Riding into India in style

I was on the final leg of my six month round the world adventure, with three weeks in my final country, India, to polish off a fantastic trip. I had heard horror stories about India, particularly about Varanasi, of half dead cows being surrounded by wasps and other equally pleasant yarns, but I will never forget my first experience of India, at the Nepal / India border in early November 2005.

As I crossed the border the landscape changed instantly. From the relative calm order that takes place literally twenty metres away on the Nepalese side, I entered another world, as everything seemed dirtier, dustier and more chaotic.

Good old Lonely Planet gives two pieces of advice to travellers coming from Nepal to Varanasi. The first being to arrange your own bus at the border at Sonauli, interestingly fifteen minutes forward time
wise from India, I didnít do this. I paid 800 rupees (about £7.50) for a through ticket from Royal Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal, comprising of two buses and then a train from Gorakpur to Varanasi. As I gazed longingly at the air-conditioned coaches I realised this was my first mistake.

Having made it to the border despite the first bus breaking down, I found the hotel where I was to meet a Mr Para, who would supply me with my onward bus ticket to Gorakpur. What could go wrong? I was greeted by a group of late teens and early twenties guys, (you donít see many women in India, as a rule) one of whom, put me on the filthiest, most cramped, over crowded local bus you could imagine. There were no positives. I was the only western person. When more and more people poured on and the prospect of spending three hours without being able to move a muscle or breathe, became a possibility I reasoned to take Lonely Planetís advice.

One problem. My bag was bound to the top of the bus and the barefooted, dentally challenged man in charge, was in no mood to untie them all just for me. Then India presented a solution. ďYou can sit on the roof if you want.Ē Rats have not moved up drainpipes faster. So I rode into India waving at all around me - the crazy white guy alone on top of the bus. Awesome.

There is a technique to this, when the bus is moving itís preferable to lay flat down and cling onto the bars on the sides of the bus, making a vague star shape or the bumps in the road and speed of the
bus will force your swift departure from your peak as King of the World. As the sun went down, it became distinctly chilly, but I really couldnít have cared less. Elated, I dismounted at Gorakpur, very fortunately right outside the railway station, which was absolutely vast.

M Thomas

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