End of the road for Nepal's 'hippie buses'.
The 1976 model had been part of his life for more than 20 years. He had driven it hundreds of times between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, two cities a few kilometres apart, and used it to ferry Nepalese film crews to beautiful hill towns across the country.
"It was perfect for our mountain roads. Its interior was so nice it felt like a room. I spent many nights sleeping inside the bus," says Nyaichyai, who started driving at the age of 20.
Dozens of Mercedes-Benz mini buses were left behind by Western hippies who arrived in droves in Kathmandu in the 1970s seeking enlightenment. The government adapted them for public transport, and they became a much-loved part of the local scenery.
But today, the buses have literally come to the end of the road. In March, Nepal introduced a ban on buses older than 20 years - no matter how cherished they are.
Hippies in the 1970s drove the Mercedes-Benz buses overland from Europe through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Kathmandu, establishing a route that came to be known as the hippie trail.
Following their drug-fuelled adventures, the cash-strapped tourists often sold their buses and Volkswagen Beetles to locals for a few hundred dollars.
Their jaunts not only gave rise to a nascent tourism industry in Nepal, which is today a major foreign currency earner, but also supplied German-built vehicles to Kathmandu's public transport sector, which was just getting off the ground.
Standing outside his repair shop in Thimi, an old part of Bhaktapur where the streets are lined with workshops that once serviced the hippie buses, Prem Ratna Manandhar says he was saddened to sell his small "German bus" for a paltry 50,000 Nepalese rupees (483 dollars) to a junk yard.
"I can't understand why the government banned them. I think they were after [new] commissions. They wanted people to buy Indian buses," the 48-year-old says.
He bought his 3700 CC Mercedes-Benz for 200,000 Nepalese rupees from a vehicle dealer who originally bought it from the hippies.
"I didn't have any trouble in all the 25 years I ran the bus. Its engine, gears and other parts worked well," he says.
For months, he thought the news of decommissioning was just a rumour.
"More than 10 years back, we had heard that the government was going to ban the buses. So we thought it was just a rumour, but this time they started checking our documents and ordered us off the road," he says.
The vehicles had acquired a legendary status among the locals of Thimi, a popular stop on the Nepalese tourist trail.
Manandhar has heard stories of how Nepali buyers would throw dirt at a bus they were hoping to buy so it would appear older, meaning they would have to pay less tax.
"But they came fitted with a bed and TV. Once you got onto the bus, the ride was very smooth. There was never a bumpy ride," he says.
Around 100 such buses plied the route between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, which today has less traffic thanks to a newly built six-lane highway that runs parallel to it.
"Unfortunately, [the new law] applies to all buses that are more than 20 years old," says Birendra Bahadur Swar, a spokesman for the Department of Transport Management. "These buses might be stronger, but we cannot exempt them. We are doing this to curb pollution."
Wiping the grease off his hands after fixing the gear box of a Tata bus, Jivan Shrestha, a 40-yearold car mechanic, strolls towards a bus that lies abandoned in a corner.
On its front bumper is a wedding banner - the last vestige of its life on the road.
Shrestha bought the Mercedes-Benz from its owner five months ago for 75,000 Nepalese rupees. "It works very well. Its seats and windows are still in good condition," he says.
But soon, the mechanic will take the iconic vehicle apart and sell its parts to workshops. "This bus is better than the buses we have now. But what can I do?" he says.
Dozens of Mercedes-Benz mini buses were left behind by Western hippies who arrived in droves in Kathmandu in the 1970s seeking enlightenment.
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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|Title Annotation:||South Asia|
|Publication:||South Asian Post|
|Article Type:||Travel narrative|
|Date:||Apr 19, 2018|
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