Sarah and I have long awaited our trip to Nepal. The biggest reason being the great trekking that the country has to offer. I’m not talking about the crazy mountaineering that involves hiking to extremely high elevations, for instance, climbing Mt. Everest. Nepal is well suited for amateur hikers as well and provides relatively easy access to the amazing Himalayan mountains. Beyond trekking, Nepal is known for its great people and other natural attractions like low land wildlife and forests. The other reason we were so keen to get to Nepal was because we’d grown a little road weary from our two months of travel through India. Don’t get me wrong, India is AMAZING! But, it’s also an exhausting place to travel. We’ve related some of the challenges in previous posts.
Before heading to Nepal we spent our last couple of days in India in its capital city, Delhi. We’d already been to Delhi briefly in order to catch a train east to Agra (Taj Mahal), but had to make our way back in order to catch another train that would take us close to the Nepal border. We didn’t do anything noteworthy with the rest of our time in Delhi except for some minor sightseeing, eating some of the tasty street food and lounging around in one of the city’s parks.
Though we didn’t take in many of the sites during either of our visits we did enjoy a couple of fun conversations, one of them with a group of touts “working” the New Delhi train station. I decided to interview them to better understand the scams they try to run with tourists. Surprisingly, though slightly reluctant at first, they were willing to share, and even let us observe, as long as we didn’t warn the unassuming tourist.
Here’s what they shared. A group of about eight of them work two shifts during the day. They stand as a group at the entrance to the parking lot of the train station, perched on the highest platform they can find in order to spot their prey as he or she approaches (prey being anyone that looks like a tourist). One of them leaves the group and starts walking in pace with the tourist, almost as if they are stalking them like predator with prey, and eventually meets them at their side to tell them one of many lies in order to divert them from their intended task of either buying tickets or entering the train station to board their train.
If the tourist is trying to buy tickets the tout will pretend to be someone official or just a friendly citizen and tell them that the foreign tourist ticket office is closed or provide some other reason why they can’t purchase tickets at the station. The tout’s goal is to take the tourist to one of the many private ticket reservation offices nearby to purchase their ticket there. If the tout is successful in this endeavor he will share a portion of the profit made from the tourist buying their ticket. This profit is then shared with the rest of the touts working that shift. So it’s both fair and unfair at the same time, I guess. I wanted to stay longer to ask more questions and observe a few more hunts but one of the touts was being a little to “friendly” with Sarah so we had to move on.
Another scam we were not told about but encountered on our way to Agra during our first stop in Delhi went down like this. Our train was scheduled to depart very early in the morning. So early that there weren’t the usually crowds of people hanging out near the train station. We entered the parking lot without encountering any touts–we assumed that they didn’t start “working” until later. But upon entering the train station through the security checkpoint a man greeted us with a clip board and pen, reviewed our tickets, and then told us that the tickets were not valid and that we would have to purchase new ones. Sarah and I immediately realized what was happening, took our tickets back and entered the station. As we passed the man Sarah yelled, “you suck!”. After determining which platform our train was located at we made our way towards the raised walkway that would take us there. To our delight there was yet another official looking guy with a clip board and pen in hand ready to check our tickets. This time we didn’t bother handing him our ticket and walked right passed him, again, sharing our disdain for him. We were slightly concerned that this guy did actually work at the train station. But it turned out we were correct in assuming that he was a tout.
Aside from the touts, the other fun conversation we had was with a retired U.S. citizen that was born in the northwest region of India, near the modern day states of Kashmir and Ladakh. Ifty is his name. We ran into him while trying to buy grapes from a fruit stand at the market near our hotel. He had been traveling through India for a few months at that point. We exchanged stories of our experiences in India and he shared what he knew of the history of India and his opinion about the changes taking place in the country. He loves India and is proud of the progress the country is making. Because he can speak Hindi so well he was able to ask for recommendations on where to get the best masala chai. It turned out that the best place was at the market where we met. Sure enough, it was most definitely the finest masala chai we had in all of India. We spent another 30 minutes or so with him chatting before we parted ways.
Later that night we caught the last train we’d take in India on our way to Gorakhpur, the nearest train station to the India/Nepal border crossing location where we chose to cross. During that trip we met a fellow long term traveler from Brazil, Jorge (George). He was also on his way to Nepal and after a couple hours of chatting we all decided to make the trip across the border together. Little did we know that we’d run into him again in Kathmandu, Nepal and travel with him for a few more weeks still. More on that in later posts.
To see a funny video of people frantically trying to board the train to Gorakhpur, click on this link or the image below to be taken to the YouTube video.
After arriving in Gorakhpur we had to take a bus to the border town of Sunauli. The experience boarding the bus was one last reminder of the joys of travel in India. When boarding a bus in India with no assigned seats you have to get on the bus as soon as possible to try to procure decent seats, i.e. not over the tires or in the back of the bus. So Sarah and I agreed that I would take the luggage to the back of the bus while she got in line to board the bus and save our seats. As the bus pulled into the pickup location it had to turn around. But a moving bus does not deter people from boarding. Sarah knows this and attempted to board the bus but was stopped by the attendant who asked her to wait until the bus was fully parked. Sarah being the polite person she is obliged and waited at the door of the bus, being sure to stick close to the door as the bus moved in order to save her spot in line.
The request of the attendant may have been followed by Sarah but fell on the deaf ears of the rest of the passengers trying to board the bus. So after returning from the rear of the bus where I had stored our luggage, I found Sarah physically pushing people away from the door to defend her place in line. While pushing them she was also yelling at them to stay back, all the while her mouth was full of samosa, which she had just taken a bite of moments before. With samosa flying through the air and Sarah continuing to push the assailants away, I approached her to lend a hand. Before I could get there another attendant jumped in to save Sarah by forcefully pushing the crowd behind her aside. Thanks to this guy and Sarah’s bravery we were secured four seats, two for us and two for our friend Jorge and his friend Giselle. Too bad I didn’t have the camera handy to capture all of this.
Once in Sunauli the border crossing was pretty straight forward. We got our exit stamps from India and paid for our tourist visa for Nepal and were free to roam. But we weren’t yet at our final destination. We had two more buses to catch before we could settle in for the night. Jorge took the lead on finding the next bus and also securing our seats. Thanks to him we got a bus and the best seats we’d gotten thus far on any bus we’d taken. For the short right to the next bus station we were given the privilege of riding on the top of the bus. It was a great welcome to Nepal and a fun experience to share with our new Brazilian friends.
Jorge and Giselle were off to Kathmandu and Sarah and I were off to Chitwan National Park, so we split ways at the bus station–or so we thought. It turns out that Nepal is fifteen minutes ahead of India, so Jorge and Giselle missed their bus due to the time discrepancy. Because of this we all ended up on the same bus one more time, though, they were dropped off an hour or so later at another bus station to find a bus to Kathmandu. Sarah and I continued on with what turned out to be a less than desirable bus ride to Chitwan that arrived at around midnight. The bus stopped and the attendant told us that this was our stop. Seeing no one on the streets and no hotel signs we were hesitant to exit the bus before he showed us where the hotels were. We spotted a hotel sign and reluctantly left the bus, hoping that someone would open up for us. We stopped at the nearest hotel we could find, banged on the door until someone answered and finally settled in.
Welcome to Nepal!