Hidden Treasures: Neighbors on a Nepalese Bus

Joel Carillet's picture

For months fellow long-term travelers had warned me that August would be an unpleasant time to visit India.  The weather would be hot, very hot, they’d explain.  What they didn’t say – but what was understood – was that such heat, mixed with the culture stress inherent in a first-time visit to what can be an often raw and dense country, would be a potent combination.

I thought of these warnings as I sat in a bus rattling down a dilapidated highway, sweat dripping into my eyes.   But I wasn’t actually in India yet.  I was still a couple miles shy of the Indian border in a region of Nepal called the Terai.  For most Westerners the word Nepal conjures up an image of the mighty Himalayas, but it is here in the Terai – the lowland stretch of the country – that one sees the starker scenery not found in many tourists brochures.

I had just spent the day in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, and was now taking a bus to the small town of Parasi.  I had been invited here by a young Japanese woman I had met in Kathmandu who worked in Parasi as a volunteer for the Japanese equivalent of the Peace Corps.  After hearing of my desire to see places where most travelers don’t go, she said “Come visit Parasi.  You can stay the night with me and my Nepalese host family.”

I said yes, which is why I was now sweating in an old, old bus.

My journey to Parasi is now four years old, and it’s interesting that I’m no longer in touch with the kind Japanese volunteer.  Instead, I’m in touch with a man named Raj, who sat in the seat beside me on the way to Parasi.  At some point in the sweltering journey Raj had turned to ask my name.

“Joel,” I told him.

“Do you know what it means?” he asked.

“No.” (I once did but had forgotten.)

Raj then proceeded to tell me it meant “Jehovah is the Lord.”  This left me slightly dumbfounded, for who would have guessed that on a bus in a predominately Hindu nation, en route for a remote town where few spoke English much less had any knowledge of the roots of Judeo-Christian names, I’d hear such a thing.

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“My son is also named Joel,” he said proudly.

Come to find out, Raj was a Christian from India and had established a small church in Parasi.  We spoke at length about what it was like to be an Indian missionary in Nepal – his challenges with Hindus, with Maoists, and with government soldiers who liked to use the church’s rooftop as an observation post during the night.  He told me about the stress his wife and family experienced as well.  For all of them, it was not easy being so far from their families in India – especially given the civil war that Nepal was in the midst of at the time.

Raj and I continued our conversation, interrupted only when the bus broke down a mile from Parasi.  Along with the other passengers we walked the remaining distance.  Once in town, he invited me to his house to meet his family, see the church (attached to his home), and drink some tea.  Just before sunset, he gave me a lift to the Japanese volunteer’s home on the back of his bicycle, a terribly rough ride that left my rear end rather bruised.  And that was it.  We exchanged email address and said goodbye.

Every so often I still receive an email from Raj.  He is now back in India, having recently completed a two-year master’s degree from a seminary in the Philippines.  He has a heart for his country’s Dalits, or Untouchables, and is seeking ways to minister to them.  I look forward to seeing where the future takes him, just as I am thankful for the places cantankerous old buses occasionally take us.



Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. His most recent project is 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, visit www.joelcarillet.com.  



Comments (2)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    15 years 8 months ago

    Joel - I want to travel with you - you meet the coolest people! Thanks for sharing.


    Jessie Voigts

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

  • Rossie Indira

    15 years 8 months ago

    I don't envy the bike ride Joel! Or the old old bus for that matter! But would love to visit far away and off tourists places like that. Been to India twice and so I know how hot and stuffy it can be!

    Rossie Indira


Leave a comment