Travel Journal Overview:Travel is a great learning tool. It’s been one of greatest teachers. It usually works well, like when I took this train to Gorakphur , avoided all tourists and made it to the boarder. Only then I screwed up … or so I thought.
It was 7.30am when I took a quick tour of the train, taking a pit stop along the way. I noticed some of the porters were waking up, and a few passengers were putting on their shoes. I rushed along and grabbed my backpack and made it to a door. I wanted to be first out to avoid the tourist rush. None of them stirred.
The train pulled in and I glanced back as one girl was just pulling back a curtain. I made my way through Gorakphur’s train station. I had memorized the LP map, yet my trust in those maps was barely recognizable. I went with compass directions: Out of the door, West to the first junction. Dammit, brick wall!! I looked to the right between two buildings. There was a tell tale sign of the main road. Rickshaws.
I grabbed at a rickshaw driver and told him to take me to the bus station, fast. HE got it straight away and we were off. I turned around to look back. Only a few Indians were making their way out of the station as we crossed the main road.
A chubby man came running out in front of us. The rickshaw driver dodged him and kept going. The man pursued us on foot waving at me.
“Nepal… Sunauli… Jeep…” He shouted.
Hmm. I ignored him at first thinking he was just a tout that would be more trouble than his worth. The the said the magic words.
“Only 100 Rupees, only two hours!”
We bargained for a while. We went through the confusion of wondering how many people were needed to fill the Jeep. And ten minutes later we were off. As if by fate we drove past the train station. A few white faces were emerging, some being hassled by touts, others looking at maps. I sat back. I do like solo travelling.
The trip to the border was indeed only two hours. And after a silent journey the driver proved his worth and got me a cycle rickshaw that would take me to Indian Immigration and Nepalese for only 40 Rupees.
I needed money exchanged first. And after some haggling managed a good rate. Toilet break was next, and my rickshaw driver took me to a hotel with a dingy but workable toilet. I would have loved a big breakfast too, but the rickshaw driver was getting a little impatient.
Indian Immigration stamped me out with a “I hope you enjoyed your stay?”
The last Army guard asked the same question.
I nodded to him,”Yes, ye I did actually enjoy India.”
It was brief. I think that’s why I enjoyed it.
Nepalese immigration next. It was as people had said. A breeze. The lady stamped me in with a very warm welcome. My little rickshaw man was still with me when I came out, so was another man. HE asked if I wanted a bus to Kathmandu or Pokhara. I paused, usually these guys are rip off’s. But I figured following him would at least get me to the bus station area.
As predicted he took me to a tour operator. Two me by a desk gave me prices 600 rupees. I told them I would walk outside and get a regular bus for 200.
The boss of the two nodded, “No problem. I give you discount, and a luxury air conditioned bus. Do you have a hotel to stay.”
I nodded again, and gave him the name of one I had been thinking of.
“Ah,” he said in recognition, “is not bad.” He came in with a typical touts statement. “But I know a better one, my brother Chubby owns it.”
I put my hands up and made the universal sign for money, “I am on a budget my friend. No more than 350 a night for a hotel. So sorry we can’t do business.”
He waved me to slow down, “OK, I understand. Budget travel. Take the bus for 400 and I give you a room for the same.”
“What type of room?”
“Very nice. Big. With bathroom and TV. And… they will pick you up from the bus station”
He had me interested. But
I was having a problem concentrating. My nose was fully blocked again, and the combination of antibiotics with a lack of food was having an effect on me. “If it’s 400 for the both, then we got a deal. But I want the name of this place.”
A receipt book emerged, as did a leaflet with the hotels name on the front. “It’s the Hotel Dharma Inn, I call by brother now and tell him to expect you.”
It actually looked fine from the photographs, but I was thinking photoshop.
“So that will be 800 rupees…”
“What? ” I interjected, “you want me to pay for the hotel now?”
He nodded. “He’s my brother we share everything.”
Alarm bells started to sound in my head. Pay upfront for a hotel room 10 hours away?? No way.
I stood up and apologized if I was about to hurt his feelings but doing this was something I hear college kids signing up for.
“I am not paying fora a room upfront with no guarantees.” I looked at him straight between the eyes, “It would be stupid of me to do it.”
A blank receipt appeared on the desk, “Really sir, it will be fine. I write you a receipt for the hotel. It is my brothers place, and I will call him to confirm. He meet you at the bus stop. You nothing to worry about. Air Conditioned luxury bus, and a very fine hotel.”
I was confronted with a strange urge just to say yes. To hell with it. Take a chance. It was only 5Euro and who knows. After all it was still early and if the hotel Dharma Inn did not exist then at least I could find another.
With a nod and a smile I soon had a bus ticket, and a hotel receipt for a place I had never seen.
It was then he added one small clause, “So your bus, it will not be so direct…”
I’d screwed up, and I knew it.
He began the head wobble thing, and pointed to a town on a wall map of Nepal, “No need to worry. Everything fine. The bus meets another one here and then you are in Pokhara.”
It was too late to change, he had my money. I needed food to think straight. Maybe I would just grab a local bus to Pokhara instead and admit to being burnt by this guy. An early lunch it was so, at least that’s what I had hoped.
Instead I was bundled into a taxi and driven off. Two goons sat on either side of me and I wondered if I had just done something stupid. They didn’t speak English, or so they said and were not smiling much. They were also quite skinny, and I figured if worst came worst I could fight my way out of this one.
We pulled over to the side of the road after about 5 minutes. There was a local bus on the side of another wise not so exciting or ‘mugable’ road. The two goons were arguing with the bus conductor. Why? I didn’t know, maybe the city bus cut them over on the road. Maybe it was one of their brothers. Or maybe it was my luxury Air Conditioned bus to Pokhara. Yes, it was the latter.
Where had all my learning gone?