07 October 2009

Pokhara to Varanasi

After the nightmare journey from Tatopani to Pokhara we were a little apprehensive about what our final big overland journey through Nepal would bring us . . . nausea, nightmares, serious injury or death all appeared to be on the menu.

The first leg of the journey was a 9 hour stint on a bus to the town of Sunauli on the boarder with India. Once again we had the misfortune to have a lunatic driver who seemed to be a little lacking in the cranium. This particular fella liked to spend most of his time racing our 50 seat bus against the other traffic as if he were driving a maxed up Citroen Saxo through a Tamworth retail park. It wasn't quite as bad as the last journey but that's like saying having your foot cut off isn't as bad as having an arm removed - neither of them are particularly pleasant.

Because the traffic at the boarder is so bad the bus drops you off a couple of miles short of Sunauli. You then have to complete the remainder of the journey on a bicycle rickshaw. This was also a little nerve wracking as our wonky little bicycles didn't seem to offer much protection as we weaved in and out of the trucks.

We crossed over the boarder and struggled to find the Indian immigration office. Normally there's some sort of official looking building with flags and men in important looking uniforms. Here It turned out to be a small table at the side of the road staffed by a bloke in a grubby shirt.

Once over the boarder we then had a 3 hour taxi ride before we got to Gorakhpur where we were going to spend the night. At last it was a relief to finally have a sensible driver. Things went very well for the first hour until it got dark and we discovered that our taxi had no headlights. This made seeing the multitude of things that you find on the sides of an Indian road very difficult to spot, particularly when there's no street lighting and the traffic coming the other way is blinding you with their lights on full beam. This time we weren't as much worried for our own safety but more for the pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaw drivers, dogs and cows that wander aimlessly about. The last thing we want is to be lynched for knocking someone or their sacred cow over!

The fun continued when we eventually arrived at Hotel Bobina in Gorakhpur. It was more like Hotel Bobins. We only decided to stay there after the glowing review that it had in the India Lonely Planet guide book. It turned out to be the most awful place we've stayed in since the hovel of the Safari Inn at Dar es Salaam. Our room was terrible; dirty walls, filthy bathroom with no hot water and possibly the most evil looking toilet I've ever seen in a hotel.

We needed some dinner after being on the road since dawn but the only option was the hotel's own restaurant. We can't comment about how good or bad the food may have been because we couldn't get served. After being seated we waited 10 minutes for a menu but none came. By this time all the restaurant staff had disappeared so we asked at reception for some service. After another 5 minutes a waiter appeared so I again asked for a menu. The guy completely blanked me and walked past. We ended up buying dinner from the shop over the road and having a pick-nik in our filthy room instead!

Thank god when we eventually got on the train this morning. Hopefully the worst of the long distance, nightmare inducing road travel is behind us now that we are in India. One of the legacy's of the days of the British Empire is the extensive rail network that connects the country. Indian railways is the worlds second largest employer and has a staff of 1.6 million with a staggering 14 million passengers every day.

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