Since there was now six of us we hired a minivan for the hour long journey from Lumbini to the border town of Sunauli. It took about an hour and as we raced through our final minutes in Nepal I was anticipating whole new chapter in India, which really is nothing like Nepal. India is intense, extreme and assaults your every sense in a way which is tantamount to abuse. It is the aggressive neighbour of a gentle Nepal and will eat you alive and spit you out as feathers if you aren’t prepared.
As we pulled up at the dusty dirty Nepali border town it was almost like India had extended itself over the frontier. There were many touts all offering buses onward through India and was really the only time whilst in Nepal we had experienced such persistence. We just ignored them and soon enough we came to an immigration office on the left hand side of the road. It is actually very easy to miss and looks like a house. Getting stamped out of Nepal was painless and quick. There were signs saying thanks for the visit, please consider visiting us again. A quite obsessive determination to rebuild tourism, it’s cute.
The walk across the frontier is about 300m, it is a dusty deserted town that is littered with rubbish and buildings beyond repair. Lisa commented that she had lived in Lebanon after the war and it looked just like that. I had to agree it did look like a war zone.
Whilst walking we were called over to a desk with five guys in normal clothes, it looked nothing like immigration.
The bizarre thing is that getting an Indian Visa in the UK can be a real pain, yet here we were at immigration simply getting waved in. After we were stamped in we set off walking to find the government bus station. It was about then I realised there was no ATM and since it is Illegal to take Indian currency out of India this felt a bit odd to me. But India is what it is and so a bit of underhand money changing later and we had some local currency.
It took about fifteen minutes and there was no shortage of people trying to help/take advantage of us. The bus station is essentially just a few buses at the side of the road and it wasn’t long before we found the bus we needed to Gorakhpur. You can get a bus direct to Varanasi but it takes ten hours, something we just could not be arsed with. The bus left the border town at 7.20am and cost 60INR each (about 80 pence) It took three hours and pretty much the end of the line is a place just opposite the train station. I knew what to expect, but Lisa, Jhad and Mahara were completely overwhelmed by how hectic it was. People were stood staring, taking photo’s and being completely obtrusive. It was distinctly Indian and I smiled as I saw in Charlie’s eyes he knew this was India.
Our train at the station was the 1.30pm to Varanasi and so after grabbing some food and waiting around, the train left on time. We were in sleeper which cost 790INR for the six of us, so it’s about £1.80 each. Not long after the train had pulled out of the station we were all asleep.
The journey took five hours and I had forgotten just how beautiful India was and as we tore through the landscape of Northern India, for a while it felt perfect.
Pulling into Varanasi was familiar since we were here last year, and I knew all the scams at the station to be aware of and so we waded through the crowds to the main road and pulled up two rickshaws. Now, that might sound like it was something really easy and peaceful. Add to that thousands of people, a huge traffic jam, the insane sound of hundreds of horns, music, and then throw in the many colours and a thirty degree heat, darkness and you might begin to imagine that it was mayhem.
We were headed to Goudalia which is the epicentre of Varanasi for transport and for tourists. The problem is it is the epicentre for everyone and it is chaos. We had to travel in two separate Auto Rickshaws and it is quite a large area and after about 20 minutes of searching, with all our bags we were wondering if we had perhaps lost Lisa and the kids. There were tens of thousands of people, traffic, it was dark and there was a huge festival going on which meant the sound of Hindi music coupled with a euro trance track beat fired out of huge speakers at about a million decibels, with people dancing and traffic made it an absolute nightmare. People were hounding us, for rooms, rickshaws, restaurants – Everything. I pulled over three guys and told them I was looking for a Canadian women with two kids and whoever found her I would give 20 Rupees. About ten minutes later they were found and they had a look of relief in their faces – They were hugely out of their comfort zone of a sleepy Vancouver and whilst Me, Charlie and Abi were revelling in the organised chaos, sights and sounds, I did smile, we love India and what a welcome we had had.
When we finally got to the guesthouse at 10.30pm I asked the kids if they were ok, and as Charlie wiped sweat from his face he smiled through his eyes and mouth and said “wow” – I couldn’t have summed it up better myself.