Duff information can be a real pain in this line of work, but it’s hard to know who you can trust. Yesterday’s taxi driver was right about getting to the borders of Bangladesh and Bhutan, so when he told me that buses left from the Nepalese border for Kathmandu in the morning and would arrive in the evening, I saw no reason to doubt it.
I wasn’t too happy with having to drag my arse out of bed at 6am, but, well – if I meant I could get to Kathmandu before midnight, I was game. I grabbed by backpack out of the NJP station cloakroom and jumped onto the first shared taxi jeep to the border. We got there so quickly it didn’t even occur to me that I might have to go back a kilometre to get my passport stamped out of India.
My last little piece of Indian bureaucracy, and what a way to sum it all up. I’m already out of India (the jeep didn’t stop!), but for the sake of godknowswhat I head back to the Indian immigration post. I was the ONLY person there. It still took an HOUR to get the stamp out. Not only did the stamp nazi go through every word of my (two) exit forms – he went through every letter.
Oh, bugger! You caught me! I was illegally sneaking out of India using a fake British Passport and a fake Indian Visa in order to go to Nepal and sell all of India’s nuclear secrets to the highest bidder. AND I WOULD HAVE GOT AWAY WITH IT TOO if it wasn’t for you pesky kids – LUCKY you spotted the spelling mistake on the part of the form in which you enquired about my maternal grandfather’s middle name WHICH GAVE THE GAME AWAY.
You wily little f——.
So (marvellously enough) they stamped me out after making me wait for an hour and I headed back to the Nepalese side of the border.
India, my friend, I’m sure you’ll always draw me back, there is something magical about you that none of the blaring car horns, vociferous rickshaw wallahs, malodorous drains or screeching Hindi musak can drown out. For a country whose fortunes were built on the West’s insatiable appetite for condiments and tea, I guess it makes sense that you should take India with a pinch of – let’s say – spice; and once you learn to laugh at the unfathomableness of it all, it could be your new best mate too. Goodbye, I’ll see you soon.
And so to Nepal…
I’ve always had a soft spot for Nepal. It’s hard to put my finger on what it is about the place I like so much, but I’m sure it will come to me very soon. My prejudices that I would continue to like Nepal were very much confirmed when, having cheerfully PURCHASED MY VISA ON THE BORDER (FANCY THAT – the ONLY country between North Iraq and South Korea where that is possible) I was recognised off the telly by a chap called Dawshan.
“National Geographic Adventure!” he shouted, before welcoming me to his country with a hearty handshake and the offer of a cup of tea. Don’t mind if I do old chap. I jumped on the back of Dawshan’s motorbike and we headed off to his family’s hotel.
I soon found out that my taxi driver was making stuff up about a bus leaving every hour of the morning for Kathmandu…. They don’t leave until the afternoon, and they are all overnighters – something I wanted to avoid, especially given the difficult conditions presented by the monsoon rains. Never mind, it gave me the opportunity to hang out with Dawshan for the day.
“This is so weird… I had a vision that I’d meet you” he told me over breakfast, “I knew you would be going to every country and if you were going to Bangladesh and Bhutan you’d be coming into Nepal this way.” I explained to Dawshan that I’d be trying to get to China via Tibet from Kathmandu – I figured it would take a fortnight to get the Chinese visa, Tibet pass and train ticket. In fact, a tour company in Tibet had quoted me a whopping $2,500 just to get from the Chinese border to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
“That can’t be right” said Dawshan and while I had a go at riding his mate’s brand new Royal Enfield motorbike (I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a wee nipper, with Dawshan’s mate on the back and the streets all but flooded, it was wonderfully terrifying) Dawshan got on the phone and organised my trip all the way from Kathmandu to Beijing LEAVING NEXT TUESDAY.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
Thank you Dawshan, you excellent excellent chap you!
Dawshan also organised my bus ticket to Kathmandu, my Nepalese SIM card and the tastiest samosas I have ever (and possibly will ever) eat.
It was at this point that I remembered why I like Nepal so much – it’s like India, but ten times easier.
At five o’clock I was on the bus and hurtling towards the capital at a great rate of knots. That was until we came to a bridge that looked like it was about to fall through as a result of last night’s floods. You would think that the notion of a bridge collapsing would ward everyone off the bridge, but conversely it attracted rubberneckers and slack-jawed lollygaggers from all over the place to congregate on the very bridge. We would have to take a detour that would add an hour onto the journey time.
Well, we would have if our driver wasn’t a gung-ho maniac and COLLAPSING BRIDGE BE DAMNED he looked like he was going to go for it. Myself and my fellow passengers had about thirty seconds to exit the bus before he floored it and shot across the bridge – the one with the cracks and the big hole in the middle. Thankfully, the bridge stayed up. We all had to run to get back on the bus, this driver had ants in his pants – we all boarded it (yes and that includes the old ladies) while it was moving – once we were all on board (perhaps) we thundered off into the night.
I found out the next day that later on the bridge did indeed collapse.