Arrival in India hits you – hard. Last time I was here we arrived in the middle of the night and had our senses assaulted with the sound of horns, the smell of spices and jasmine and the sight of cows and ricksaws and people- so many people….
This time is no different – except it is a dusty border and it is day time. When you arrive by bus, you are dropped of two kilometers or so away and you hire a bike rickshaw to take you to the border. It was a feeding frenzy when the bus arrives. I was quoted a price but when we arrived at the border, dude told me that price was in Indian rupees. Whatever. And that was after he tried to get me to change my money at his buddies place (I might have been swindled on the rickshaw ride but not on the money).
Getting over the border was quick. On the Nepal side I went to the office and filled out my departure paperwork and they stamped my passport. Then I walked under a big arch along with tons of other people and trucks honking their horns and lots of dust. Then amid street side stores and noise and chaos and people telling me to change my money, there was a table with two men reading the paper. You know, border patrol.
I had purchased my ticket from Sonauli (the border town) on to Varanasi up in Kathmandu — and was told I just needed to find the ticket agents office and they would help me out. I eventually found it – amidst the staring and the dust and the many offers to ‘help’ me out. Upon arrival, Mr. Bablu looked at my ticket very nonchalantly and told me to come back at 5. I asked why and he told me the bus was at 5:30. No, no – I am taking the bus at 6:30 tomorrow morning (decided a night time bus ride my first day in India wasn’t quite what I wanted…). He said fine, and showed me where the ‘hotel’ was — the one place the Lonely Planet half way recommends…. to say it was a shit-hole would be kind…. There is no need to go into details on that place or the food or how depressing it was – but needless to say, I arrived back at the travel agency at 6, on the dot, as Mr. Bablu had requested the day before.
And that is when things got interesting…..
No one was there at 6. So, I just stayed there. A non-Indian female by herself with bags gets lots of attention – so I figured that soon enough people would find me. Sure enough, a guy came down the stairs asking what I needed – I told him that I needed my bus pass. He called to another man and they came downstairs to unlock the office, inside of which a 3rd man was sleeping. None of these men were Mr. Bablu.
Upon looking at my ticket , the ‘head’ dude tells me that this bus is late this morning, but I can take the express bus for an extra cost. What?! So, I try and reason with him. I tell him that there is no such thing. I tell him I will not pay the price. Meanwhile, time is passing — it is getting closer to 6:30. I really want to get on that bus. I really do not want to stay in Sonauli a second longer. Then, another foreigner comes in with his confirmation note for the bus. He is told the same thing. He also tries to argue and is told that he has to pay more for the 6:30 bus. These guys aren’t budging and they just talk in Hindi to each other, laughing. They tell this guy that it will be 495 IRs to travel on this bus. At that point, it is close to 6:30, so I pull out the money in my pocket – 300 IRs. The guy takes it and asks if I have any dollars. What?! Oh, hell no. So, I tell him I have no other money – and he takes me to the bus. So, now – both myself and the other foriegner have paid extra for this bus (the guys in the office told him that if he did not pay he could go back to Kathmandu!). The men continued their intimidation on the bus, thankfully not with me, though. Two other foreigners were forced to pay more – and all three guys (they were all men, these other foreigners) were asked for more money for their bags – and one was even asked to open his bag. They all said no – and eventually these men from the travel agency went away. But, it was simply infuriating. There was nothing we could do (though, in hindsight, I wish I had called the travel agency in Kathmandu).
Oh, and the express bus? yeah — it took 13 hours.
It was suppose to take 11, but our 4-speed bus (in which I could see the road through the gear shaft) did not go all that fast. And our driver, well, it is tough to be a driver in India. Here is what he needs to avoid hitting:
- People walking
- other buses
- horse and ox drawn carriages/wagons
- and of course, monkeys
And did I mention how comfortable the seats were?! ha!
Anyway — 7:30 at night, I arrived. Found a phone and called my guest house. A guy came and picked me up and brought me back – on his scooter. It was a crazy ride – me trying not to fall off b/c of my big pack. And of course — lots of people staring. The hotel is nice enough, though my room is really really cheap. I have to figure out what costs will be in this country to see if I can upgrade…. but there is wifi! 🙂
So here I am
Amid the noise and the dust and the cows and the honking and people wanting to ‘help’ me out, here I am. amazing how, admidst a billion people, you can be all alone.