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!
It’s approaching two and a half years since I left the UK. About time then, for a quick look back.Where have I been in all this time? First of all to India, then to Thailand (via a stopover in Bangladesh, though I’m not counting that), then Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand again before returning to India. An extended stay this time, picking up a couple of new qualifications along the way, and then off to Sri Lanka, and back to India again. Right now, I’m in Nepal.
Let’s just say I’m taking the roundabout route getting to New Zealand.
Some forms of transport I’ve used on my travels (in a vaguely chronological order):
Cambodian improvised railcart
DISHA Mobile Awareness Vehicle (D-MAV)
What I have I learned in all this time?
1) Return tickets are for wimps
2) One should be very careful when sitting on a camel
3) Arrack (Sri Lankan country liquor) and ginger beer is a drink fit for kings
4) Feni (Goan country liquor) and Mazaa (mango soft drink) is a drink fit for fools
5) Late at night, in any city in the world, you can watch a movie on satellite TV starring Steven Segal. It’s probably ‘Under Seige’, and it’s probably on channel 57…
6) There are stories everywhere you look
More homespun philosophy another day!
Recently, I was back in Delhi. It was interesting, because that’s where I first arrived into India in October 2004, and I hadn’t been back since. After spending a reasonable amount of time in various parts of the country, it was interesting to see things through different eyes. Unfortunately my visit was somewhat curtailed, but I’m looking forward to spending more time there in the future.
Just one more thought… I’ve spent so much time in Pune that I now leave loved ones behind in India as well as Europe. But I haven’t forgotten about anyone, and look forward to the day we meet again…
Well… I’m going to be away for the next 16-18 days off on some comedy Himalayan trek with Matt. I picked him up at the airport this morning and we’re off on a bus to the trailhead early tomorrow.
I’ll post lots of pictures once we get back… see you soon and wish us luck!
Back in the day, Hans and I were sat in a pub somewhere – Goa I think – and we were talking about the need for a car so we could go off on regular jollies.
“What we need is some kind of awareness vehicle for DISHA. Then we could borrow it at weekends.”
“Yeah, just a second-hand Maruti 800. Paint it up and you’re good to go.”
“Or a van. That’d be practical.”
“Yeah, we could do it up like the ‘A Team’ van and everything. You know, black with red trim.”
We returned to our beers.
Fast forward six or seven months, and we’re organising the Wake Up Pune campaign. By sheer coincidence, the campaign colours are black and red. One of the old Deep Griha vehicles is sitting idle, having been replaced recently. Why don’t we revive the old A Team plan?
And lo, the DISHA Mobile Awareness Vehicle (D-MAV) was born. We drafted a proposal and sketched out the design. I knocked up the necessary artwork in Photoshop. Funding was secured (kind thanks to the Acorn Fund) and the battered old vehicle went for a complete refit: bodywork, lighting, custom PA system, the lot.
I have to admit I was pretty excited to see the end product.
The D-MAV will be used primarily for rural outreach. Members of the DISHA team will head to the villages and run street plays and awareness sessions about HIV and AIDS. The D-MAV is also a visible advertisment for the Wake Up Pune campaign, and will be present at all high profile DISHA events.
Sadly, Hans and I won’t be able to use it for our holidays. But I’m glad that all our hard work slaving over a beer has finally been vindicated…