- Goodbye to Baba Lala and Rishikesh
- Our 68 hour bus ride ordeal
- Snacktime – Chai Chai Chai
- From Lucknow to Gorakhpur
- Train ticket odyssey
- Making our way to Nepal
- A warm welcome
- Good morning Nepal
- The right travel buddy
- The beauty on the lake
Ok now I finally find the time to write, but these were some intense days, in good and bad terms!
Goodbye to Baba Lala and Rishikesh
Last time I wrote I was in Rishikesh, chilling with Baba Lala. That night we went to a nice bar with him, it was right at the Ganga and we wanted to spend one last night with this amazing guy. Chanti chanti. We learned how to play a traditional game of northern India and Nepal, Kaream, though we really sucked at it. He also offered us to hop on his bike and travel with him, but we have other plans. But it must be amazing as you won’t spend anything; he knows the language, the people, is much respected and is just an incredible person. Well I have his mail and if we want to I can get in touch with him.
Our 68 hour bus ride ordeal
The next day we had to make our way to Nepal. Sounds easy, it’s not! This morning at 10 o’clock our ordeal, well it wasn’t that bad as you will see, started. It ended 3 days later at 6am. In these 68 hours we spent 51 in 7 different buses!
At first we had to take a few rickshaws and buses to Haridwar, a major city near Rishikesh. From there we had to take a 12 hour night bus to Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. This state has the biggest population in India, 166 million, and if it was a state it would be among the 10 with most people in the world. This bus ride shows the negative aspect of wanting to see so much. I mean the reward is seeing a lot of contrasts and being able to travel thousands of miles in a few weeks, but I don’t know how many people would have undergone these tortures. I am just really happy that Yassin doesn’t care as well, and we can both travel according to two principles: 1. never stay even one second too much in a place you don’t like and 2. Even if you already travelled 2 days, if you want to continue just hop on the next bus.
Well coming back to the bus. Indian buses are like this. They are the same size as ours, but instead of 4 seats per row you will find 6. Moreover they are made for Indians, that means that Yassin and I constantly touch the seat in front of us with our knees. Ah and of course no toilets. But the worst are the roads. You literally jump up 30 to 40 cm every few minutes due to the potholes in the road. I mean you can’t believe what that means, you are sleeping and you wake up because you are nearly or you are in fact hitting the ceiling. Moreover, the buses don’t have anything to lean your head on. That means you will fall asleep and your head will just be hanging down, next hole, BAM you hit the seat in front, brake, BAM you hit the window to the left, next turn, BAM your head hits your Indian neighbour. But all of this is still ok, no problem. The worst part is coming up!
We took the bus at 5 pm, after 2 hours of delay. It was supposed to arrive at 4am, it arrived at 10am. At first I didn’t have enough space, but I got used to it. Then the first mosquitos started to bite and they were soo itchy. Then around 3am a wheel exploded and they had to change it, which took 6 hours in the middle of nowhere, but then the worst. It started to rain and the bus leaked! Water started to drop all over me and I had to put a rain jacket on in the middle of the bus.
Snacktime – Chai Chai Chai
But looking at the bright side: Indians love snacks! I love snacks! The buses stop every hour for a snack and chai break and you get the most amazing street food in some stalls there, absolutely amazing. They prepare exactly the same dishes we know from Europe, like omelette or fried potatoes, but Indian style, that is to say with lots and lots of spices and it just tastes sooo good. And then chai chai chai, amazing!
From Lucknow to Gorakhpur
We arrived in Lucknow at 10 am after a 20 hour bus ride like the one I just described. We arrive, 40 degrees already, we hadn’t slept. All we wanted was a bed. When we got out of the bus the beggars were already waiting for us. Dozens of children or crippled men and women, who touch you, want money, annoy you. Horrible and they just don’t go away. Then you reach the station, and people come up to you saying: the office is closed, no buses today blablabla. And you have to ignore all of this and head on looking for the office. And because we both decided instantly and unanimously that we didn´t want to stay a minute in this city we asked which bus went direction Nepal and hopped onto the next bus immediately. 6 more hours. Apparently to Faizahbad and Ayodya. Ok.
But then the heat came, 40, 45 degrees. And we were exhausted. So after another 6 hours we reach this down, and although in the Lonely Planet, which we read in the bus once we know where we were heading, states amazing stuff on the two “villages”, our stay was short, and that for a reason.
When walking around looking for a hotel all we could find were places that could have been from Steven King´s “The Shining”. Long corridors, deserted, and they showed us the cheapest room, still quite expensive. No electricity, no toilet, nothing. Well then we went to the next place, and he even wanted a registration form from the local intelligence office. So after already around 30 hours of this kind of bus traveling we said, screw that, next bus! But where to? Checking the map on the street while dozens of beggars surrounded us was not the most pleasant thing to do and after a minute we decided to head to Gorakhpur. Ok Gorakhpur, but how? If you ask people on the street in India they usually just want to rip you off. So we were asking and asking, 45 degrees. At one point someone shouts at us from a bus. We don’t know why, run towards it, jump on, ask the driver and he nods, and ok Gorakhpur hopefully! Another 5 hours!
In the evening we arrived in this shitty town, and found a “recommended” hotel (Lonely Planet India is absolutely horrible, the places are expensive and bad, but after 2 days of bus rides, you can’t expect us to look for ages). The room was funny. Sound level similar to the main room in the Ministry of Sound, toilet broken off and brown as it has never been cleaned. Insects everywhere! But what kind of insects! Huge, with claws, and they could even fly!!!We went hunting until we found 2 holes in the ground of our room and just resigned. Well at least a bed (sheets also never cleaned and full of, well let’s skip that and hope it was just dirt)! But after 2 days in buses and all that stress this room was like a presidential suite in a 5 star hotel to us!
Train ticket odyssey
We woke up early as we read that we can book trains in Gorakhpur, this is vital for us as we need to book our train back to Calcutta from the north of India for the end of July. If anybody of you has seen the Asterix and Obelix cartoon films, try to remember the scene where they are looking for a certain form in Rome and are sent from one office to the next. Well this is exactly how we felt in this situation. They send us from one counter to the other, then back, then to another building, back to the first building, back to the train station,………, after 2 hours we finally found somebody who could tell us where to go and in all this chaos we succeeded in booking the train ride we needed! Soo happy! Sorted!
Making our way to Nepal
So, bus riding again: YEAAAAAAAAAY! As we do only have a 7kg backpack each which we can easily carry around, we are very flexible in the way we travel. So walking on the street, a bus drove by:” Nepalese border?” well ok, just hopped on, hoped for the best and had another amazing bus ride, but this time I mean it in a very positive way.
After a few hours the bus driver starts shouting: Basti, Basti Baaaasti, Bastistististi, Basti! And I was wondering why I got so popular in India! But apparently we had stopped in the town of Basti, and it’s pronounced exactly like my name! And the moment I knew I started looking around and taking pictures of everything “Basti police” “Basti train station” “Basti electricity” “Basti hotel”. I literally have 100 pictures of that shitty little rural town, and the people in the bus must have thought, why the hell is he taking pictures of all this stuff!
A warm welcome
We arrived at the Indian-Nepalese border around 4 and it was the first time I passed a border walking. The border between Nepal and India is very open. Indians and Nepalese can come and go as they please. We paid 40 dollars, got a few stamps, filled some forms, and Nepal, here we come!
In the Lonely Planet they say the bus ride to Pokhara (Nepal’s second biggest city) takes 6 hours. Cool we thought, we will arrive tonight. Then we asked: 13 hours, BAM! Well no problem! But the Nepalese buses are very nice, they have only 4 seats, are smaller, and you can lean the head against the chair. However, as I read today, you are 20 times more likely to die in a Nepalese bus then in any other country on the planet. Well I am alive J. Ah I should say that the road from the border to Pokhara is 78 km, and it takes 13 hours. Now you can imagine what it means when I say that we travelled 900 km in 3 days. In these countries its sooo much.
The road from the border to Pokhara is one of the few “highways” in Nepal. What this means is the following: if you are lucky a paved road, usually just mud, mud, mud. And highly exposed as well of course. But coming to Nepal, such amazing people. You can see the differences after 15 minutes in the country. Just so relaxed, the people speak English, they are really interested in you, your country, everything. So in the bus I sat in a different part of the bus than Yassin to talk to people and got to know a Nepalese student aged 22 immediately. I asked him lots and he told me everything. Nr 1 sport in Nepal, football, but unfortunately no participation in world cups (yet J), then I asked him about wages. He told me the average monthly salary is 80 euros, he earns 0.15 euros per hour giving tuition to other children. A university professor earns 5 euros an hour. Just crazy! Then we stopped for dinner (unfortunately the Nepalese are not as snack-fanatic as the Indians, but they love to eat still). Dinner was great but now we had to sleep. Ah and somebody spilled a white liquid, I think it was paint, I just know it smelled horrible, on Yassin, poor guy, right before sleeping time. At one point the bus just stopped, the lights went off, and it got pitch black, you couldn’t see anything. I didn’t know what was happening and just fell asleep.
Good morning Nepal
I woke up when the bus started to move again and first I was shocked by just how shitty I felt, I looked at Yassin and one look at me was enough for me to know that he felt the same. I couldn’t breathe and had kind of asthma, don´t know why. I had to cough all the time and we had run out of water. But right after that I looked around, it was around 4.30 am and the sun was rising and I could marvel at the lush vegetation of Nepal. No villages, just a few huts, rice fields and jungle, jungle as far as the eyes could see. So much water. Amazing. But this picture was disrupted immediately by a guy telling us: Pokhara? Out out! So we were thrown out of the bus at 5am. Still feeling like shit and in heavy rain, after 3 days of traveling in buses. Well that’s Asia!
But in Nepal you can ask people, everybody is nice, nobody wants to rip you off and everybody tries to help. So we put on our rain jackets, and started walking. The first hotel we saw we asked for a room, and thank god, it was a good one! Cheap and amazing! Shower (cold obviously but still a shower! Not a bucket! A real shower), a toilet where you could sit on, and those two beds, ahhh, paradise. So we showered and fell asleep!
The right travel buddy
After this ordeal I really realized just how important it is that I am traveling with Yassin. I mean it was the toughest journey of my life. Usually after a 6 hour drive to berlin, or 8 hours to Munich I feel exhausted, or at least tired. This time 51 hours bus ride, plus one shitty night in the worst hotel ever! But no complaints, to be honest we enjoyed it! David, hope you are ready for some serious busriding! Although to be honest in no other country or place we are going to you have to travel these distances. But now the bad news. Yassin didn’t take it too well. Although we slept this morning and we have a nice room, he feels kind of ill. He stayed in all day and just needs to rest.
The beauty on the lake
I feel ok. Actually, I feel great. I am in one of the nicest places I have ever been to. About Pokhara: it has 200 000 inhabitants, but I don’t know where they are. This place is quieter than the smallest village in India. Nepalese people smile at you, help you, start talking to you. Pokhara is 900m above sea level, but from here you can see 4 of the highest mountains of the planet. Annapurna (number 1 to 5, but only 1 is more than 8000m, the others “only” 7500), Dhaulagiri and other two 8000m or higher mountains, but I can’t remember them now. Unfortunately its monsoon season and very difficult to see them and I haven’t so far, but I have seen pictures, and when the sky will clear up it will be breath-taking.
With Yassin in bed and sleeping what should I do? I went out and saw that you can rent bicycles for 1 euro a day: deal! Pokhara has a lake, and the lake is just so beautiful; I took the bike and just started cycling along the coast, passing small villages, no tourists, just farmers trying to work on their rice fields with huge bulls, no machinery. Pokhara lies at an idyllic lake, with huge mountains coming right out of it, rice fields and jungle. The road was pure mud, but with my “amazing” bike it wasn’t a challenge. At one point I was riding through a rice field when this little boy comes up to me, and asked me where I am from, blabla. Then he asked me if I wanted him to show me around, I told him sure and he hopped on my bike. So I spent the day with 14 year old Prakash and drove around rice fields, jungle and the city with my highly experienced tour guide. He is the youngest son of a rice farmer family but gets a good education (I think like most urban Nepalese) and knows English quite well. He showed me a waterfall, where the water of the lake precipitates 100 m into the ground, then a holy Shiva cave, then a canyon, which was breath-taking. I invited him for lunch and drove him home. Really nice kid. After my city tour I chilled on the lakeside, watching the sunset from a hammock and nipping on a masala tea.
We are going to spend some days here as it’s just amazing, and I hope Yassin feels alright tomorrow so we can check out all the surrounding places. We are also planning to go trekking for 10 days in the Himalayas but don’t know exactly where yet. Ah and the most important bit: I am not a vegetarian anymore!!!!! Yeay! Nepalese are Hindus, but they eat meat and drink lots!!!