Bl**d, Swe*t and B*rders!

by Ant Stone on November 28, 2007

in India,Nepal

I lied. Forgive me. I told you I was going to hire a motorbike. I did not. I told you I was heading through Nepal’s eastern Terai. I did not. I told you I would now be in Darjeeling. I am not. I don’t know what came over me, it wasn’t intentional but I feel that I owe you all an explanation. I’m coming clean. I was in Kathmandu, right, yeah, when this huge-great-big dribbling monster came storming angrily through the narrow city streets, gobbling up everyone and everything in it’s path. As the cobbles shook loose beneath my feet, I drew breath, stood strong and stared up fifteen feet into his twenty-or-more burning red eyes. In a moment of inspiration I hurled a splintered rickshaw and it’s skinny rider up into the monsters rabid fangs. From that moment, of uncapped bravery on, I knew my path would lead me elsewhere, to where heroes walk the land. Honestly right, that monster had like fifty eyes and forty mouths and stood one hundred feet tall but I crushed twelve rickshaws up with my hands and sprayed him into submission with a cloud of pedals and spokes.

Ahem. So, now a hero. Hut-hum. I returned to Chitwan National Park, home to my friends, the rhino. I didn’t hire a motorbike, I chose instead to spend a tense night with a couple of them in a remote tower in the misty jungle, while at 4am they whispered (quite loudly) in my ear. It was a moment of beauty, and one I’ll never forget. Chitwan is in complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Nepal’s mountainous tourist trekking areas, it’s flat plains offer an amazing feeling of peace. Resisting it’s hold, I packed up and headed west (not east to Darjeeling as the monster has relatives there, apparently) to seek solace in Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha. It was here, under a Bodhi tree that his mother, Mayadevi began to give birth to the little Enlightened One. I felt privileged to be here, especially when I considered that so many around the world who hold a Buddhist faith – and would relish the chance – could not. The exact site of his birth is unspectacular, a flattened stone protected by a perspex box amid some ruined brickwork, all encased in a small red brick building. The surrounding area of the ‘zone’ though is captivating, it showcases some of the most magnificent Buddhist monasteries styled from around the globe – Myanmar, Thailand, China, Cambodia among many others have all established a monastery here, and each have their own, very distinctive style.

After being under the watchful eye of Buddha for most of my trip (Mongolia, China, Tibet and Nepal are all strongly under a Buddhist influence) I decided to pack my bag and cross the border, south to where dominant Hindu and Muslim hues depict a romantic, rich and aromatic India. To many ‘cross the border… to India’ sounds simple. I hastily, and honestly, digress. At six am I solemnly shut the front door of my Lumbini hotel and received my first proposal of the day, ‘Bhairahawa? Bhairahawa?’ came rolling through the morning mist from a tank-like bus awaiting me at the end of the street. I waddled aboard and my journey began in view of an amazing sunrise, a parting gift from my buddy, Buddha I smiled. Within half and hour, I alighted in Bhairahawa and responded once again to the immediate holler of ‘Sunauli? Sunauli?’, I followed the call and jumped in the back of a speedy green jeep bound for the border. From here, my day declined. A thirty minute argument with the jeep driver and friends about the value of the Nepali Rupee, compared with the lower Indian Rupees he was offering as change found the ‘Enlightened One’ depart and the ‘Enraged One’ appear. I decided to drop it, and resorted instead to mocking him with a few English obscenities (that I knew he couldn’t understand) before stomping and cursing my way to the refuge of the Nepali immigration office. If there is one way to temporarily wreck your opinion or anticipation of two countries, it’s a journey through the sordid border-regions.

I was duly ignored for twenty minutes in the office, seemingly because I wasn’t as appealing or chirpy as the trio of nodding Chinamen beside me or as charmingly attractive as the buxom, blonde half of a model Irish couple. I emptied my bag for a pen, (the staff wouldn’t lend me one, presumably for fear I’d steal it) and filled out the necessary form. I handed it back. I received a scowl. I scowled, back. I received a glare. I glared, back. I received a bollocking, for making a mistake. I smirked back, cursed in English and made my way across the decrepit border. ‘Welcome to India’, I cheered along with the decaying signage. At the Indian immigration desk I got the required stamps in silence as I listened to a chai-wallah (man) sniveling an offering of tea ‘on the house, sir‘ to the plump official while he grunted something at me through his bulbous snout before literally throwing my passport back at me. Charmed, I cursed, and continued my pilgrimage. ‘Gorakphur? Gorakphur?’ rang the next chime and I soon found solace aboard a rotting iron structure that mimicked a bus, to begin my Indian adventure. Five hours later (during which I realised a Nepali immigration official had stolen my pen) I disembarked in Gorakphur, where tradition dictated that another argument should ensue after the conductor knowingly failed to tell me I’d passed my stop some time previous. I looked him in the eyes and sharply cursed and then marched away to take it out on various rickshaw-wallah’s.

I finally agreed with one, in front of a growing audience of locals, that I’d rip him off if he cycled me to the railway station; he happily obliged. Gorakphur railway station has intimidation down to a fine art, not one soul would help me out and I found myself passed from one creature to the next as I wearily dragged my bag around, aware of a bubbling sweat pouring down my scowling face. I managed somehow to extract a ticket from a squalid counter, the ticket came with an inbuilt – and unwelcome – quest to decipher the platform, train number and even the time from it’s fading ink. Every request for help from an ‘official’ was met with some jabbering Anglo-Hindi mix and a wry look. It was all I could do not to drop the bags and start a full on riot. I was fuming, where were these wonderfully friendly Indian people I had heard so much about? And as always, when things couldn’t get any worse, they did.

As I descended down the stairs to platform number 9 (of ten) I felt a warm trickle above my lip and my investigating fingers confirmed it. A nose bleed. Sweat now tantalisingly merged with scarlet red blood, dripping off my chin, the only thing stopping me from dropping to my knees in floods of tears was the lack of space amid the Holy Cows that wander freely around the filthy station and the tramps sleeping peacefully in their own feces. The nose bleed – which you should note I very rarely suffer from – brought with it a moment of serenity. I too, felt enlightened. This wasn’t going to break me. I made my way to platform 10 where after lynching a startled young station employee – and insisting she drop the act and tell me what train I needed – I finally boarded train 5207. I gasped. I was swiftly challenged by an oaf who proclaimed the berth to be that of his wife. I sighed. I looked round at his wife, she was dressed in a black sartorial hijab (Muslim head and body covering) and her eyes, only slightly on view, told me to withdraw my claim and remove my bloody nose from her berth. Right now. I got off and found a platform attendant, and reeled off my dilemma to him – I’d thought I’d procured a ticket for an AC car but was being told I had to sit in the squalid second class car with the shit-stained tramps and Holy-Cow-lookalikes. The attendant, sensing my displeasure, pulled me to one side where he gently instructed me to pay him eight hundred and fifty rupees for a seat in the AC car. He’d picked the wrong man, and most definitely on the wrong day. I hit the roof and shouted loudly at him, making sure I hurled the words far and wide, ‘how dare you – f-this, f-that - try and bribe me, who the – f-this, f-that – do you think you – f-this, f-that – are!’, into the stale air being gasped inwardly by a frozen mass of startled onlookers. Buddha panicked, a 21 old man – embarrassed by his countryman’s oversight – appeared and insisted I follow him to his sleeper birth to be grilled by him and his friends for the five hour journey on subjects such as cricket, fashion, cricket, my profession, marriage, music, cricket and any other topic under the setting sun (including cricket). Lucknow City, India beckoned.

My first impressions of India – even aside from the gauntlet of crossing the border – are far from pleasant. Lucknow is a regional capital and every street I walked down I observed a man – be him beggar or businessman – urinating, openly in the street. The whole city had the acidic 3am aroma of an English pubs toilet floor and I was embarrassed for them that they stooped so low. I’m told this is not confined to Lucknow, which makes my heart sink further. Another immediately annoying thing is a habit among middle aged men to chew on some saliva inducing nut concoction. It gives the impression that they’re having their cheeks tightly squeezed, forcing me to listen to their toothy, gurgling responses before they submit mid-sentence, and gob the thick opaque red excess out onto the grimy floor before rudely continuing once more. It would be unfair of me to continue my stream of initial dislike of India and her culture, in all honesty I haven’t had a high first impression of any of my destinations so far (though none have led me to an open evening of solo whiskey drinking like the one India just did!) but one thing keeps coming to mind; the Nepalis told me to beware the Indians constantly trying to rip me off. The Indians tell me to beware the ‘poor’ Nepali ‘farmers’. There’s no sitting on the fence, right now, I’m with the civilised chaps of the Kingdom of Nepal. But try as you might India, I’m here to stay – for a f-ing while, at least.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachael November 30, 2007 at 10:43 am

:( That’s very different to my welcome to India. Your tale reminds me of Delhi more than India as a whole – perhaps the “Delhi non-Welcome” has spread a bit further since I left? 2nd class sleeper was always something preferable compared with the cold and sterile AC 1st. Except the toilets. Remember to smile when haggling :0)

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reb December 5, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Oh i cant wait…….that seems like a total nightmare…worse than some of the china bus journeys! Chin up and keep smiling….without the nose bleeds!Please get rid of victor before xmas!!!!

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