Roosters crowing children growing, got big plans but dirty pants, with kids to teach life is sweet!
Really Long Post – Beware!
May 20, 2010Posted by on
Ok sorry – I decided to just write about the whole trip. I can’t split up the story and still have it make sense, so this will just be an extra long post. There are still some things I want to say separately but I’m sure this will be sufficient for even the most voracious reader of banal minutia. Here we go…
As we descended toward Indira Gandhi Int’l Airport I could see how expansive New Delhi is. The city proper is huge for sure, but then you have the metropolis that surrounds it as well. The population of the Delhi region is over 22 million!!! Yikes! All the buildings are flat roofed and extremely close together, save for a few small areas that are very affluent or house government buildings. It was about 94 degrees when we deplaned and over 100 before I left the city at 1:00 p.m.
There’s a haze that hangs in the air, from pollution I’m sure, but also from the dust. It’s very dry, and most of the streets are dirt roads, plus each street is lined on both sides by street vendors and people’s dwellings, so there isn’t any grass to keep the dirt down. Imagine living in a snow globe filled with coriander and cinnamon powder but no water, and you’ve got Delhi.
When I deplaned and got through immigration (not difficult at all!) the airport seemed really small, especially for an international. Turns out that there are two separate terminals, one for int’l and one for domestic, and the domestic is the shiny, pretty, fully staffed, English speaking terminal. Just my luck! Though the signs are all written in English and Hindi, there weren’t any bus schedules or guides as to where to go. This is mostly because there isn’t really much of a schedule – the driver just waits till the bus is full and then you go.
I was a little intimidated by everything, mostly because I wasn’t sure who, if anyone, I should trust – but everyone was very helpful. I was very lucky in that respect. When we arrived at the train station the walking path was blocked off by a huge construction zone (Delhi is hosting the Commonwealth Games later this year). I started marching in that direction when this young guy, probably no more than 20, told me I would have to walk a few blocks around and had I already booked my ticket? I wanted so badly to figure everything out myself but I was very unsure of what was going on, so I decided to walk with him and let him explain the process to me. I’m glad I did because the ticket office was actually through an India Tourism branch office about 5 km away! We walked a little further and he asked me what Texas was like and told me his favorite movie star was Tom Cruise. Then he hailed down a cab (which I was again worried about) and sent me on my way.
All the trains ended up having wait lists for the next several days, so there was no way I could leave Delhi without flying or taking a bus. I knew I would have plenty of bus rides ahead of me so I opted for a commuter flight from Delhi to Lucknow, where I would then take a bus to the border. The guys (there were no women to be seen anywhere the whole time I was there – it was so weird) in the office made me tea and let me use their computer to send a few emails while I waited for my flight confirmation. Another rule broken! I knew I should’ve only had bottled water but how could I refuse when they had been so gracious in explaining everything to me? It would have been insulting and rude so I went for it. I haven’t gotten sick yet so fingers crossed! Then they put me in another cab and I was off to the place I had just come from – the airport.
Lucknow is like Delhi but of course smaller: still very hot, still very crowded, and of course very poor. As you drive down the street you have to negotiate rickshaws, pedestrians, mini-buses, taxis, and trucks with provisions for the shops. There are no stop signs or lights. Chaotic, yes, but everyone seems to manage just fine, and I learned to keep my eyes on the sides of the street instead of head on so I wouldn’t have a near death experience every 3 minutes. They really cut it close sometimes!
In Lucknow I was helped by a cab driver who translated for me at the bus station and introduced me to the station manager. From the time arrived, til the moment I got on the bus, employees from the station waited with me. All in all they spent over 8 hours helping me walk through the market to find lunch and a internet cafe, making tea for me, and explaining what would happen when I got to the border. They even let me nap for a while in one of their offices. We traded stories about our families and where we were from. I took their pictures which they got a big kick out of, and one guy sang a song for me which I recorded. I’ll upload it as soon as I have more batteries for the camera.
The overnight bus was pretty comfortable considering it wasn’t air conditioned. There was a nice breeze and I got to sit by a window right up front. We arrived in Nepalganj just as the sun was coming up on Monday the 17th after driving for about 7 hours. Total travel time at this point was 36 hours.
At the border you take a bicycle rickshaw through customs and immigration for India and Nepal, stopping at each building along the way to get your passport stamped and fill out information cards. At the end of the road there are buses to take you to the city proper, and this was where I had my first really tough moment. As I stepped off the rickshaw I was approached by 3 or 4 bus drivers and cabbies at once. While I tried to speak to them a girl, probably no more than 14, with a tiny screaming baby came up to my side and pulled at my sleeve and pant hem as she made a sign for food for her baby. The cab guys started pushing her away and scooting me toward the cabs before I could say or do anything. No matter what you think would have been the right thing to do, it’s much harder to turn away from someone who you know can’t go to a homeless shelter or a food bank, or a welfare office. Especially when the money that could help them is the equivalent of 1 USD or less For the rest of the journey I played that scene over and over, asking myself what I should have done, what was right or wrong, and if that even mattered. Mostly I felt bad because I let the cab guys be my excuse for doing nothing one way or another. I copped out of making a decision by letting them scurry me away.
Once we were in Nepalganj on the Nepali side, I waited for a micro bus. As the name would imply, they’re smaller, and theoretically faster. I was so ready at this point to be in Kopila, and not in transit. Nepal was green and friendly, not as crowded as India, and somehow just nicer. I can’t really explain it, but I immediately felt more at ease. Even though I knew I was still 80 km away from Surkhet, I kept looking out the window hoping to see the house I know from pictures just around the corner. 🙂
Finally – finally finally finally – after 4.5 hours, a flat tire, stops to pickup people on a bus so full there were already people on the roof, a stop for home made lunch in a village as we drove OVER a MOUNTAIN RANGE (I mean like, mountains, real ones), 3 days of wearing the same dirty sweaty dusty pants, and enough squat toilets to last me a lifetime, we arrived in Surkhet. I could see little houses in the valley below, painted in yellows and reds, trimmed in pinks and blues, and I just wanted to jump. off. the. bus. and start asking everyone I saw – “Do you know Maggie?” “Can you show me where she is?” “Do you have a phone I can use?” I totally felt like I was going to pee my pants – mostly because I had been holding it for over 10 hours, but also because I was just so excited and so ready to be there.
And then it happened. It was so nonchalant and anticlimactic. The bus stopped. The porter handed me my pack. I walked up to a shop keeper and made a ‘can I use your telephone sign’, called Maggie, and in 5 minutes there she was on her scooter. Five minutes later I was in the living room shaking tiny hands and saying ‘Namaste, Namaste” to tiny faces and within the first 30 seconds of sitting down with Maggie and Orr (he’s the architect for the school!) for lunch Maya was sitting on my lap.
I was home.