It’s been a long time we haven’t updated you so we apologize for that. We were in India for 3 months, but it was so hectic that we barely gathered strength, time and a reliable internet connection to blog. We will post a bunch of updates shortly, so bear with us!
As our good friend Aggie well described it once, “India’s like a beautiful woman with very bad breath”. She could not say whether she liked it or hated it, and after some time travelling here, we can now understand why. Many other travelers described India as an amazing country, very spiritual, beautiful and with impressive architecture, but they also warned about scams, dirtiness, chaos and poverty. We were prepared for the shock… Or so we thought.
First contact with India. The border odyssey.
After not sleeping much thanks to some mice sounds during the night, waking up at 6 AM is quite hard. Our hosts are waiting for us with a strongly smelling raw buffalo milk chai tea, but we have to hurry: sun light almost shines out in Dhungana Toll and the bus to the city close to the border between India and Nepal is still some kilometers away, leaving at 7 AM. So we leave to the silence of the morning fog, the water buffaloes at the sides of the dirt road, the rural houses of Nepal and the crossing of two rivers, all on the back of two bicycles ridden by our Dhungana friends—which make the ride quite unique and our smiles quite pronounced. This is travelling!
We take our two buses on time and after an eternal ride through rural villages, bumpy roads, traffic jams and city stops—with random festivity processions—we finally arrive to our last city in Nepal: Mahendranagar. The border city offers to us the major expression of dirt and poverty that we’ve seen in this country so far. There is nothing to see here apart of streets with multi-item shops—except toilet paper, street food posts, restaurants waiting to be cleaned, slums with people collecting trash and our surprisingly good hotel—where we pass the night with a huge cockroach somewhere under our bed.
Morning arrives. It’s border crossing day! Past several rickshaw drivers offering ridiculous prices we manage to board a bus to the border that leaves us in a road with more ridiculous and insistent rickshaw offers. We deny all of them and decide to backpack-walk our way to India, without a clue about the border whereabouts, why not? Immediately after there is a suspicious house to the right, could it be the exit office of Nepal? Indeed it is! A Nepali man with a morning attitude asks us to seat and stamps our passports after questioning about our origin and destination. Our walk continues through a dirt road between a small river and a foggy forest with an increasing number of cows. India is approaching? Finally, three Indian policemen check our passports with visas at a small post and let us pass, but the border to India is actually a few minutes later, presented as a big blue metallic bridge that lots of Nepali and Hindi cross by walk, bicycle or motorbike. It is quite interesting to see the everyday lives of people close to the border.
Once in the other side and after denying even more insistent rickshaw offers, we start to be tired and confused since the office to stamp our Indian visa is nowhere to be seen. Under the intense look of some kids of a school, a man explains that the border office to stamp our visas is actually before the bridge we crossed twenty minutes ago. Seriously? We did not see it at all and we thought it was supposed to be in the Indian side, not in the Nepali side. So indeed, we have to go back, and this time a rickshaw offer is finally accepted. Rickshaws cannot go to the bridge so we still have to walk that part until we finally find the immigration office. No wonder why we did not see it at all. A picture says more than a thousand words:
At least the man at the immigration office helps us arranging a non-touristy price for a mini bus that brings us directly to Banbasa, the city on the other side of the border. The feeling of uneasiness and lack of trust when entering a new place is extremely pronounced now that we are finally in the first city of India. Banbasa is like Mahendranagar in Nepal but worse: Cows are grazing in a big extension of trash in one side of the road while in the other some people stare at you while loitering in front of very dirty places called restaurants, small crammed garages called stores and big old metal boxes called buses. An agency helps us book a cheap train ticket to Delhi for the next day so we end sleeping in the less dirty but dirty hotel we find thanks to the motorbike tour kindly offered by the same agency. The train leaves early in the morning from another city, Rudhrapur, and we go there by an expensive taxi since we are too tired to take any metal box bus.
The ride by train to Delhi is 4 hours and is another welcoming experience about India. The country has a huge amount of trains with different standards but generally they are all old and painted blue, with so many different reservation options (we won’t explain here since that alone will require its own post). In this first and beginner case we travel in a Second Sitting car. Second Sitting has two type of tickets: reservation—where you have a sit—and no reservation—where you just stand wherever you want. Looks like no-reservation tickets are sold to unimaginable levels so our car fills quickly with all kinds of people and going to the toilet requires us to literally jump over them. There is an advanced skill to do that demonstrated by the constant flow of food and chai tea sellers that may have superpowers to pass through people or something similar. Four hours later, people jumping off the train before arriving to the station confirms that we are in Delhi.