I’m back in India. BRINGITON. As I type this I’m in Delhi, spending a couple of days at Sahara before catching the train back south to Pune, a 26 hour journey.
Of course, Matt and I will post a full account of our adventures up here shortly, along with lots of photos of us looking all rugged as we tramp around the mountain passes of northern Nepal. And / or the bars of Kathmandu.
But first, I might as well recount the story of the journey from Nepal back to India. Matt had a flight back to London via Doha, whereas I was travelling overland to India via the border crossing at Bhairawa-Sonauli. This was a fairly gruelling undertaking, involving a 10 hour bus journey from Kathmandu to the border, another local bus to Gorakhpur, and a 14 hour train to Delhi.
The only other foreigners on the first bus were three Israelis – I was too bleary to catch their names – and once we arrived at Bhairawa around 4.30am we chartered a couple of cycle rickshaws up to the border checkpost, where we woke up the official and got our passports stamped. Then we ducked under the barrier (tricky with loaded backpacks) and walked up to the Indian immigration office 50 metres or so up the road. Perhaps ‘office’ is a bit grand: it was a tumbledown shed. Again we had to wake the poor official, who was dozing on a table under an elaborately arranged mosquito net. I had to lend him a pen to complete the paperwork, but within a couple of minutes I had the required stamp in my passport and was legitimately back in The India.
I’ve been to a few border towns, and I have to say that Sonauli is comfortably the worst of a bad bunch. Still, we didn’t have to linger too long, finding ourselves a ramshackle bus to Gorakhpur (nearest railhead for Delhi) which took about three hours on the bumpy road. On a couple of occasions I was catapulted at least a foot in the air from my seat at the rear of the bus, although amazingly I was still able to doze through most of the journey.
On arrival at Gorakhpur, I bagged myself a ‘retiring room’ at the station. These rooms – ranging from simple dormitories to air conditioned hotel-style rooms – are designed for weary travellers to take a rest either before or after a long rail journey. This particular one was almost a suite, with a bedroom and attached bathroom, both with double height ceilings. If being generous, I suppose I could describe it as displaying ‘faded grandeur’, looking suspiciously like hadn’t been redecorated since the mid 1950s. But for Rs90 – just over a quid – it was excellent value and just what I needed, especially since I faced a 10 hour wait for my train. In the end, my train was delayed by a further three hours, although this is the first time I can remember a departure delay of more than half an hour or so on an Indian long distance train. I think I’ve been fortunate, but it still beats the British Rail ‘experience’ hands down.
Once I located my carriage, I discovered a fat policeman dozing in my sleeper berth. He actually looked just like one of those unsympathetic police goons in the Bollywood movies. Anyway, since I had gone to the trouble of booking a confirmed reservation, I turfed him out. He harrumphed a bit and then moved to sit on someone else. Literally.
There was actually at least a dozen policemen in our carriage, none of whom who possessed confirmed tickets but had decided to throw their not inconsiderable weight around all the same. Fortunately, they all got off around midnight at Lucknow and relative peace was restored to the carriage.
When I woke in the morning, my shoes had gone missing. I’d tucked them under the lower berth, along with my chained up bags. I was puzzled. A friendly man by the window filled me in.
“My shoes have been taken also. We shall have to buy sandals in Delhi. Actually this is UP [Uttar Pradesh]. And UP is renowned for being the state of thieves and dacoits [bandits]. Perhaps you should feel lucky you still have the clothes on your back.”
Marvellous. Maybe I should complain to someone?
“Actually, I think it was those policeman fellows who took them.”
Brilliant. My trusty boots that had seen me across the snowy peaks of the Langtang Himalaya, had been appropriated by the boys in khaki.
Welcome back to India, Pablo!