Thursday, 29 December 2016

Train Ride from Gorakhpur to Varanasi

4pm came and I could not wait to leave the blasted town of Gorakhpur. To the train station and queuing up for the train ticket I have to bare the brunt of local cutting my queue just as I reached the window. Either shout at them or let it be. This is India ….. sigh.

Soon it was my turn and all I could say was Varanasi. Repeat it like a mantra and thankfully the ticket officer could speak a few words of English. Sleeper or general admission he asked. I gave him the Indian head wobble. He asked me again as if he was the tourist and I was the local …. So funny but I kept a straight face …. The third time he asked I said sleeper.

150 rupee he said and I placed the money over the window. Once the ticket was printed the officer took it and with his right hand he held it up and proceeded to do a toss with a pause just as the hand reached the peak arc and the face of a stuck up kid. It was like a snobbish toss …. Here you go and get out of my face toss for you are too low for me to even sully my hand passing it to you. I notice he did it for every people that purchase a ticket from him.

Find the train and the platform and here I was waiting outside a train set to leave in 15 minutes. The outside of the train was marked sleeper largely but I had no idea what my ticket mean. Do I have seats specifically or do I just randomly seat at any seat in sleeper class? Walking into one that was fairly empty I asked a local that could barely speak English. Showed him my ticket and after pondering a while he said general admission …. Not this train …
Train from Gorakhpur to Varanasi
India - Sleeper Class Bunkbeds
I have learn not to trust people too much … a pessimist but then it started me wondering if I did get a wrong ticket. Did that ticket officer cheated money off me ??? There was no clear indication that the ticket was sleeper …. Some marks here and there but I had no idea how to read it. Walking further down I saw a guy turn on the train internal carriage power. Must be a train officer or worker I thought.

The first attempt to communicate and all he said was NO ENGLISH.

I shoved my ticket to his hand anyway and after looking at it all he said was yes Varanasi .. yes sleeper … and pointed to the same carriage. At this point I just took a chance and got in and choose an empty bunk and plunk my stuff down and hope for the best.

An hour later when the train departed and more people crowded the carriage a ticketing officer appeared. Moment of truth. He took my ticket and with one glance it was pass back to me without a word. So I guess no seating arrangement. Time to sleep but before that I got the time eta to arrive at Varanasi …. 11.10 am … so only a 5 to 6 hour journey instead of 12 hours …

Food rationing, water rationing and finally toilet rationing. The train was so crowded that if I leave the bunk to go to the toilet there will be no more bunk when I get back plus there was also the trouble of how to lug a backpack to the toilet. I would have to take my chances and leave it there and hope to see it when I get back. Small bag was always with me of course.
The crowded sleeper class train - India
3 hours into the journey I decided I needed to know where the hell I am. GPS was not working and I needed open window or door to see the sky. True enough, leaving the bunk not even 2 minutes and I spot someone trying to climb aboard while I linger at the doorway. The kid actually looked guilty when he saw me looking and pause midway climbing. I waved him up and he scurried up immediately.

GPS locked on and I now know where I am. Right direction and more or less on time. I went back and waved him over to share the bunk seating. Me, the kid and my backpack on the bunk. No more sleeping but at lease it was combatable

I arrived at Varanasi at 1120 am.

Off the train and got a tuk tuk for 150 for I barely negotiate. I knew it was either 150 or 100 but I was too tired to care. Needed to find sanctuary. The driver was insistent to show me a few other places first that he said was great place near gangha and cheap for only 400 rupee but I turn them all down just by looking at the bed. The sheets looks so much like the one in Gorakhpur and at this point I rather have a clean bed in a dorm than a privet room with itching bed.

Finally he gave up and brought me to the hostel. 300 rupee for a dorm without aircon or 450 with one … I upgraded, thank the driver and gave him a generous tip making the ride 200 rupee.

Sanctuary …. Breakfast, wifi and a good clean toilet with hot shower …. Aircon was a luxury now that I am glad with all the sun burn I had accumulated in Lumbini walking.

Me = Indian Head Wobble.
Varanasi - India

Monday, 26 December 2016

Gorakhpur – An Indian Cultural Shock

Gorakhpur. Got off the bus and I walked straight to the train station. The city looked like a metropolitan shithole and I was about to sacrifice sleep and comfort to get to Varanasi as soon as possible. I asked the few hotel that was near the train station and they were full. One did had space but wanted 900 rupee for it and I was not about to fork out that much money.

Train station and the tourist ticket counter said the train is full. No more ticket for the 4pm train. Thinking back I should have just went to the normal ticket counter and bought a ticket but then again how was I to know since it was my first train ride in India and I had no clue what the system is. Next train was morning at 530 am or 630am then it was 4pm again.
Gorakhpur - India
Thinking I had no choice I went back to hotel hunting.

Row after row of hotels that ply the road opposite the train station all said they were full. I was starting to get desperate but pride would not allow me to go back to the one hotel that had a room for 900 rupee. End of the road and I headed back to the main junction to try the other side.
First hotel I asked, Hotel Gupta and they had a single room for 300 rupee. At this point I barely care how bad the room was but still I pretended to inspect the room before accepting it. Bags down I went out to eat and then back to the hotel to crash.
The room was a single bed room with a large fan that looked like an oversized oven. The fan had to be plugged in to a socket using bare wires and the wire crossed the room front door. One had to carefully step over the wire to get in or out of the room. When the door close I discover the attached single bathroom that had no door.
The large Box on the Right is the Fan ...
Everything about this hotel was like a picture from a 3rd rate indian movie.
I went to sleep after a shower which I erase from my memory of how I did it for it was so dirty I doubt I was cleaner after it. I tried to sleep with the very noisy oven fan blowing hot air onto my body. At 8pm I woke up hungry again and decided forgoing dinner was not going to be a good idea with a long day tomorrow. So far I misunderstood that the train ride was going to take 12 hours.
Walking out the hotel for a smoke a minute later a boy walked up to me and said I needed to check out. WTF was all I could think of. So many people at the reception and they were trying to kick me out without retu…..rning any of my money. 300 for the night but I gave them 500 as a deposit. Fine I told one of the indian guy who could speak better English and seem to be the one in charge (not the one who checked me in).
I go find a new hotel first then come back and check out ok?
Off to the left side going from one hotel to another again but thankfully this time I only had to pass two before I found one that had a room for 400. Cant be worst that the one I had I thought and I was right. This one was a double bed, large room a ceiling fan but a crappy squat toilet with no shower.
Upgrade ....
I went back to hotel Gupta and headed upstairs to pack my bags all the while being followed by a young boy who was keeping an eye on me to make sure I was leaving. He kept trying to take the room key from me but I held on packing in the dark and refuse to let him touch anything.
May I carry your bag sir?
No …. I can carry it myself.
Can you give me tip sir?
….. I wonder how dumb do they think I am …. Or how thick face could they be.
Back downstairs with all my stuff I demanded my money back first before I passed the keys. The guy who checked me in said it was only 300 rupee. My displeasure must have shown on my face but I kept a firm voice and said it was 500 as a deposit. The more in charge better speaking English Indian guy gave me 500 and I return the keys without a word.
Thank you sir and sorry about this ….
I left without a word nor looking back.
New hotel two doors down and I paid the 400 rupee and checked in only to go out two minutes later to find food. The initial reason why I came out in the first place. Local food and I had no appetite to eat but shoved the dhal fry into my tummy anyway. Going back to the hotel I stopped outside to roll a cig. The indian boys was so intrigue with what I was doing they could not keep their excitement off their face. I offered them and they scratch their head trying to figure out how the pieces fits. Soon I rolled two sticks of cig and offered it to them which they happily accepted.
Nothing like a peace offering to get good local helps.
I extracted all the information I could about the train ride in the morning to Varanasi to their best knowledge. Any info you get from Indian locals had to be taken with a pinch of salt anyway. Soon I was upstairs trying to sleep in a bed that seem to itch like crazy. I am pretty sure the bed has been there older than I was born and the sheets were probably not washed in years.
4am came and I could not wait to leave the blasted town of Gorakhpur.
I thought after traveling so much in so many different places nothing could faze me anymore …. But stepping into India … yep this is going to be a challenge like no other … can’t help but feel terrified yet the grin on my face is wider than ever …. The thrill of an adventure and I could feel it in my bones.
4am Train from Gorakhpur to Varanasi

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Border Crossing – Sounalli to Gorakhpur – Nepal to India by Rickshaw, Foot and a Local Local Bus

I started the journey early in the morning in Lumbini at 8 am checking out and saying good bye to the friendly family owner of Lumbini Garden Lodge and headed to the main street 100m down the road to wait for the bus. Immediately I was approached by someone offering to take me to the border of Sunuali for 800 nepalese rupee. Its better he said by taxi for the bus will take forever.

Now that I was traveling alone again, I was determine to do it the local way as terrified as I was. The bus came shortly after and I hopped on only to get off again for I needed to chuck my backpack on the roof of the bus. It was a mini bus where they pick up people along the way all the way to Bahraihawa. 50 Ruppee for the 1 hour ride where I was standing all the way in a sardine pack bus.

Once we arrive at Bahraihawa everyone got down and thankfully my bag was still there and not drop off the road somewhere behind. I gave the nice kid who climb up and returned my precious backpack a tip of 5 ruppee.
Rickshaw Ride to Border town Sunualli

Rickshaw hoarded around the bus and the first person asked me if I want to go to the Sunuali border. How much I asked and he cheekily said 1000 rupee. I gave him my best smile and a slow hand wave goodbye. Not 10 steps down another rickshaw guy asked the same question and this time he gave a more reasonable price of 100 ruppee. Imagine the bus ride of nearly 30km cost me only 50 ruppee and yet the rickshaw ride of about 5 km was going to cost me 100 ruppee. I took it anyway for I could spare the money and also I was lazy to scout for the dirt cheap ride.

Pedal pedal pedal … it was a quiet ride, peaceful till we were near the border. The rickshaw finally asked me a question. Where are you from? Malaysia I told him and not surprising, he used to work in Malaysia for two years in Malacca. He said that in another two months he will be going back to Malaysia to work once his visa permit was finalized and this time somewhere in Johor.

Sunuali border was as I expected a busy little town filled with money changer and people trying to sell rides everywhere into India and into Nepal. First order of business was to get a money changer and dump all my Nepalse rupee for Indian rupee.
Sunuali Border Town

First one I went to did not have any Indian rupee, and so did the few others along the way. I was now going from shop to shop a small worry starting to build up for I had to get rid of the Nepalese rupee before crossing. I have read in the internet that across there was no money exchange and no ATM. I needed to get rid of Nepalse rupee and get some Indian rupee to survive. Finally one shop had some Indian rupee and I change the large amount of 7000 Nepalese to 4200 Indian. I still had small change close to a 1000 Nepalese ….

Next was immigration. It was one of those border that you could just walk though and no one will check if you even cleared the immigration. Asked a few uniformed officers and they directed me to the Nepalese immigration office which was deserted of any people. Walking in a nice chap took my passport and thought I was entering Nepal …. Exit I told him and he processed it and gave the departed stamp next to my Nepalese Visa …. I wont have any problems entering next time with records of overstay.
Exit Gate from Nepal-Sunuali to India-Gorakphur ( Nepal Imigration on the LEFT )
For some reason I decided to ask him information on busses to Gorakhpur and he said to avoid all the touts selling rides to Gorakhpur from the Nepal side. … go into India and take the bus from there its about 93 Indian rupee he said. What about money changing I asked and he told me the opposite which was to change everything I had in the Nepalese side for there are many cheaters in India money changer.

U-Turn I made after than going back to find more money changer to change off my balance of 950 Nepalese to 564 Indian rupee not knowing I still had 20 Nepalese in my back pocket.

With money sorted I walked over to the Indian side. If I first thought Nepal was grime, India side was filled with rubbish and covered with dust. At the gate the officer waved me over asking me for passport. Imigration I asked and he said no, police check point. Looking at my bag and using his hands to feel and molest it he was thinking if this innocent looking guy was carrying anything illegal. He decided to spare me the full search and wave me though.
Walking Over to India side of the Wall
Immigration was a 100 meters down the road on the left he said. I walk up to a small little shophouse with a sign that said Immigration and that all foreigners entering India should report here. Walked in and I was literary in their office. I think I was the only tourist for the day. Put down your bag they said and take a seat. I passed them my passport and they assumed I was leaving India …. No enter I/ said. … Oh.
After the Gate ... Spot the India Immigration Signboard ??
Walking Closer ... Immigration on the LEFT
One guy went around rummaging the place and came out with the arrival card. After filling up he took my passport and I saw him start up the computer. Five minutes later he stamp the entry into India and I was on my way.
Note : I Got my India Visa in advance in Portugal ... its somewhere in the blog
India Immigration Office
Welcome to India.

I ignored all the touts walking straight looking for the bus stop.

Gorakhpur? Gorakhpur?

Yes I said hesitantly and the guy offered 100 rupee same price as the bus to bring me to Gorakhpur. Bus very long 4 hours but car only 2 hours. Why I did not take the offer I had no idea but I was stuck to the idea of going the local way now. I mean I had taken the local bus from Lumbini to Bahraihawa, a rickshaw to the border and now I was determined to finish it by a local bus to Gorakhpur. I found the bus further down and it was 93 rupee to Gorakhpur.
Walking down the main street to find the Gov Bus

I was lucky the bus did not wait long and soon we were on our way. The ticket attendant took my 100 rupee and never gave back any change. Expected I guess. So it was a 100 rupee ticket then. Along the way we were stopped 3 times by police checks near the border. One couple was pulled off the bus for they did not have any papers as far as I understand. They were from Nepal. Police or Army with guns would stroll up into the bus and poke at bags and question the passengers.
The Local Local Bus to Gorakphur
My backpack next to me was also in question. As I did not understand a word he said I just said yes it is mine. Soon I understand he wants to inspect it and I opened the top drawstring before he said stop and plunge his hand as deep as he could into my bag. My only thoughts as that time was if he was planting a bag of something into my bag. OK he said and we drove off. I immediately reopen my bag and plunge my hand to check if there was any forigned objects in it ….. Thankfully none. 

Second checkpoint and one of the officer asked me a few question which I had no clue what it was. English?? I asked and the look of surprise was shown in his face. Passport he said. I gave him my passport and with his best English or the only words he seems to know in English was – Where are you from? Malaysia I answered and he returned my passport feeling smudge.

Third checkpoint and another officer targeted my bag just before decided to leave the bus. Open he said and as I started unclipping the buckles and opening the drawstring he waved me stop and dun bother sign and left the bus. 3 checkpoints on the road and finally over with.

The bus ride took 4 hours exactly to reach Gorakhpur.
Gorakhphur - India

Friday, 9 December 2016

Visiting Lumbini – Birth Place of Siddhartha Buddha

The ride to Lumbini was an agonizing 8 hours journey, very slow and very windy. Although the scenery was amazing as the small bus climbed up and down the mountain pass after a while it gnaw on you.
Shack Huts for Lunch on the way to Lumbini
Lunch time and the bus stop in the middle of a pass, not even a town but they had some huts up and served as a restaurant. They serve Dhalbat …. Lovely but then I remembered the windy road and limited my consumption to manageable level.
Road from Pokhara to Lumbini

We pass by the town Bhairahawa which was the town near Sunauli the border crossing between India and Nepal. I took note of the place for I would be back a few days later to do that crossing. Lumbini was another 30km away …. A single street simple and very isolated, it was not bombarded with pilgrims as I expected it too.

Lumbini Town
The signs of an active tourist site was there, plenty of guesthouse, restaurant and a little trinket shops selling Buddha statue and charms. Still it was not as bustling touristy as I imagine. If you would to walk into one of the many scattered village around Nepal where barely any tourist visit then this street in Lumbini was just like that only they had Guesthouses and some restaurant for they had a trickle amount of tourist visiting once a while.

A walk into the Lumbini Garden
The birth place of Buddha was a UNESCO heritage site and a very large garden filled with temple and monastery was place in it. The actual town Lumbini was the street outside of this garden.
I checked in a guesthouse for 400 rupee a night, privet with a large bed to myself. Only issue is that you sleep whenever you can …. When there is power that is. Power cuts seems to be common for the 4 days I was there and one really need the fan to be working to sleep.
The only other tourist I could identify on the bus was a white couple and a group of three guys backpacking. The very next morning I could see them leaving Lumbini.

The Mahadevi temple was a new building built over the ancient temple site which dates backs to 3 or 4 B.C and one could visit with a donation of 200 rupee. Leave shoes outside and a guy would take care of it for you for 5 ruppee. Walking around one will notice all the Bodhi tree which was around the garden.

Manmade garden so not so sure if this was how it actually look like when Buddha was born. Inside the temple there is a marker stone which marks the precise spot where Buddha was born and above a very old and vague stone carving of Mahadevi, Buddha’s mother.
Mahadevi Temple - Lumbini

Did I feel anything ….. nope …. But it was still worth a visit in my opinion to just see the place.

The next day I decided to take the local bus and visit the ancient city of Kapalivastu. Ancient city was no more but Kapalivastu was still there and it was a small town with many narrow winding streets that one could easily get lost inside. Smack in the middle is an orange temple which is overcrowded, obviously very old since the structure looks nothing like the buildings around it and it protrudes out higher than any of them.

Kapalivastu Town

The ruin sites or archaeological sites of the ancient kingdom where Siddhartha grew up as a prince was scattered around Kapalivastu but the closest one was a 5km walk away and I had no idea which direction. After taking a super long bus ride and melting in the heat I decided just visiting the town and walking around for an hour was enough and I headed back to Lumbini to rest.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Lazing in Pokhara

Pokhara was a tranquil place as one of the nepali local told me in Spanish as I await my bus in the morning going to Lumbini. I stayed there 3 nights and seen nothing of Pokhara other than going for Dhal Bat every lunch and Dinner. Best Dhal Bat in Pokhara claimed Stephano and it was the cheapest we have ever come across too at 150 ruppee.

Planned to walk around town …. Did not happen …. Plan to rent a motorbike and drive around … did not happen … plan to get a massage … did not happen so everyday in Pokhara was a lazy day.

In part it was due to the monsoon season that was already in. Everyday like clockwork the rain pours from 4pm all the way till the next morning. This made for very condusive sleeping hence I always almost slept till 10 am before waking up and chilling and then it was lunch time or Dhalbat time as we have started to coin the term.
Few days later the bunch of people from Kathmandu Hostel turned up and checked in. It was time to leave I thought and time to resume my solo adventure. Next morning I left after breakfast and bid Duncan and Stephano best wishes on the 10 day no talking no sex no smoking no eye contact no alchohol no drugs meditation course. The VIPASSANA meditation course