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An Unlikely Chorus

The surrounding peaks glowed orange as we trudged on deep in the Kali Gandaki gorge. We had not planned to hike this stretch of the trip, but when we missed our connecting bus that afternoon I suggested we continue on foot, sure that we’d catch a ride along the way. Having lived there for two years, I knew that buses in Nepal are reliably unreliable. Misadventure is the name of the game: flat tires are just unplanned tea breaks, and roads made impassable by seasonal waterfalls are a good excuse for a hike.

But nearly three hours had passed without any luck. A handful of private cars had drifted by with no appetite. A single jeep came and went but was already so stuffed with passengers that a can of sardines seemed spacious. I nudged my friends along with the promise of hot springs, but as daylight rapidly faded, so too did our hopes for steamy waters. In fact it wasn’t even clear we’d make it to the next village in time for a steamy meal.

Just as dreams of hot thukpa replaced conversation we heard the rumble of an approaching bus. I anxiously waved it down and a bus-boy beckoned us aboard. The last seats were on a bench behind the driver - positioning us on face-to-face display with the rest of the passengers. A sea of unimpressed men in green uniforms stared back at us, unblinking. Apparently we caught a bus hired to transport army soldiers.

We bounced along the rocky highway in silent cross-examination for several minutes before a man in front asked where we were going. “Hami Tatopani maa janne,” I replied. The man’s face rapidly turned from bitter to sour to sweet. “You know Nepali? Where do you stay? Are you married?,” he inquired. As I answered each, the others stirred with curiosity and glee, their cool collected-ness melting away. When the man in front asked if I knew any Nepali songs, I poured out the most beloved folk song I knew: Resham firiri. As the first drop of “Re-sham…” passed my lips, all the soldiers joined in, startling me with the sudden eruption of sound. My friends meanwhile exchanged glances of shock and relief. As the soldiers chugged along in full chorus, the bus suddenly felt like a pub on wheels. We sang the Nepali national anthem and a few pop hits before the bus-boy abruptly ended the merriment by calling out our stop.

As we stepped out into the darkness the bus-boy started to ask me for fare, but the man in front interrupted him. “Don’t worry,” he said with a wide grin, waving us off. I smiled back as the bus rolled away.

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