After waiting on that corner in Lumbini for a bus that wasn’t coming, I jumped in a cab, the first of 5 different vehicles I’d take that day on my way to India. A short while later, after hearing someone shouting in my direction the name of the border town I had to get to, I found myself running alongside and jumping onto a moving jeep-shaped truck, tossing my pack on the roof and hanging on for dear life as it sped away, toes on the edge of the bumper and fingertips grasping for the luggage rack. After I’d gotten my balance, I stuck my head in through the rear window to find a place to sit only to see 27 pairs of eyes looking back at me. There were 30 of us total – riding in/on a vehicle designed to hold maybe 10. They were packed like standing sardines shoulder to shoulder from front to back. I couldn’t have gotten in if I’d wanted to. That would’ve made a nice Nightly News headline for the parental units..
Next, a rail thin and nearly toothless old bicycle rickshaw drier promised he could slide me through the Nepali and Indian visa checkpoints with ease. Not sure I needed his help but it added to the excitement of crossing over into a new country. Doing it on an Indian chariot..
And then, there it was. A massive archway with three amazing words. “Welcome To India”. As I passed through, things changed in an instant. The relative calm of Nepal disappeared. Faces transitioned from the Chinese/Tibetan/Indian influenced soft and round Nepali to thin, chiseled dark Indian. The concentration of humanity increased several fold taking with it anything resembling personal space. The noise level increased several decibels along with the chaos, bizarre smells, garbage, wandering animals, touts and homicidal vehicle traffic that are India.
Along with that seemingly unpleasant madness came an unidentifiable energy. Whatever homesickness and boredom I’d started to feel in Nepal disappeared in an instant as I crossed the border and became enveloped in sensory overload. I felt like someone had just plugged my cord back into the wall.
After getting a re-introduction to the dog-eat-dog brand of capitalism I first experienced in Morocco (negotiating everything down from it’s original doubly inflated price), I was on a bus to Gorakhpur smiling through my teeth at the guy sitting next to me who’d refused to yield the only remaining seat on the bus (next to him) to me, the only white guy onboard. I had to literally crawl over him to sit down. That was fun. We didn’t exchange emails.
After a flurry of uninteligible but clearly unhappy arguments in the front of the bus, it suddenly ground to a hault an hour after we’d begun, still short of our destination. After being told to get off the bus – and then back on again – we were finally ushered off and into a waiting auto rickshaw, confused but happy to be moving in the right direction, regardless of the vehicle. I still don’t understand what happened. With my pack and body hanging halfway out of the three wheeled vehicle (why wouldn’t there be 5 other people inside?), resigned to whatever vehicular fate lay ahead of me, we careened through the streets narrowly missing a side mirror or head on collision every few seconds. Yet we made it. Introduction to Indian driving. Controlled chaos of the highest order.
I got out at the Gorakhpur railway station, armpit of North India, hoping to pass through quickly on my way to Varanasi, my first real destination in India. Gorakhpur is not a nice place. After initially thinking the men’s open air men’s latrines were disgusting (sorta like a communal urinal but completely open and outside..), I realized they were actually rather hygienic when I started to see man after man relieving himself just about everywhere. Walking behind bushes is apparently unnecessary here. Personal shame doesn’t seem to exist in a country with 1.2 BILLION people (along with a few other things I’d learn..). Just go where you like. Years of human urine concentrated here and there looks and smells wonderful!
As I walked out of the train station in the dark, dejected that I’d have to wait ’til the morning for a train, I felt like I’d entered the set of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Something similar anyway.. Piles of garbage on fire, dogs rooting through whatever wasn’t on fire, men spitting or pissing right and left, a man singing very very very loudly and horribly through a microphone from a stage as part of a religious devotional program I couldn’t understand (w/ massive speakers that were definitely turned up to 11 – something that continued late into the night), plates from the nasty looking nearby restaurants (the one I picked had a cook that looked like Val Kilmer’s character Doc Holliday from ‘Tombstone’ – TB and all) being cleaned in standing water on the ground next to the street, a cacophony of honking buses, cars, rickshaws and trucks.. I’ll stop there. My head hurts.
After checking into a roach motel (rust and burn marks on the walls, cigarette holes in the sheets and god knows what in the bathroom), I was praying for mommy. I closed my eyes and just hoped it’d get better. And it did.
P.S. Sorry for the shitty picture quality. You can probably guess that I didn’t feel compelled to take many pics after crossing the border. I had one of a picture of cow shit that I was going to use but decided that wasn’t nice.