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Published: March 10th 2015
Rajasthan to Nepal
March 5 – 7,2015
“The mind can go in a thousand directions But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace With each step, a gentle wind blows With each step, a flower blooms”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body
I try these days to take things as they come. To be at peace, albeit with a modicum of planning, with what the universe throws my way. On this occasion, I prevailed pretty well, but I did have some slight anxiety over what could go wrong when one allows the minimum possible margins of error in getting out of India before one's visa expires.
I had not intended to run it so fine, but the opportunity to travel with a special friend to Jailsalmer arose and was just too attractive to miss. And so I worked out a way to leave Pushkar (where I was based) motorbike with my just two days left before my India visa expired. Had I been traveling alone (sans
Enfield) I could have taken direct flights or buses and/or trains and made it pretty comfortably, but
I was determined this time to ride to Nepal …. a trip over the lower Himalayas which I thought would be an adventure. And from there I could ride direct to Himachal Pradesh in April.
So what could go wrong? I did not actually have enough time to ride the entire distance without risk of serious tiredness and discomfort. I figured to do so in comfort (albeit some pretty long days riding in succession) would still take me 3 or 4 days... and I only had two days. The beauty of taking the train was that at least 12 hours of the traveling happened when I would be sleeping and this was 'saved' time against riding (which should only ever be done in daylight in India).
The other big consideration was when I realised that my 6 month Indian visa expired the day after Holi festival. Holi is one of the two really big Hindu festivals in India (the other being Diwali). It can be a totally mad time as men and boys run amok in the streets throwing coloured powder and liquid at all and sundry.... sometimes under heavy intoxication (often copious amounts of early morning whiskey)
and sometimes setting up road barriers to extract backsheesh
from passing vehicles (and a goora
or foreigner on a motor bike would be seen as a very lucrative target). Traveling by road on Holi is not a good idea.
So I decided before the trip to Jailsalmer to book myself on a train to Varanasi and take Gladys (my Royal Enfield motorbike) along with me for that leg of the journey (she would travel as luggage in the cargo bogey). This would mean that for the bulk of Holi I would be safely on the train itself. My first near error was that the train I booked had me as number 60 on a waiting list. In India to be anything over number 20 on a waiting list just two weeks before the date of travel is not a great idea. Luckily I did discover this (my usual lack of reading the detail almost made me come unstuck) when I went to print the e-ticket. And I was able to use an agent then to book a new train with a sure seat. Only that train was leaving from a different station some 60 km from Pushkar. OK... it
just meant I would have to travel to that place (Merta Road Junction) the afternoon before the train left, in order to get Gladys packed and ready for loading the next morning.
My next risk was going to a place unknown (Merta Road) and assuming I could get Gladys properly packed and get her onto the train (it is not always guaranteed that there will be space in the luggage bogey for your item if lots of commercial cargo was already booked and used up all the space). Then I had to trust too that the bureaucracy involved (paper work and processing) would go smoothly.
All did go well enough. Even if the guy in the luggage office at Merta Road Junction was as friendly as a cold stone; even though he stalled and stalled getting to me as I sat there in front of him trying to engage; even though he actually did not seem to know how to calculate the cost for Gladys to travel (evidenced by the fact that the next morning before the train arrived I was called back into the office where his superior had worked out that I owed an extra 248
rupees on top of the 1,775 rupees I had already paid). And even if the guy assigned to make some extra cash for himself (200 rupees) by packing Gladys had no clue.
To pack a bike for train travel in India, one must take great care and effort in order to avoid damage to said bike in transit (see: https://www.travelblog.org/Asia/India/Orissa/Bhubaneswar/blog-546322.html). To be careless in this regard is sure to result in nasty little dings on fuel tanks and mud guards and baffle pipes. I had to supervise and expressed with some force when Abdul declared that a single layer of hessian bag over the fuel tank and instrument panel was his 200 rupees worth that no, this was not packing.. this was merely covering. And that we would be doing a whole lot more before it was a done deal and any money would be paid. But then I simply offered a carrot.... I told him once we had done the job properly I would up the fee to 300 rupees. It worked and 40 minutes later Gladys was well padded and well packed on all areas.
And so it had only taken me 2.5 hours at Merta Road Junction to get Gladys packed, booked, paid for,, and locked securely for the night in the station platform security cage. I could return to Merta City 15 km back (there being no accommodation at Merta Road Junction) and find a hotel for the night. And so I did in the Mony Palace. Not quite a palace in my estimation but just clean enough and comfortable enough for 250 rupees with share bathroom and promised bucket of hot water in the morning. I had a relaxed evening.... woke early... took a rug to the rooftop for some very shanti pre-dawn yoga, had my promised luxury hot bucket bath, and was away by 8 am.
Out on the street I realised that being Holi, everything was shut for the festival.... including the bus service. I was not paying 300 rupees for a rickshaw to Merta Road Junction, and started walking (intending to hitch hike) when I passed Merta City Railway Station and realised that the 'train bus' was about to leave. The train bus is a single carriage that seats about 70 people. Being Holi and no bus service, the 5 rupee train to Merta Road was looking very over-subscribed. It looked like the entire Muslim population (who did not celebrate Holi) of Merta City was going to Merta Road. Not true I am sure.... but I was getting amused once I had my ticket as to how on earth I was going to get onto the train at all. But it all worked out and I even got a seat (by my devious move of jumping the track and going to the far side of the carriage and getting on while the platform side was still emptying the arriving passengers).
At 11.30 am train number 14864 Marudhar Express to Varanasi pulled up just 5 minutes late. I witnessed Gladys being wheeled and loaded into the luggage bogey, and found my Sleeper 3 Upper Side Berth number 24 on the train proper. All was well with the world as we pulled out pretty much on time and began to speed with a sweet lulling rocking motion across the picturesque Rajasthani countryside.
By about 3 am it still seemed that the train was running pretty close to schedule and I was beginning to relax about the day ahead.
Then things started to get tough and complicated. To summarise:
• At about 4 am, when we pulled in to Sultanpur, my smart phone was stolen. I had been charging it at the end of the aisle (the only charging point) together with a number of fellow travelers, and had just placed too much trust that it was safe and being looked after as I sat back in my seat (while often glancing down the aisle to see that the lead was still in the socket and assuming the phone was still at the end of it inside a kind of wall cupboard). Only when I checked to see if it was charged, the lead had nothing on the end. Yes I completely lost my cool for about 5 minutes... ranting and hitting the wall and exclaiming to all and sundry in a loud voice that I had been ripped off. But I settled down and again realised that I still had two legs and it was not the end of the world.
• At about 9.30 am, while only one hour late arriving at Varanasi, the train came to a dead stop just 500 metres from the platform for a full hour.
• So … now we were 2 hours late, it being 10.30 am. I rushed to the cargo bogey at the end of the train. There were two luggage compartments, one with Gladys inside and the other packed with about a tonne of boxes. Of course the latter got first preference and the supervisor assured me that Gladys would be unloaded 'in an hour'. I pleaded with him and used my limited Hindi to say I had to make a dash to Nepal by nightfall. Eventually he assigned the work-averse Sanjay to my case. Then the door was jammed. But actually after 20 minutes Sanjay worked out that it was locked from the inside and he needed to enter from the other side of the train and unlock the thing. Gladys was intact from her journey, and unloaded onto the platform.
• Sanjay was from the outset more interested in securing backsheesh
from me than doing his job. The bike was very heavy, he complained, and the weather hot. Then he had to stop for water and to take a pee between two carriages of the train. Then I needed to help him wheel Gladys up and down ramps. We proceeded to wheel Gladys from Platform 9 where the train had arrived, across the tracks at the far end of the platform to get to Platform 1 where I needed to get a clearing ticket in order to have Gladys released from Indian Railway custody to me. But.... at Platform 6 to 5 crossing the very last carriage of a very long train was blocking the access path across the tracks. At this point I got out my knife and proceeded to unpack Gladys there and then, much to the horror of Sanjay and others. I declared that I was just going to go without a pass as there was a clear off Platform 9 to the road on that side of the Railway Station. My determination got Sanjay to make a compromise off in opposition to my shocking attempt to sidestep Indian due process. He agreed that we could wheel Gladys back to Platform 8, walk ourselves to Platform 1 without her, secure the needed gate pass, and allow me to leave via the far Platform 9 exit rather than Platform 1. Brilliant.... and after another 45 minutes of bureaucracy and being handed to 4 different officials, I got my release pass.
It then took me at least 40 minutes to unpack Gladys back on Platform 8 and get ready and leave. It was 1.30 pm and after a quick stop for a lassi out on the street, I started my run to the border.
By sunset I had arrived at Gorakpur (6 pm), about 200 km from Varanasi. It always astounds me how long it takes to ride on Indian roads. I seemed to be going at 80 km an hour... but there are always slow patches on bad sections of road, getting through crowded markets in villages, getting momentarily lost at times, and the required stops to rest and have a chai
. After stopping for some food at Gorakpur I braced myself and pressed on in the dark.... a precarious challenge as in India almost everyone coming towards you has their high beams on in some mistaken belief that it will keep them safe. I tailed a number of vehicles on the way in an attempt to let them do the hard work and to benefit from the extra light they shed on the road and to see where they hit potholes so I could try and avoid them - not always successfully.
I arrived at the border at about 9.15 pm, and with relief got through Indian passport control. Proceeding through Nepali passport control and getting my 30 day visa, I was too late for customs and processing of the road tax and ticket to take Gladys into Nepal (they close at 10 pm) …. They agreed to let me go to a local hotel for the night on the promise that I would be back in the morning to do the paperwork and pay my tax. I got to sleep finally at minutes before midnight.
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