the way the bus stopped, and two of these men came on.
I have absolutely no idea where exactly it was that we stopped, other than it being somewhere near Sauraha. What I do remember is that it was raining and there was a man with a black umbrella standing outside – one of those really sensible umbrellas that come down around your face, like an upside down bowl kind of thing. The kind of umbrella that would be perfect for you to sit inside if it started flooding.
One of the uniformed men asked to see my passport, and I duly handed it over. He looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again and then told me in very broken English to get off the bus.
Now, let’s take a moment to contemplate this.
When a man in a uniform, gun slung over his shoulder and your passport in his hand tells you to get off the bus, what do you do?
Let me tell you…
You get off the damn bus.
So I got up, hauled my little backpack along with me and disembarked. There was another girl on the bus who he told to get off as well – I assume she was Nepali as she argued with him at first before following me.
When we were both off the bus, the two men ushered us into this white jeep/van type thing, where there was another man (not in uniform) in the driver’s seat. I got in, and the girl got in after me. At this point she was completely silent, but kind of sniffing and sobbing a little.
I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but the two uniformed men got in the van after us (one in the front, one in the back) and tossed my passport onto my lap. The front two men smoked and talked, and we drove down a long, winding path between rice fields and other fields and crops. I’m not a farmer so please forgive me for not being able to specify what kind of plants they were.
A little while later (I have no idea of the exact length of time as to be frank, it wasn’t my main concern) we pulled up outside a building. The building was white and very rectangular, with two different sections and a big set of steel stairs in the middle, as is customary in that part of the country. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about right?
The men got out and herded us into a room on the bottom floor of the left hand side of the building. The whole thing was set out like a hotel with individual rooms, each with a front door and a back door – the front door leading onto the main entrance walkway, and the backdoor to the back of the building where there was a large rice field.
There were two beds in the room, a TV and a chest of drawers. They told us to sit on the beds and one man turned on the TV, sitting with us for a minute or so before leaving the room to join the others out the front. Before going, he spoke to the girl in Nepali and then said to me “No go. No tuk-tuk, no bus, no go. Stay.”
He was smiling.
In hindsight I’m not sure if it was meant to be friendly or menacing.
As he closed the door behind him, I looked at the girl and she was just sat there, staring into space with tears in her eyes. I tried to ask her what was happening as she seemed to have a better grasp on the situation than me but she just didn’t respond.
So here I was, in the middle of nowhere with nothing but my backpack and a girl who spoke no English while our three companions were stood outside the front door, smoking and chatting away like this was an everyday thing.
What did I do?
I grabbed my backpack, walked out of the back door and I ran.
I realise how absolutely absurd this seems, and most people’s initial reaction is ‘why didn’t they lock the door?’ which is a fair point. It’s not as simple as that, though – a lot of times in these kinds of buildings on that side of the world, there isn’t a proper lock. They just have a latch you can close from the inside only.
So yeah, I ran.
I ran through the field at the back, in the shade of some trees so I was harder to see, through another field and then around the corner where I found a man on a tuk-tuk next to a little kiosk that was closing down for the day. I asked him to take me to a hotel. Any hotel, I didn’t care.
Within minutes we were in what I came to know was Sauraha, where I paid the tuk-tuk driver a few rupees and hopped off, no idea where I was or where I was going.
By this point the sun was beginning to set, and with the regulated electricity cuts it was getting quite dark. I walked up the road (if you’ve been to Sauraha you will know exactly what road I mean, as there seems to be just the one) and out of the shadows a ranger asked if I needed a hotel.
You’d think that going on what just happened, I wouldn’t trust a stranger with an invisible pen but I was kind of in some sort of state of shock, so I just said yes and followed this man. Luckily he took me to a legitimate hotel where the staff spoke enough English for me to explain what happened. The ranger said he would tell all his ranger friends to tell other foreigners to watch their backs.
And that’s the end of that.
Were they even real officers? Why didn’t you contact the police? What happened to the girl?
I don’t know. Because just no, you don’t do that. I don’t know.
Looking back, I have absolutely no idea what happened. I don’t know why they took me off the bus, I don’t know why they took the girl off the bus, and I don’t know why they let me run away. Because, to be frank, they had a gun and could have stopped me if they really wanted to.
I like to think that the building they took us to was their developing hotel and they just wanted some guests, although I know it’s probably a little more sinister than that. People have thrown all sorts of words at me – sex-trafficking, people-trafficking, hostage, ransom. I don’t know what to think, but what I do know is that the actions of three peculiar men will not affect my opinion on the whole of the country.
And one thing I’ve taken away from the experience is when a man tells you to get off the bus and into his car, don’t do it.
Sidenote: the best part of this whole thing is that it happened on Friday 13th! Superstitious – me?! Never!