Into India

At the border 

This isn’t the Pokhara of the tourist brochures. The central bus stand is a rutted dirt field where old heaps of buses belch and roar. Corrugated shanties surround it so completely that when I came to buy a ticket yesterday, even though I was was standing directly across the street, I could only infer it was there from the racket and hustle that defines such places. Touts pull at us as soon as we step out of the taxi – they think they can cram us into a bus that has already left the station, charge an un-ticketed rate and pocket the difference. If you know the system you can actually get a better price that way, which is why the bus we get on inside the compound is empty. Anyway, playing by the rules secures us the 2 front seats. Pokhara bus stand

Our bus fills quickly outside the station, and we begin a day of hairpin corners on a contour-hugging road out of the front ranges. It’s a spectacular trip, and the average speed of 20 km/hr keeps the tight spots where we meet other vehicles from being too nerve-wracking. As soon as we are spit out onto the plains at Butwal, after a pin-ball journey, the ticket guy tells us there is a mechanical problem, and we can’t make it the next (flat) 35 km to our destination. The follow-up bus attacks the remaining distance with ferocious intent; mercifully, since our new seats leave me groaning every time we hit a bump.

There is still a bit of soupy daylight left when we get off in Saunali. We are about 100 m from India. This is a one-street town, but that street has to absorb virtually all of the chaos that passes between Nepal and its giant nieghbour. The lorry traffic is so heavy and congested that the drivers blast away on their horns as if that alone mght move the deadlock in front of them. The first hotel I try is at least symbolically set back from the road. I think it might offer some barrier to the cacophony. It is full. I ask to see the best rooms in the next two, and the street-facing, grotty corridors, rotting linoleum, mosquito filled horrors are too depressing to even pretend are options. Back on the drag. Dogs sleep on piles of garbage. Every tin-roofed shack is selling smuggled Indian booze. And then I spot it, gleaming like a vision of purity: the Hotel Prakash and Prakash. It is away from the road. The lobby is clean. Do you have a room, I roll my hand in the gesture and use the vernacular, Backside? We have the best room, sir, and I will give you for non-AC price. Even though I know I will take it as soon as I see it, I still knock the price down a bit, and we have ourselves a haven in this horrible little place.

The next morning we leave our soft mattress, and Nepal, with heavy hearts. May good things come to that wonderful land.
.casual customs
Crossing the border into India lacks much of the formality and scrutiny of most international frontiers. Since Nepali and Indian nationals don’t need travel documents, they simply stroll back and forth. For the handful of foreigners there is a small immigration post set in a row of shops and easily missed. After our passports are stamped it is a couple hundred meters to the bus stand, where Katheryn takes up the story.

Oh, Sweet Nothing

It isn’t without trepidation that I leave our sweet mountain ex-kingdom for MutherIndia. Normally I take stock of myself, reviewing a few bits of advice from the past, such as : don’t look at men; don’t talk to men; don’t look at beggars; don’t look at touts; actually by and large keep my head down and elbows at the ready. No one is butting in front of me. Well not as many people.

One of the worst, soul crushing burdens of being in this country is the endurance of the volume of noise. Indians not only seem oblivious to it, they actually seem to like it. Yelling, banging, honking, barking, screeching brakes, kids crying, temple bells, loud speakers, Bollywood music blaring out from stalls… And that’s just in the first 200 m walking to the bus.

Once aboard, I submit to the mp3 generation and plug in. I caution, you cannot do this on the street – to block out all of the audio warnings would be too dangerous. But a long distance bus the tape deck playing at full throttle (if you’re lucky) or a violent video (if you’re not,) is just beyond the endurable exhaustion you suffer on top of the rattling tin box and the blaring horn. So, I plug in for the ride from the border to Gorakhpur. We actually have a decent highway and are making 40-50 km/hr. Naturally it is too good to last. yellow brick road We turn off the highway and find ourselves on an elevated, single lane brick track, more like a drainage dyke than a road, running through the countryside. With rice paddies on each side we bump along in a cloud of dust about 10 feet above the fields. Ironically, the bricks in the road we are following are yellow.
As you could predict, after a time on a single track with no place to turn or pass, something will come towards you. In this case it’s a tractor. We have to back up. David gets out at that point with a few others, and I ride back to the last place we could back off the road. As I alight there is a small crowd of men from the area standing about. It is feasible some of them have not seen a white woman before, or so it seems, for they all hold an intense stare on me. Not giving them the satisfaction of being a talking side-show, I let them stare while I change to my giant sunglasses and replace the headphones in my ears. Lou Reed is singing one of his old classics that goes:

And say a word, say a word for Ginger Brown
Walks with his head down to the ground
Took his shoes right off his feet
Threw the poor boy right out in the street.
And this is what he said,’
Oh sweet nothin’, she ain’t got nothin at all
Oh sweet nothing, she ain’t got nothin’ at all.’

I walk away fron the men and boys to a spot by myself. A tiny woman in a sari comes along, and I put my hands in the prayer postion and greet her with a ‘namaste’. She smiles warmly and returns my greeting in kind. We speak in our own languages , pointing to the bus and tractor, the situtation making our conversation self evident. As she walks away I notice the red painted soles of her feet. She has anklets but that’s all. She wanders down the yellow brick road, in the sun, while Lou croons on, Oh Sweet Nothing. She ain’t got nothing at all.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *