Wednesday, April 27, 2005

On the Nepal Side

April 23
The big screened windows that line two walls of our Bhairawa, Nepal room have turned the darkest blue-grey of dusk. We’re lit by a tall-flamed candle that the nice Nepalese man with the poor English brought up with our second Katmandu beer. There’s no power of course. There are five hours left in April 23—actually a little less since we moved watches ahead 15 minutes when crossing into Nepal—but already it’s one of the more remarkable days of the trip.

Christian and I boarded a train in Varanasi just past midnight this morning. It would take us to Gorakhpur, three hours from the Nepal border where we’d take a bus to the end of India, then take another bus into the heart of Nepal. It would be: six-hour train, three-hour bus, ten-hour bus. If all went as planned, as we knew it wouldn’t.

In the train we unpacked our packs, wiped down our sleeper births and padlocked our valuables to the provided chains. I changed into my pajama bottoms and we took pictures of each other making the steerage quality bunks into our home for the night.

The train pulled out and the conductor checked our tickets and let us know we were on the wrong train. We threw everything into our bags, frantically found our keys and unlocked our valuables and ran for the door to jump out of the accelerating train. This was an entertaining spectacle to our fellow passengers. The train door was locked. “It’s locked!” I shouted behind me. I went to try the door in the next car and Christian went to the door on the far side of our car. The door I tried was jammed too so I ran back towards Christian. When I reached the end of the car the door was open and Christian was gone. “Jump?” I asked into the darkness. “Jump,” I heard back.

So me and the 45 pounds of gear just barely contained in my two bags leapt from the wrong train and onto the cement platform. It was instantly recognized as one of the great moments of the trip. The lone casualty of the 45-second packing insanity seems to be my digital camera case. It is the smallest of small prices to pay.

We got on the right train and woke up around 7am and then had to catch a bus to the border. This was a hassle because everyone is trying to rip you off with an overpriced ticket. We got the correct 50 rupee ($1.20) ticket but only after burning almost an hour. We got to the border around noon and walked over to the Nepal side. The immigration people were pleasant and efficient despite warnings to the contrary.

On the Nepal side a little after 12:30pm we looked for a bus to make the 9-hour trip to Katmandu or Pokhara. We got caught up with some travel agency jive and missed the last day-bus we had any chance of catching (though we might have lost any real hope of catching it when we wasted that hour looking for the previous bus). The only buses left were leaving in the evening and because of the curfews in Nepal they would have to pull over and stop from 9pm until 3am. We would be stuck on the bus for 14 hours! Christian has a ridiculous four days to see Nepal and really wanted to get there tonight. We tried hiring a car to drive us but when we finally decided to bite the 2200-rupee bullet it was too late to get the car in time to beat the curfew. We tried hitching a ride with some sort of religious man dressed in orange who said he could get through the check-points without stopping for the curfew but he ended up getting on one of the buses.

So we’re here at the hotel across from the bus stand waiting for the 5am bus to take us to Pokhara and in the meantime we’re having Katmandu beer, two bottles of which cost as much as our room (US$3). Everything seems like it will be quite cheap. Everyone seems like they will be quite friendly. And when the near Civil War and the lack of power force us into our candlelit rooms as night falls, it’s nice to have a friendly Nepali with bad English to bring you mediocre local beer.


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