Asia,  Nepal,  Travel

Jomsom to Pokhara: The world’s highest road

The muddy road from Muktinath to Jomsom

Type in Jomsom to Pokhara in Google Maps. 155km. A journey time of just under 7 hours.

“Let’s take the bus again. How bad could it possibly be?”

We’d decided to finish our Annapurna Trek in Jomsom. The new road connecting Jomsom to Pokhara brings many benefits for the Nepalese, but is dominated by jeeps and tourist buses that leave an unpleasant dusty trail for hikers to breathe in; or in our case an inescapably muddy road from the monsoon rain.

As ethically-minded, budget conscious travellers, we wanted to avoid an extra flight. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway as the low-lying fog filling up this side of the mountain range meant that all planes were grounded. 

“It’ll have to be the bus then”, we agreed as we scheduled two tickets for the next day with our guest house. We boarded at 6am, sacrificing larger leg room for front seats to avoid travel sickness. The bus slowly filled up and set off with a lurch, bumping along the road. We settled into our seats for what would be the next 8 hours, snacking on fruit from the market and leftover trail mix.

“Why have we stopped? We’ve only just set off? What’s going on?”

I’d assumed the bus had just stopped to pick up passengers but it had been sitting a while. I hopped out to see what was the problem, landing in a puddle of mud. A landslide and the heavy monsoon rains had destroyed a bridge crossing and the river was flowing too fast for vehicles to ford it.

A flood wipes out a bridge over the Kali Gandaki River
SO… we waited. People from local villages came down and tried to hastily rebuild a crossing to allow some of the traffic to pass. After a few hours, our bus barely made it through, almost pulled away by the current. Everybody cheered and the bus rambled on to Pokhara.

We shuddered to a stop again not an hour later. The monsoon rain had arrived, large droplets that had us soaked to the skin as we made our way into a cafe at the side of the road. The bus had broken down. They were sending a second from Jomsom but it would take a few hours. Several cups of chai later, we boarded a second bus.

A Jeep driver changes a tire at the side of the road in the monsoon rain

“Finally, we’re on our way now”. The road continued to be difficult to traverse due to monsoon weather. Our bus shot around corners at speeds I wasn’t comfortable with, knocking rocks from the road into the valley where the overflowing Kali Gandaki river churned beneath us. I looked down (big mistake) and saw the wreckage of two jeeps on the cliffs below.

We drove on. Another landslide had heaped piles of mud into the road further down. We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant. A shack with a few tables placed under a tarpaulin, this was a place I would have avoided when I first arrived in Nepal. But I now tucked in to a hot plate of Dahl Bhat without a care, hunger coming before any former concerns about food hygiene.

The landslide wasn’t cleared until night had fallen. We trundled on. I tried to sleep. We had to all get out and push the bus out of the knee deep mud at times, and work around several more landslides as excavators cleared the road through the night. Stuck vehicles blocked the road so we drove around them, wheels on one side hanging off the edge of the road. Traffic came to a standstill around midnight as a vehicle further up the road had become stuck. I bought some crisps and a mango juice, stretched my legs, tried to sleep some more.

Floods on the road

Rain fell in torrents, turning roads to rivers, but the road quality was finally improving. After 20 hours on the bus, we were nearly there! At 2am we were stopped by police. The road to Pokhara was closed, it was too dangerous for vehicles. “Too dangerous, ha!”, I thought to myself.

The sun rose. Workers arrived to fix the road, clear the landslides. I managed to forage together a breakfast of chapati and fruits and we ate, huddled at the side of the road with 7-8 other buses. The sun continued to rise and still no vehicles moved until eventually, we were able to board the bus again. In a grand procession of buses, jeeps and lorries, horns blaring, we set off for the final stretch, from Jomsom to Pokhara, arriving 30 hours after we left.

Of course, the monsoon didn’t put a stop to the fun we had in Nepal after our Annapurna Circuit Trek.  We carried on to Pokhara, experiencing the craziest bus ride on the way. We spent time in Chitwan National Park learning how to be elephant friendly tourists on an Elephant Happy Hour. And of course we explored Kathmandu on our return.

Planning on travelling around Nepal? You can get more information here.

I’d love to hear your questions or experiences about Nepal and hiking the Annapurna Circuit. You can leave a comment below or drop me an email here.

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Alice is a UK travel blogger who advocates sustainable travel and being more eco-conscious on a budget. She loves coffee, her houseplants and summiting mountains.

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