Goodbye Nepal, Hello India (Sunauli – Gorakhpur – Saranath)

Crossing overland borders is one of my very favorite things. It’s chaotic, messy, dirty, and you always get scammed – one of life’s absolute certainties. The thugs know that you are tired, stressed and confused about the value of their currency, so you’re a prime target. But the thought of leaving one country and entering another just a few meters away just blows me away.

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As soon as we entered India, one of those guys who just doesn’t stop talking latched on to us. He shared invaluable advice such as “This is the Immigration Office,” when we had already entered, and telling me today’s date when I had just written it down. We tried to ignore him, but he just didn’t go away.

“Here’s the minibus to Gorakhpur.”

Why we chose to take that minibus I don’t know. You should never take the first bus/taxi/rickshaw; you should ask a few for the price to get an rough idea, and then you negotiate with the fourth or fifth one. This time we didn’t.

Luckily, the driver was one of those really greedy guys. Not only did he want to scam us, but also every single other person in the bus. Halfway to Gorakhpur, the fee rose 50%. Of course a fight broke out, and that’s how we found out we had been scammed. .

“I’ll get our money back!” said Eduardo.
“Good luck,” I thought. “It will never happen.”

However, all our arguments in West Africa two years ago had prepared us well. We waited until we got off in Gorakhpur, making sure there were lots of people around, and then we started our scandal.

“Give us back our Rs. 200!”
“No, it was your guide who scammed you!”
“What guide? We didn’t have a guide.”

Throngs of people drew close. Everyone loves commotion. Our driver explained his side of the story to the strangers around us, and they tried to tell me that it was indeed our “guide” who had scammed us.

“He’s lying!” I pointed my finger at the driver. “You told us the price of the ticket, and we paid you.”

Miraculously, repeating this a few times worked, and after a quick phone call, the driver gave us back our money. We couldn’t believe it.

High on our victory, we bought train tickets to Varanasi, and that’s about when our good luck ended.

Eight years ago, we had traveled by train in India, and we had liked it a lot. So this time we were expecting another easy ride. It was anything but.

Maybe the cow sleeping on the Gorakhpur platform should have clued us in. Or the New York sized rats. If not that, the fact that our train was two hours late, and when it came it had no conductor.

At 1 a.m., we weren’t the only foreigners looking for car S1. With no one to ask, and no sign on the train, all of us finally decided to just board, pick a bed and go to sleep. A Russian couple took the berths next to us, and a South Korean couple a few meters away. With no sheets, no pillows, with windows that didn’t close, and a strong smell of urine from the lavatories, it certainly wasn’t going to be smooth. Eduardo and I lay down with our heads on our small backpacks, and feet on the big bags, away from the broken mirror that could send sharp projectiles our way at a sharp bend.

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Finally, the train started running. Then it stopped. Then it ran slowly. Then it stopped. It was freezing, and there was no one else but us foreigners and one Indian man in the whole car. At one point I woke up only to see a cockroach mere inches from my face. Disgusted, I moved over to Eduardo’s side for a while. The train kept running slowly, but mostly not running at all. Now and then, people would pass by, selling chai, or just walking. One of them stole the Russians’ backpack.

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At nine a.m., three hours after expected arrival time, the train just stopped. None of us really paid any attention, as it had stopped so many times before. But then, somehow, Eduardo found out that the train was going to be delayed there four hours, and across the platform was another train going to Varanasi.

The South Koreans and we quickly picked up our bags, crossed the rails, climbed up on the train, and found a spot to sit down just as the train started moving. The Russians didn’t make it.

In Sarnath, the town before Varanasi, Eduardo and I decided to get off. Enough adventure for one day. Time to relax in the village where Buddha gave his first lesson. Perhaps we would learn something.

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