We Bought a Van in Kathmandu!
Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Beginning the Overland, April/May 1978 -
I’d had a few days of traveler’s stomach, so was watching what I ate. My trekking partner, Kevin, flew out for Thailand, and I went down to the GPO to check my mail. At the post office I ran into Steve Bastrom (we nicknamed him Basmo), with whom I taught in Australia, and some other people I knew from there. We went to a restaurant where we sat and caught up on what we’d all been doing.
The next day I wandered around Kathmandu and got a gamma globulin shot (to keep from getting hepatitis). I knew I’d be going through some very dirty places and I wanted as much protection as possible. That evening I saw a note on the bulletin board at the Kathmandu Guest House, where I was staying, advertising a VW Combi for sale. That’s a VW bus . . . a “combi” as the Aussies called it.
At dinner I mentioned it to Basmo. After supper and ice-cream and pie we went back to the Guest House and checked out the advert for the VW. It turned out that the people with the van were at a hotel next to the Guest House, so we walked over to take a look at it.
Randy and Linda, a Canadian couple, had driven the combi from Europe and were selling it because they were heading to Southeast Asia and on to Australia. They had the all-important Carnet (the ticket you needed to get a vehicle into India and other countries). Of course, this simplified our responsibility for we could use their carnet and not have to hassle getting one ourselves. We looked over the combi and talked to Randy and Linda for an hour or so, then planned to return the next morning for a closer inspection. I was pretty excited about the thought of buying a combi and driving it across Asia to Europe.
The next morning after breakfast Basmo and I went over and watched as Randy adjusted the valves—I thought it looked like a fairly simple operation and felt I had a good idea how to do it as well. We talked to them further and took a drive in the combi—it ran well and was generally smooth. Returning to the hotel, we talked some more. Basmo and I agreed to buy the van for $1050.00 US with a $100 deposit. We’d pay the balance at the India-Pakistan border when ownership would be transferred to us.
I couldn’t believe it. Just 36 hours earlier we hadn’t even considered buying a vehicle and suddenly there we were . . . the proud owners of a van. The unpleasant decision of choosing between the horrors and hassles of public transport and the controlled and stilted but safe atmosphere of a tour were dispelled in the excitement and idea of adventure in crossing Asia under our own power.
Basmo went up on a ten-day trek, while I stayed in Kathmandu playing my guitar, getting to know Randy and Linda, and helping Randy work on the combi they called Goldie. One day we worked on the brakes and master cylinder and then one day I helped Randy take the engine apart to replace the rings. It was good for me to learn more about the van. I was impressed with Randy’s knowledge and ability with the mechanical stuff.
So, Kathmandu . . . I got sick there—stomach problems and a very bad cold. It would be senseless to describe the place day by day. I liked Kathmandu but was certainly looking forward to leaving. Basmo came back down from his trek in the mountains, and we prepared to leave.
Before we pulled out of town, we stopped by the GPO one more time to check mail. Then we drove the eight miles to Bhaktapur to check out some of the temples, and the nine miles to Nagarkot, the hill station of the Kathmandu Valley. We stayed at a lodge there and Basmo and I slept in the van. In the morning we drove back down to Kathmandu where we had breakfast and then drove on to Pokhara. I drove most of the way and enjoyed it, but we did have a flat tire.
We got a late start and drove to just before the Indian border. The road was very rough, and several times we had to push large rocks out of the way to clear our path. We got another flat tire as we pulled into the hotel. After we got the tire fixed, we relaxed and had showers. Basmo and I slept in the van and that night there was a heavy storm with much rain.
The next morning, we left the hotel, passed through the Indian border easily, and ventured on to Varanasi (Benares) on the banks of the River Ganges in Uttar Predesh. We stayed at a Government Tourist Bungalow and had good dinner at a fancy hotel nearby. In the morning we got up very early to take rickshaws to the Ganges River where we saw bathers, pilgrims, and holymen.
Varanasi is one of the most holy cities in India. People come there to bathe in the Ganges River, which is supposed to purify them and cure all manner of ailments. We hired a small boat to take us out into the river among many other boats so we could see all of the activity. It was a cool experience. The banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi are filled with people, and the architecture of the buildings is quite distinctive.
Back on shore we walked to where the bodies are cremated—it was all part of the purification process. Someone told me that if a person died of cholera, the body was not burned but rather placed in the river to be carried away. I don’t know if that was true . . . it seemed a terrible way to pollute the river.
We walked to the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Golden Temple) through narrow alleys—it was crazy but interesting, then back to the bungalow for a late breakfast. We got up very early the next morning again and drove 9 hours to Khajuraho where there were some extremely interesting temples with highly erotic carvings showing people having sex in all manner of positions; it was right out of the Kama Sutra. The carvings were impressive and worth the stop. We would probably have spent more time there but the heat was so oppressive.
We left Khajuraho the next morning. Along the way it got so hot we stopped for a swim in what seemed to be a reservoir; the water was the temperature of bathwater, not refreshing at all. I remember wondering what sort of parasites were probably breeding in the water, but at least we were cleaner. We couldn’t find a Government Tourist Bungalow or a decent hotel, so we decided to drive all the way to Agra. It was bloody hot, and we stopped for gas around 7:30 in the evening, still 50 kilometers from Agra. We spoke to an Indian gentleman who spoke perfect English. He told us his son was a professor at Duke University in the States. We had a nice conversation and mentioned how hot it seemed. He told us it had reached 50 degrees Centigrade which is around 125 degrees Fahrenheit. We got a room in a hotel in Agra then had dinner at a restaurant with lots of cold water. I can’t believe how much we drank.
In Agra we visited the Taj Mahal and were impressed. All white marble with colorful inlay—majestically beautiful. In the afternoon we went to the large Red Fort built by Akbar around 1563. Turns out the Taj Mahal was a tomb that a king built for his wife. He had planned to build a duplicate black marble tomb across the river from the white one. But his son put his foot down and wouldn’t let him. “Come on Dad, enough is enough.” His son kept him locked up in the Red Fort where from his rooms he could look out and see the Taj Mahal and probably think about his black tomb that would never be.
The next day we developed serious engine trouble en route to Dehli. Goldie wouldn’t start. We fooled with her and finally got her going by push starting her. We found the Tourist Camping Park in Dehli rather quickly—we only stalled Goldie at one intersection and had to push her again. She started—whew. At the camp we were able to get a bungalow—brick walls with a canvas roof. We had to bargain for a decent price because the park manager was a bit of a pirate. After deciding to stay and after some cold drinks, we caught a rickshaw to the two post offices to check Poste Restante and go to the tourist bureau for information. Along with info they had an excellent cold-water machine.
After dinner, we wandered through some bustling back market streets, full of activity, until we got to a large mosque not far from the Red Fort. We sat on the steps for a while looking down on the brightly lit streets teeming with people. We were in darkness on the steps and sitting there could feel the hot stone radiating heat it had built up during the day. India is a hot bitch! We walked around a bit more then took rickshaws back to the tourist camp.
After showers the next morning we got coffee at a little stand. Goldie fired right up, and we went off looking for a VW garage. After some hassles and a push start, we found it. The mechanics decided all we needed was a tune. With our fingers crossed we left the van and took a rickshaw to the Nepali Embassy and some other places to take care of business. It felt cooler in Dehli—hot but not as stifling as Khajuraho, Benares, or Agra. The last night was actually pleasant compared to the other places. But the heat was killing me.
Bad news. We had to tear the engine apart as the main bearings were wearing on the block. Had to get new bearings and it cost $200. Plus, we had to put the engine together. I was looking forward to Srinagar in Kashmir.
Following are more photos from on the road from Kathmandu to New Delhi: