Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nepal: A Tale of Buses, Bakeries and Bodily Functions

Warning: This blog post contains references to some events that may disgust some people (Carl and Ronnie should be fine as you both seem obsessed with my toilet habits...). I fully advise not reading this while eating your dinner!

A few weeks ago, my friend Efren, a fellow volunteer, told me he was going on a trip to Nepal for a couple of days and did I want to come along. I thought it would be a good first trip in India, especially having someone to go along with, so I said yes. Obviously this was the wrong answer....

18:00 – I make my way over to Efren's house to meet him and Mila (another volunteer) where we have dinner. Our bus is due to depart at 10pm

21:00 – We are just about to head for the bus station when I realise the battery for my camera is still in the charger back in my flat. I peg it back to my place on Efren's bike and rush back with time to spare. Ironically at this point I'm thinking the trip could have been a disaster if I hadn't remembered....

22:00 – The bus leaves Hazaribagh, basically on time, it's supposed to be a 6-7hr journey to Patna.

06:00 – Only an hour or so late, we make it to Patna. It's freezing and we appear to be in the biggest coach park in the world. All I can see in every direction is buses. There are about 20 rickshaw drivers trying to overcharge us all at once. Amazingly, economic theory doesn't apply to rickshaw drivers....the fact that there are 20 of them and only three of us doesn't result in them lowering their price to try and win our business – they all seem to feel that a tourist is only worth taking if they can screw them out of some money....
Bus hrs: 8; Toilet breaks: 0

06:30 – Some haggling and a rickshaw journey later we're at the train station. Not because we need a train, but because we're hoping to get some breakfast. No such luck – everything appears to be shut. We grab a coffee and head to the 1st class waiting room (the one benefit to being white – no-one suspects you of not having enough money to be in there!) where we make use of toilet facilities. Not normally a detail I would add to a blog post, but my reasons will become clear as we go on...
Bus hrs: 8; Toilet breaks: 1

07:30 – Back to the bus station and on to a new bus, this time heading to Rauxal. This is the Nepalese/Indian border where we intend to cross. Estimated time – 7hrs.

13:00 – We stop for some lunch. I go to get off the bus. My mobile is no longer in my pocket. I know I had it at the start of this bus trip, so I figure it fell out of my pocket. After roughly 30mins of searching the bus, we have to finally admit someone has picked it up and taken it. Bugger. I'm beginning to sense this trip may not go so well....

18:00 – We arrive at Raxaul a few hours late. More obnoxious rickshaw drivers. Never mind, we get to the Indian immigration office, get our passports stamped for exit and head on to the Nepalese side. Here we're surprised to get charged $30 for our visa – lack of investigation on our part in fairness. Also, because we're quite late we have to wait a while for them to open the office again and then fill in all the forms by candle-light as the Nepalese government has imposed 12-hr power cuts due to the excessive cold weather....
Bus hrs: 19.5; Toilet breaks: 1; Stolen mobile phones: 1

19:00 – Sat in the ticket office, we manage to get the last three seats on a bus to Kathmandu. This is due to take us 8hrs and leave at 8pm. When it arrives, we're crammed onto the back seat of the bus (five seats – six people). I'm by the window, which doesn't shut properly so I have a constant freezing wind swirling round me the entire journey. Sleep is limited to say the least.

07:00 – Bus again takes a couple of hours longer than intended, but we eventually reach Kathmandu. Plus, it just pulls up on the side of the road and refuses to go to the bus station. Cue a lot of angry passengers, but it's difficult to make a driver do something if they don't want to. After some angry exchanges we force the mate of the bus (guy who handles the money) to pay for our mini-bus trip to the bus station.
Bus hrs: 31.5; Toilet breaks: 1; Stolen mobile phones: 1

Luckily Nepal is a bit more alive in the morning than India, so we get some breakfast and coffee. It's pretty good, but very cold! We have a bit of a wander round to try and find an Internet cafe and work out where we are and where we'll stay tonight. This is when we notice the bakeries.....Nepal loves baking! They are literally everywhere, selling cakes, doughnuts, sweets, it's like mini-England! I feel happy – Nepal is going to be good :-)

12:00 – After a bit of confusion we manage to get to an Internet cafe, work out where we need to be (Thamel – an area of Kathmandu) and get there. We find a cheap hotel and check in, have showers, then head off out in search of the best way to get to Dhulikhel – our trip for the afternoon.

14:00 - Stop at a street vendor for food – have some Momo, which is a Nepalese dumpling and is delicious. All memories of the bus journey hell is being irradicated by the Nepalese food ;-)

16:00 – Reach Dhulikhel, which is basically a hill-top about 1.5hrs from Kathmandu centre. It's got some good views, although they're slightly spoiled by the mist today. We sit around in a nice hotel having coffee (which takes ages to come and is over-priced, but never mind!) and admiring the location. Then manage to time our bus back perfectly and head back to Kathmandu.

It's around this time that I start feeling a little bit stomach is cramping a fair bit and the bus journey isn't too much fun.

20:00 – Back in the hotel and I figure I just need the toilet. It's not pleasant, I'll be honest, but I feel a lot better for it and we head out for dinner.
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 2; Stolen mobile phones: 1

21:00 - I decide to play safe and just order some chicken soup with plain rice. It's very good food in fairness and the waitress is an amazing girl. She's probably 16, lost both her parents before she was 12mths and grew up with her grandmother. She speaks English, Hindi, Nepalese, Spanish and some Japanese. She's learning how to run her grandmother's hotel, has hiked to Base Camp and wasn't even working that night – she was just stopping by to help out! After dinner, back to the hotel looking forward to our first night in a proper bed for a while....

01:00 – Uh oh. It's 1am, I'm wide awake with more intense stomach cramps. Toilet required. Squat toilets and no toilet paper are not a good combination when you have diarrhoea, just in case you were wondering....
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 3; Stolen mobile phones: 1

06:00 – See 1am entry
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 4; Stolen mobile phones: 1

09:00 – I wake up feeling like death. There's no way I'm going out today. Efren and Mila, bless them, head out and get me some bananas, rehydration salts and bread rolls. I spend the majority of the day in this point I would like to point out that the Kindle is the greatest invention of mankind!

15:00 – I'm feeling a bit better and determined to at least make it out of the hotel. Toilet break confirms I'm still ill though.....
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 5; Stolen mobile phones: 1

I bump into Efren and Mila randomly out the front of the hotel and we go to a small cafe they've found. I then go to the Gardens nearby, which are gorgeous. I take some pics to make myself feel better. Back to the hotel – can't face having any dinner.

21:00 – Argh!
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 6; Stolen mobile phones: 1

03:00 – Same old story....
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 7; Stolen mobile phones: 1

08:00 – Efren and Mila head out for some breakfast, while I manage to get out of bed and have a hot shower. I'm still not feeling good though, so we phone the VSO doctor and he gives us the names of some medicines to get. I take those and then buy myself a Nepalese jumper which is made of Yak's wool or something – it's like a great big hug :-) Feel a lot better now....

14:00 – Have some lunch with Efren and Mila before they head off to Nuwakot. They say they'll be back around 8/9pm. I set up shop for the afternoon in a cafe. Kindle paying for itself in the last two days!

20:00 – Back to the hotel to wait for the guys to return so we can go for dinner (no mobile so I can't contact them remember!)
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 8; Stolen mobile phones: 1

23:00 – Wake up....I fell asleep waiting. Still no sign of them! Obviously can't contact them, but I'm pretty hungry so I head out. No option but a street vendor selling omelettes in a bun, considering the last couple of days I'm nervous, but don't have an option!

08:00 – The guys didn't come back in the night. This concerns me. I'm supposed to back in the office on Wednesday and it took us 36hrs to get here. We were meant to leave Monday morning....stomach confirms still not 100% better, but I feel good myself, so it's off to get some breakfast, leaving Efren and Mila a note to let them know where to find me....
Bus hrs: 35.5; Toilet breaks: 9; Stolen mobile phones: 1

12:00 – Still no sign of them, I begin checking in with the hotel every 30 mins as I walk around Kathmandu....
...which, by the way, is a pretty nice city (or the Thamel area is). It's the tourist sector, so it's all the kind of shops you expect, but there are lots of nice cafes, restaurants and clothes shops. The people are lovely and friendly and I actually did enjoy just walking around there!

15:30 – They've been back at the hotel! They're in a cafe round the corner. I meet them – they didn't make it to Nuwakot until 8.30pm on Sunday, so there was no chance of getting back last night. They didn't exactly rush back this morning either though. I figure there's no chance of us getting back by Wednesday now, but never mind...

17:00 – Taxi to the bus station. Efren thinks it's going to be quicker taking a different route this time... so we're getting a bus to Pokhara instead of Raxaul. Our bus is due to leave at 7pm and arrive around 4am.

07:00 – Quelle surpris – we're a few hours late! Plus, I have severe stomach cramps....again! Public toilets in India aren't fun – but I don't have a choice....unfortunately though – nothing! I appear to have gone to the other extreme now, although given the journey ahead I think this is probably the better option! I try again 20mins later, but nothing doing then either....I do feel a lot better though, so we grab a bit of tea for breakfast and then jump straight onto another bus to Gurakhpur, this is supposed to be 6-7hrs....
Bus hrs: 45.5; Toilet breaks: 11; Stolen mobile phones: 1

16:00 - ….and of course takes a lot longer! We finally make the border of India almost 24hrs after leaving Kathmandu. We were hoping to be almost home by now – but we're not even close! After a 2km walk to the actual border (more rickshaw drivers refusing to give us a fair price...) we almost have a disaster at the Indian Immigration office when they ask for our registration documents, which we don't have....but luckily they decide to let us through. A quick bit of food and it's onto, yep, you guessed it, another bus...
Bus hrs: 54; Toilet breaks: 9; Stolen mobile phones: 1

21:00 – We arrive at Gorakhpur train station, but it's too late to buy normal tickets. Plus, there isn't a train to Koderma as we had hoped (Efren's plan – now I know why I prefer to organise my own travelling, or at least have a say in it!). So we have to get an overnight train to Hajipur. It's due to leave at 10:20pm....
Bus hrs: 59; Toilet breaks: 9; Stolen mobile phones: 1

00:20 – Two hours late and our train finally leaves, it's about 6hrs to Hajipur....

05:30 – We actually make up some lost time here (wonders will never cease!). When we get out of the station it's a short 10min taxi journey to Patna (yes, scene of the mobile loss...) and then we have another bus journey back to Hazaribagh.
Bus hrs: 68; Toilet breaks: 9; Stolen mobile phones: 1; Train journies: 5hrs

16:00 – Finally, finally, finally we get back to Hazaribag. 3 full days of bus journeys. In 7 days of “holiday” I spent over 3.5 of them travelling to and from Kathmandu and what felt like an equivalent amount of time on the toilet or in bed once I got there! 
Bus hrs: 78; Toilet breaks: 9; Stolen mobile phones: 1; Train journies: 5hrs

I have to say though, there were some amazing moments – little snippets of great scenery and some lovely people. I'm just glad I'm going to go back to Nepal in April with Suzie as I think to leave it like that would not be doing it justice....  

If anyone is interested in seeing the route we took - here is a map. Photos will be on Flickr soon....

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