You know that feeling in the morning after a big night out? Your head is going doosh, doosh, doosh…your stomach is like you’ve been on the ferries wheel a ride too long, your legs hurt in places you didn’t know you had muscles and you just want to die. And in your agony, you promise to the Gods above that you will never ever let a drop of alcohol past your throat.
But sometime after 2pm, things start to perk up again. You’ve had a shower, drunk some dhal with lemon (works for my hangover). By 3pm you’ve got your swag back and by 4pm – you’re ready to do it all over again, baby!
You know that feeling, right?
Well when I got to Guwahati, I promised myself that I had enough of the road and was catching a flight out of there but 3 days later, my feet got itchy and the roads beaconed to me like a big Saturday night out again!
Never been on the Indian Railways, I took a 6.30am train out from Guwahati to Siliguri; state of Assam to West Bengal. Still considered as northeast states. Plan was to make it to the airport in Siliguri and fly to Kathmandu. But somewhere on the 7-hour train ride, I changed my mind.
This trip was dedicated to being on the road and if I could make it from Rangoon to Siliguri on land then I could make it from India to Nepal as well. (sure, said my bottom)
Train travel in India is an experience on its own. Online ticketing is very convenient till you come to the payment page which requires a credit card issued by an Indian bank. Buying tickets in person is a whole new ball game. First, you need to go to the inquiry counter. Be shouted at by a fat Assamese woman for actually making inquiries about departure times then go to counter number 12 (not counter number 3) to buy your tickets. Be shouted at again for not filling in the ‘form’. Go back to the fat lady and beg your life off for a form. Fill in the details, which the guy in counter number 12 is getting paid for anyway. Then take it back to the guy who presses a maximum of 5 keys on his system and issues your ticket sighing heavily as if he manually pulled in the train at the platform for you from Bihar.
Of course, I requested for a top berth because people on the Internet recommended it was better. People on the Internet didn’t mention that if you’re a size 16 (bordering on 18) Indo-Fijian girl; don’t because it’s a battle to climb up there. I must let you know that I fully entertained everyone in my compartment the 2 times I heaved myself up and down. The train was Ernakulum Express and it was actually going all the way down to Kerala and there were a number of people in our carriage making the 2-day journey on the train!
Well apart from getting up and down, the actual ride was very comfortable. You’re provided with clean sheets, towels and blankets. Chai-wala, snack-wala, lunch-wala, dinner-wala (from puri aloo to chicken biryani to omelette and toast, roasted peanuts, paan) everything is available. In between, bedsheet-wala, toys-wala, bangle-wala all make regular up and downs. Even novel-wala and I scored the new Paulo Coelho’s Adultery for only 5 bucks and that I bargained from 8! (Yes, guilty for reading a pirated copy.)
I was the only girl in that carriage though females from other carriages did walk through regularly but everyone was very courteous and friendly.
Arriving in Siliguri at 4pm, I wasn’t sure whether to stay the night there and continue in the morning towards the border or to go straight. Then I thought it was the weekend and maybe the immigration might be closed on Saturdays and Sundays so found a shared mini-van, that dropped me off at the Indian Immigration office before the border bridge in Panitanki, one and half hours later.
Getting out was a breeze compared to getting in. Got shouted at for taking a selfie in front of the office. (no photos are allowed at the Indian border areas.)
Then someone helped me get a rickshaw, which took me to Nepal. On the Nepal side, applied for my visa and got my passport stamped. I had already missed the last bus to Kathmandu so had to spend the night in Kakarbitta.
You should never let your guard down when traveling, is the cardinal rule. I broke the rule. A very well dressed guy at the border office told me about a really good hotel and before I knew it, I was there, checking-in and paying almost 3 times of what I should have paid in that pissy little town. So pissed off I was with myself. The guy was a tout – worst kind I have encountered in all of my travels. Arsehole. He didn’t like that I had ventured off on my own and the got the bus tickets for the next morning because he obviously wanted to make some commission out of that, too.
The hotel apparently also had a casino where Nepali people are not allowed to play but it had the Indians and Bangladeshis streaming in from over the borders after 6pm everyday.
He was so sly this guy and it took me a whole 2 days to figure out his entire game. Like I said, worst one I ever encountered. I still can’t believe I fell for it.
Anyway woke up at 4.00am for the 4.40am bus, the watchman let me out on the dark street and shut the gate on my face. No street lights. Navigating my way in the moonlight and dim lights from people’s houses, I made it to the bus station then remembered my new phone had a torch in it!
Settled in for an uncomfortable 17-hour ride to Kathmandu.
I was sitting amongst an extended Assamese family going to visit their relatives, on the other side was a newly married (eloped) couple going for their honeymoon (and to visit the Shiva temple to say thanks) and it didn’t take long for everyone on the bus to figure out, I was traveling alone and concerned why I wasn’t eating or drinking anything and everyone wanted to feed me.
You see, I am not equipped to handle pit stops where I have to use the bushes. That was hard to explain to everybody. Pissing on the roadside was normal for men and women alike here.
By 3pm, I was ready to die again. So was everyone else on the bus when the conductor, tactfully at the right moment (which only must come with experience) played a new bollywood movie and for the next 2 and ½ hours, there was a heavenly contentment in the bus where everybody settled back. Even the piss stop was hurried because nobody wanted to miss the movie!
Getting into Kathmandu, it was already dark and freezing. The conductor came up to me to ask where I wanted to get off. And then as usual there was a board meeting in the upper front of the bus. About me. Everyone was speaking in Nepali. As usual, I just sat and looked at everyone throwing in their 2 cents. Someone dialled the hotel asking for directions. Another person said they would walk me to the taxi and make sure they charge me right. Another said next time, don’t come alone. One told me to shop at New Road and not the other market. The old woman next to me poked my pimple under my chin and told me to get married.
In the end, the conductor managed to ward everyone off me and take me to a taxi friend of his. Turned around to thank him and he makes me take down his number. I am to ‘’sometimes think about him also and call him’’.
Taxi dropped me off somewhere in the inner enclaves of Thamel. I breathe in the smell of incense, weed and food.
Kathmandu and I were going to get along just fine.