*Sadly I was a bit wary to take photographs in the bus. I hope I can delight you with some photos of Nepal and India.
When we looked into our options to travel to India, it was either going to be by plane or by bus. As there is no train line linking Nepal and India, we were left with admittedly limited options. Flying would cost us roughly $150 USD per person. Taking the bus amounted to 4000 NPR, roughly $40 USD or ca. £25 GBP.
Just to put things into perspective: it used to cost me roughly the same amount to commute to London from where I lived in Hertfordshire (30min by train)! As we wanted to treat ourselves to some Anniversary goodness, once we were in India, and stay somewhere a bit nicer, our decision was easy:
let’s do something crazy and travel to India by bus to save money!
We tried to find options to travel to Rajahstan directly but everyone we spoke to, recommended to travel to Delhi first and then hop onto a train to Jaipur. The friendly host at our guesthouse (a highly recommended stay in Nepal, by the way. Check it out) booked the bus tickets for us and we found ourselves waiting in a small office near the Monkey temple in Kathmandu ready for yet another first on our round the world trip.
The bus was exactly of the same type as the bus we had taken from Pokhara to Kathmandu a few days earlier – they are very comfortable, reclinable and this one even came with a TV screen. However, it was not a sleeper bus and we wondered how we were going to feel after sitting for such a long period of time.
After a good 3 hours of driving, we got to watch a somewhat disturbing Bollywood movie (we did not understand any of it, but managed to follow the plot regardless). In essence, it was about three elder Indian guys who set off to Mauritius to find some young chicks and get lucky… In the end, they all lust after the same woman and the focus lies on trying to woo the girl, one guy after another, in the hope that one of them will conquer her heart (while their wives sit at home believing all of them are on a business trip in Bangkok)…After almost two hours, the bus assistant can’t get it to work anymore.
We stop almost every two hours for a toilet break (which is actually incredibly generous of the Nepali bus driver – as in India, as we later found out, stopping for pee breaks is a matter of whether the bus driver likes you or not and agrees to stop…or not).
After a good five hours, the tibetan mother and herson in front of us, have both vomited out of their window, the wind carries the trail of puke to our window and to the side of the bus. To top the glamour feel in the air, a urine smell now lingers, as toddlers pee next to us in what must have been paint buckets now converted into rubbish bins and baby toilets (the rubbish is generously spread throughout the bus though).
And that is not the end of it: the guy behind us regularly coughs into our necks immediately followed by a desperate attempt to keep his phlegm in his lungs by snorting the liquid up his nose in such an intense way, that we can literally hear the snot shooting up to his brain. I’m surprised he did not pass out every time he pulls this trick.
“I’m quite amazed how much they puked” Ben says, in his calm analytical british way, when he looks at the mess on the side, as we stop for another break. It does indeed look gross – especially once a good 30 flies start nibbling on the chunky goo glued to the bus. ‘Mmmmh, nice’ we both say in unison as we grin and look at each other.
At about 10pm we arrive at a bigger bus stop where everyone gets off to have dinner. Daal Bhat and chapatis (we had 3 as they were so delicious) for 150 NRP (ca. 95 pence)! The lady at the till is probably the only person in this region who speaks English, smiles at us and says “If you need anything else, let me know, ok?”.
Before we continue, I quickly run downstairs to go the toilet and feel very uncomfortable as I enter a big hall with dimmed lights and several groups of men (I believe they must have been the bus drivers) gathered around different tables to have dinner. The room reminds me of the movie ‘Fight Club’. In fact, it would be a perfect film set for an action packed underground story.
One filled with lots of violence. You know that kind of stuff.
As the only white woman in the room, I naturally draw attention – but Nepalese are quite subtle as they glance at you and immediately look away. I never feel uncomfortable to the point that I’m scared. The toilet smells really bad. Luckily I got used to squatting whilst holding my breath – a useful skill that you must acquire when you travel to these parts of the world!
We have now travelled for a good 10 hours. It is dark. The bus driver speeds along the narrow roads somewehere in the middle of nowhere on a mountainous road in Nepal, overtakes bus after bus whilst hooting the horn. The horns in Nepal are quite distinct. The comical melody does get terribly on your nerves after a while! It keeps waking me up. And so do the constant shock movements as we drive over sharp stones which feel more like boulders in this old bus (from the 60s?).
We assume we would be crossing the border at Lumbini (the birth city of the Buddha) but we don’t. Ben checks his map and it looks like we will be travelling along the whole of Nepal right next to the border and then cross in Bhimdatta. I somehow manage to fall asleep – no idea how as it is so bumpy – and wake up occasionally because of the hooting of the horns.
At some point I awake and cannot see anything. Have I gone blind?! It is so dusty now that the road is barely visible. Even if you are a seasoned driver, you would not drive on this road with this speed! At this point I’m scared – and my fear ramps up even more when he overtakes other busses in front of him, sometimes failing and retracting from his plan by pushing down his breaks and squeeze the bus back to its original position, as another bus approaches him.
Every time he does that, some people in the bus huff and sigh to give their disbelief some expression. Ben is fast asleep next to me, his head shaking with the movements of the road and leaning slightly to the right. At some point he wakes up and sees me staring at the road. I think I must have emanated such a negative energy, so strongly, it was enough to wake him up.
He pulls me towards him and places my head on his chest- wanting to calm me down and telling me indirectly not to look what’s ahead of us. I tell him later that this gesture was really sweet of him. “I could see how worried you were” he says – and yes indeed I was – I was struck by angst and it takes a lot for me to feel this way.
I fall back asleep, only occasionally waking up when the bus stops for toilet breaks. Concerned of having to go to the loo all the time, I refrain from drinking any fluids throughout almost the entire journey – a very unwise decision as by the time we had arrived in Delhi, I was so de-hydrated I could feel pain in my kidneys (by the time I had reached the hotel in Delhi I downed more than 1 litre of water in one go).
I look to my right and observe the Tibetan buddhists as they silently chant to themselves whilst occasionally glancing at their scriptures – a bundle of rectangular sheets of hand-made paper with words printed on them that look like hieroglyphs. I think back of what my Ayurvedic Dr. back in Nepal told me. Routine. Must get into a routine!
If I get out of this bus alive, that is.
I can feel everyone around me moving – I look at the clock on my phone- it’s almost 7am and we are at the border. Ben wakes up “What’s going on?” – “It looks like we are at the border” and I smile at him. We were both surprised about having managed to sleep so much despite the constant shaking and rambling.
The assistant on the bus points at us, and the Australian couple a few rows in front, and says with a military-speech-kind-of-way “YOU come!”. We follow him obediently as we walk out of the bus feeling like prisoners who are about to be put on some handcuffs and guided to the entrance of our new home. The Indian – Australian couple explain that we are crossing the border and we need to fill out the exit form. After almost 30min of form filling, stamping and waiting for the Indian tourist books to be filled out, we finally walk back to the bus. After a few minutes drive we head back out again to fill out the entry forms.
I immediately notice a difference in culture as men passing me, stare at me with an almost evil look on their faces. I do feel threatened by their looks – especially after having been in Nepal for a month, where no one is fussed about you really. The contrast is quite stark – but I get used to it relatively quickly. What annoys me more, is the sexist demeanour of some men. Ben gets handed a pen – I’m being ignored. Ben gets asked questions about me, despite standing next to him.
“And what does SHE do?” or “What about YOUR Mrs?”. Most of the time if they talk to us, they don’t do eye contact with me and engage in a conversation with him instead. After a few days in India, I resign to it and fall into a passive stage of leaving Ben handle the conversations. Sometimes I attempt to speak to them only to be ignored or responded to via Ben instead. I guess they don’t want to offend Ben by talking to me – and yet as a Western woman, this way of communicating to a female member of society feels alien.
For the most part, we are officially married – just to appease and not raise too many eyebrows. We’ve been married for a year and we are planning on having children next year. Later on during our trip a Tuk Tuk driver tells us that no man over 30 will find a woman in India. If you reached your 30’s and you are not married yet, there is not much hope. And if you are a woman and 30 and you don’t have children, then something must be wrong with you – or with your ovaries for that matter. Not being married and not having children – like moi – is almost unheard of.
For the last part of our journey, we are being entertained with loud music blaring through the speakers – a mix of Rihanna, Beyonce and Indian tunes. I start daydreaming and think of the second movie we had watched earlier. The Bollywood version of Ocean’s 11 – a very entertaining movie that we unfortunately, like the first one, could not watch until the end, as something was wrong with the electrics this time. At about 12pm we reach our lunch place and we order something that looks like a Nepalease Daal Bhat – we had hoped for some Indian food at that point, yet there was none available. It looks like the delicious Indian cuisine will have to wait for a bit.
The plan was to arrive in Delhi at 2pm. By the time it is 4pm we have still not arrived. And my bum cheeks hurt. I’ve had enough. I was looking forward to a hot shower. “I think we should stay in Delhi 1 more night until we have the trains sorted. I can’t be arsed to rush around tomorrow morning to hop onto a train” – “Yeah. Sounds like a good idea”, Ben says.
At 5pm we finally arrive in Delhi. After a long 30 hours!
The drive into it was one of a kind: Cars after cars after cars, a cow, more cars, Tuk Tuks, a camel, cars, a horse and carriage, a car coming from the opposite direction (!), another Cow, some ducks and chickens, more cars. Some trucks that pass us have people sitting on metal benches without any sort of cushioning at all – you literally see vehicles stripped away of all its exterior. Some Tuk Tuks which usually carry 2-3 people comfortably, have over 10 people squeezed into them. How they manage to do that – I don’t know – but it is obviously possible.
As we get out of the bus, about 4 guys come walking towards us “Yes Sir, Taxi? Where you going?”. We grab our bags after being dropped off somewhere completely different to where we were supposed to be dropped off. This guy takes us into town for 400 RP. It is way more than what was advised on the Internet – but as he is the only one around, we agree. Plus, it is dark. We are in Delhi. No time for messing about! At that point, 4 Pounds did not seem too much – we just wanted to get to our hotel.
As we get to his car, Ben asks whether we can get some money first. He agrees and drives to a building with a gate in front of it – his friend is standing there and the driver signals to Ben to get money. “Ben, let’s get money tomorrow, I don’t think this is a good idea” having read horror stories of a few men raping white women in precisely situations like this: I’m left alone in the car – they drive off with all our luggage and my safety is in jeopardy BIG time. “Ok. We get money tomorrow” Ben tells them repeatedly, waving his hands frantically, until they understand that we changed our mind.
All of a sudden his friend gets in the car and obviously plans to drive with us. He asks “Where do you need to go?”. – “Hotel Staywell in Delhi”. They have a discussion about it in Hindi and Ben and I look at each other concerned, as I whisper “it might be a good idea to switch on the 3G and see whether they are driving in the right direction”. We trace the little blue dot on the map with a tense stare. “Is he going the right way?” – “Yes he is – you can switch off the Roaming”.
‘Thank God!’, I whisper to myself.
As we finally arrive in our hotel room, we shower and get ourselves comfortable and watch a movie together. We order a Chicken Biryani which looks mediocre when it arrives (but surprisingly was incredibly tasty).
We laugh about our apprehension – and yet, it is true, Nepal and India are two worlds. Reading so many negative things about India has probably infiltrated our brains with fear. “Let’s keep our minds open. I’m sure we’ll feel better tomorrow when we wake up…”.
*Info: If you plan to travel to Delhi by bus, here is how to do it:
- Ask at your guesthouse / hostel to book it for you. They will know which busses are the safest to use. You can also go to one of the many travel agents. Again, ask your guesthouse for a reputable one.
- It should not cost more than 5000 NPR. Unless you opt for special sleeper busses (i’m not sure if they do exist). We haven’t had the luxury though. Ours was a seater bus – which for 30 hours, is a tough one!
- The journey takes 30 hours. Keep in mind: the roads, especially in Nepal, are bad. If you can pay that extra bit to travel by plane, do it. If you seek Adventure (and it is one), go by bus – but keep in mind that it is not for the faint-hearted and I would even say, a tad dangerous.
Have you ever travelled by bus / train for longer periods of time and felt unsafe? Would you do it again? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.