The Long and Winding Road to India

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Well, we have finally left Pokhara after unexpectedly spending ten days there (due to us both battling with sickness (again!)).

Feeling better, we started our trip down to India. Glenn decided that we had seen way too much of "tourist" Nepal, and thought it would be a good idea if we made a stop over in a smaller town on our way down to the border.

We decided on Tansen, a small town perched on the top of a ridge about halfway between Pokhara and the border. But first we had to get there...

So on went the packs, and Glenn thought we would make an early morning start by catching a local mini bus to the bus station. Was a bit squeezy, but we managed okay and we got to the bus station to start our journey. With the bus drivers a little perplexed as to why we wanted to go to Tansen and not Kathmandu, we at first found it hard to find the right bus, but we found one bus going our way and after getting our packs up on the roof we were on our way.

The road to Tansen was steep and windy, a bit difficult to manage in a full size bus. Also, being a local bus, the driver would stop for any passenger that was going in our direction. The drive was beautiful though and it was great to see some of the country side.

Some six hours later, we arrived in what we thought was Tansen. The bus driver dropped us off and helped us with our bags and pointed up to the top of a hill "that's where you need to go!". After asking one of the military guys at a nearby checkpoint, we found out we would need to catch another local bus to the top of the hill. As we were making our way to the bus, a few of the local kids (who were touts for the local taxi drivers) were screaming at us not to get on the bus and chanting: "no, no - don't go", which we found hilarious as did the locals, who actually stepped out of our way so we could get on the bus - which was packed to the brim. We both had our packs on, along with extra bags, and we literally had to squeeze ourselves onto the bus - Christie having to stand on a bag of rice, and Glenn having to kneel because his pack was too tall. The locals who had let us on first, had to hang out the door of the bus to fit on. The road up to Tansen was crazy - so windy and steep, which was fun trying to hold on with our heavy packs on and not whack them into people. We finally got into Tansen, and Glenn got off the bus. Christie coudn't turn around with her pack and had to back off the bus, unfortunately the driver didn't realise and started to take off with Christie still on the bus! After alot of banging on the side of the bus and yelling from Glenn the driver stopped and Christie managed to jump off!

Arriving in Tansen, we were both feeling pretty tired and decided to stay in the hotel closest to the bus station. Being recommended by Lonely Planet we thought it would be okay (big mistake! - filthy with no running water), but we just didn't have the energy to walk up the hill any further with our packs, so we decided to grit our teeth and stay.

This gave us extra incentive to get out of the hotel as soon as possible and spend the afternoon checking out the town. After seeing a couple of temples, we decided to take a walk up the mountain through the forest to see Tansen's view of the Himilaya's. We met a couple of local characters along the way, and as with most of the people we have met in Nepal, when they find our we are Australian the response is: "ooooohhh! - world class cricket team, Ricky Ponting, Ricky Ponting!". We did meet an interesting old guy though, he told us that now was a good time to get out of Nepal as there are elections being held in March which most political parties, including the Maoists, are opposed to, so they are expecting there will be bad and possibly violent times ahead for Nepal. Made us glad that we were heading for the border the next day!

After running into all of these people, we were worried that we might not make it in time for sunset, but we did, and the views of the Himilaya were amazing, just as good as we had seen in Sarangkot and definitely worth the effort. Unfortunately we spent so long here that we had to find our way back in the dark - not easy when you have just arrived in a new town. With the help of a few locals we finally got back to town and found a restaurant for dinner (seemed to be the only restaurant in town), but it looked really nice and clean, so we were happy: until we saw a mouse run past our table! But we were hungry so we stayed and the food was good: then we had a power cut! out came the torches (thankfully we had them with us) and we had to find our way back to the hotel by torch and star light. The amount of stars in the sky were just amazing, more than either of us had seen before, which is when we realised how lucky we were to be out of a polluted city for a change.

The following morning we found a bus to take us to the border without much hassle. As we drove down from Tansen, we spotted what the locals call "The White Lake", a big valley that fills up with clouds in the morning which really does look like a white lake - very impressive. The bus trip was supposed to take about 3 hours (so we expected 5), but our bus driver was so fast we made it in 2! Bit scary but we were happy to get to the border earlier than expected.

After having to deal with a few touts and managing to change our money, we got through Nepali and Indian immigration within half an hour and then had to try and figure out how we were going to get to Varanasi, about 10 hours away by bus. We couldn't find any buses that didn't want to charge us the earth and we finally managed to negotiate a deal to take a taxi to Varanasi with a few other travellers, a Korean couple and an older Spanish guy. Fitting all of us plus our luggage in was a struggle, and Glenn had to think twice about keeping the bottle of beer he had in his pack in fear of it breaking, but we eventually managed to fit it all in and we were on our way (oh, and of course Glenn kept the beer!).

The drive to Varanasi was great, we all got on really well and the scenery was fantastic, it was funny to see flat green land again after Tibet and Nepal. During the trip we asked the driver to stop for lunch. His first choice wasn't appealing in the slightest, so he said he would find one in the next town. The next town never materialised, and we made it to Varanasi very hungry travellers. Once we got into Varanasi, the rest of our travel buddies went on their way, the driver not able to take us all the way into town because of the tiny streets in the old city. By this stage it was dark and we were concerened about trying to find our way to the hotel on our own as it was meant to be quite tricky, but we were willing to give it a go. Our driver then said he would take us to our hotel and we agreed. He turned the corner and in jumped another guy. Concerned that he was a tout we said we would find our own way, but the driver assured us that he wasn't. The drive into Varanasi was pretty hair raising and then the driver parked the car and said that we now had to walk for about a kilometre to the hotel. Both the driver and his mate took us on foot through the tiny back streets of the Ghat area in Varanasi. After reading about the strong criminal element in Varanasi after dark, we were a bit concerned about not knowing exactly where we were, but we managed, after struggling past all of the people, bikes and cows, to find our hotel. The driver and his mate of course wanted some "baksheesh" (money/donation) for their efforts. We were happy to give them something, we probably wouldn't have found the place safely without them, but Glenn only had a large note or a small note and wasn't prepared to part with the large note, so we got out of it for 20 rupees (about 60 cents!).
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