I am now in Nepal. My first real hiccup of the journey was having my flight cancelled (for the second time) from Delhi to Kathmandu. The airline is broke and is basically in receivership so it’s not that surprising however the flight from Delhi which I paid $100 for would now cost me over $500 so I decided to see what the train trip would be like. The train was full so I ended up having to negotiate a taxi and 3 buses. The first 2 buses were booked by a travel agent in Rishikesh however I had to wing the last bus from the Indian/Nepal border. So off I go in the taxi at 6.30pm to the bus station in Haridwar.. he initially goes to the train station and if it wasn’t for my questioning of what I do and how I do it, I wouldn’t have known it was not the bus station and would have been left a bit high and dry. But as it was, I picked up when he said train and when I questioned that he realised his mistake. So off we go to the actual bus station which was a dirt parking area with some snack shacks. The bus finally arrives (late of course!) and we pile in. While I was at the ‘bus stop’ I met a lovely young Danish couple who were also on their way to Kathmandu with the same itinerary. We were the only non-Indian people on the bus. I had the luxury of a sleeper which was 6’ by about 2’ by a 2’ roof sloping up to 3’ with a sliding door for privacy. It was basically a coffin! As I’m over 6’ and not a slight build it was rather cozy putting it mildly!
The bus arrived at our next destination, 14 hours later and 2 hours late, however, luckily, we had 1 1/2 hours to get to the next bus station and find the next bus. We got out of the bus at Lucknow and was literally swarmed by tuk tuk drivers. I was very tired as sleeping in a coffin is not easy and asked them to back off. I told them that they were like flies as I shooed them away while tackling my bag off one of them who had already decided that we were going with him. They thought it was very funny! One thing I love about Indian people in general is their great sense of humour. They make me laugh even though I was tired and grumpy. I ended up negotiating which tuk tuk could carry 3 passengers and 3 large backpacks and we were on our way. Once at the bus station (a real one this time) we attempted to find out where to catch the bus at the enquiry window. We were told a few times by different people in the enquiry window that there is no bus to Sonauli (which is on the border of India and Nepal). Both my new friends and I had bought our tickets independently so this was not possible. We persisted asking anyone who spoke any English until about half the bus terminal knew where we were going! I actually really believed that it would work out even if I was feeling a little stressed by it all and the lack of sleep and was considering what Plan B might be. Finally one of the very helpful Indian men talked to another enquiry window person and it was all worked out. We went to eat thinking that we had time but was hunted down soon after by another Indian man to let us know that our bus had arrived as it was actually earlier than we were told! Finally we were on our way again. This bus was a government public bus and once again we were the only non-Indian people on the bus (no chickens or goats though!).
After another long journey of 10 hours and 2 hours late (again) we arrived in Sonauli at 11pm. We had to walk about a kilometre with our luggage to the border. When we got there a Nepalese guy said that we needed to walk back a kilometre to get the Indian Immigration to exit stamp our passports so we walk back to find the office closed and no response to our banging on the doors. We walked back to the border again and they wanted to send us back to the Indian Immigration office and couldn’t understand that it was closed and would not let us pass without our Nepalese Visa which could only be distributed after getting the Indian Immigration stamp! By then I’d had enough! I have to say that my new found calm and confident composure was losing its grip! There are 2 border gates about 100 metres apart. One in India and one in Nepal. It was midnight and I was so tired due to travelling for almost 30 hours and little sleep for over 40 hours that I was very close to tears, however, instead I put my bag on the ground between the border gates and laid down in the dust telling them that I was sleeping there tonight! The Indian and Nepalese guys thought it was hysterical and I couldn’t help but laugh (at) myself even though I was tired and very frustrated! The Indian border guy finally decided to help us and we walked (yet again) to the Indian Immigration office. I don’t think he believed us that it was closed, however, there it was…closed. He hammered the doors until finally someone woke up and although very grumpy and telling us it was our fault for coming so late, stamped our bloody passports! Then off we go again to the Nepalese border to wake the Nepal Immigration guy who was very congenial and gave me my visa and stamp with very little effort. By then it was 2.30am! The other concern for me was that my Indian visa was about to expire and the Indian government is not friendly to tourists who do not leave India by the visa expiry date. As it was, my passport was exit stamped on the expiry date. Through this whole experience I am so grateful that I met the Danish couple as without them sharing this part of the journey I don’t know how I would have held it together on my own. Again, although the universe wasn’t overly helpful with the border crossing, it was definitely helpful with introducing me to these young people at this time.
My friends got a tuk tuk to the guest house that they had pre-booked and I was led to a guest house by a young Nepalese man who didn’t need to do a lot of convincing for me to follow him. The room was very average (putting it mildly) and I have no doubt I was charged much more than I should have been, however, I was so thankful to be in that rock hard bed! Everything had worked out well even if it looked like it wasn’t going to at times. To get to Kathmandu, all we had to do in the morning was to find the bus station as the guy from Nepal Immigration said that public buses to Kathmandu run every hour. Hallelujah! We are going to get there easily! So I get up in the morning and start to look for the bus stop. There was an area full of buses however as I walk around asking local and tourists about buses, they all tell me that ‘Nepal is on strike today so no buses’! This included private buses as well! I just couldn’t believe it! However I had some sleep (4 hours but enough to feel slightly refreshed) and felt basically philosophical about it (what more can one do?). I asked around and finally found a travel agent who had a bus leaving at 6pm arriving at Kathmandu at 5am…maybe? Depending on if Nepalese are as flexible around the notion of time as Indian people are. I was truly grateful even if it did mean another night of very little, if any, sleep!
I hung around the Nepalese border town which was dry, dusty, extremely hot and has more flies than I have seen in a very long time. There were no issues getting the bus and this time I was the only Anglo person which raised some interest. I sat at the back with a lovely Indian couple and their 2 1/2 year old child. It was pretty crowded and not overly comfortable and after another very long bus ride we arrived in Kathmandu at 6.30 the next morning. When we were getting closer to Kathmandu I was very aware of how alone I was and I did become a little anxious (also probably due to lack of sleep too) however I managed the anxiety by recognising that there is always an out even if it costs. I had booked into a Buddhist monastery course which started that day so I get to Kathmandu, have something to eat and then attempt to find a taxi to go to the monastery however no one seemed to know where I’m going and I didn’t have internet to show them. Finally a taxi driver who spoke English worked it out in relation to Kopan. What I didn’t know was that Kopan is a suburb of Kathmandu which is where he took me however he asked directions and we finally found the monastery. The taxi ride was interesting as the roads are absolutely atrocious and by far outdo Indian roads. The taxi drivers car was literally falling apart I dare say due to the conditions of the roads. Throughout the journey I thought that the taxi drivers horn was broken as he was not honking everything that moves, however, later realised that Nepalese drivers are more restrained than Indian drivers in the honking game. I arrived at the Kopan Tibetan Buddhist monastery at 8am and sat half asleep outside the administration office door waiting for the office to open at 9am. When registered I had a hot shower (first one in 3 days) and went to sleep until early afternoon. I had just travelled for 3 days with about 7 hours sleep and was totally exhausted. I feel so grateful to be here and am looking forward to 10 days of regaining my calmness after the last few days’ challenges.
What have I learnt from this experience? That it is very easy to be calm and feel at peace when everything is basically going well or even if there are small manageable hiccups – it’s a different story when things feel like they are totally falling apart. That being said, I still managed to laugh at myself and others while being very very pissed off and making inane threats of complaints to the government. Also that regardless of the hurdles, things can end up working out anyway – it’s just a longer (and more stressful) path but I managed to get out of India on time as to not overstay my visa and got to the Buddhist course on time as well. Again I was reminded that all you can do is do what you can to make it happen but just go with the flow when it doesn’t. I also believe that I am now a true blue, fully fledged, backpacker rather than a middle class jet setter carrying a backpack! The experience definitely challenged me however it was a good experience on a number of levels (on reflection, definitely not at the time!). However, would I do it again next time? Nah! I’ll be paying the $500 and getting the flight!