And so it begins…
September 27, 2009 – Day 276 – Gorakhpur, India
So this is it: Today we cross into India. Taking a deep breath we got out of the rickshaw at the border and walked into the dust cloud, chaotic moving mass of our first taste of India. We had taken a local bus from Sauraha to the border and then a rickshaw the remaining 2km to the Nepali immigration office. It was a quick stamp out and we crossed unsteadily beneath the grimy once-white arch bearing the greeting in plain terms, “WELCOME TO INDIA.” Thanks…I think.
The border crossing was very laid back. Some might call it disorganized, what with the utter lack of signs or clearly marked officials in uniforms or offices resembling state business. The main thing to know is just walk straight and at some point look left and bam! There will be a table with a stack of white papers and a few old men in plain clothes who will take your passport. We caught a cheap local bus onward to Gorakhpur, about 4 hours away. It was a confusing mess when we arrived because the bus did not drop us at the train station as promised. Instead we had to take a bicycle rickshaw to the train station where we booked a couple of sleeper class bunks for Rs. 80 (US$1.72) for the overnight journey to Varanasi. Since we had 4-5 hours to kill, we crossed the street through the mad traffic and swarms of people coming and going, keeping a close watch on our bags, until we got to a grungy busy restaurant.
There was no menu and when we sat down they brought us each a plate of dal (lentils) and rice which came with fresh chapati (thin, round bread). We paid US$0.70/plate and it was almost more food than we could eat. The best part was that, if we could have eaten any more, we could have gotten as much more rice or lentils as we wanted. If nothing else, we are at least happy to be paying such tiny prices in the madhouse!
Back in the train station, we still had a few hours to kill. The time passed awkwardly and slowly with hundreds of people staring unabashedly at us and many more coming over to ask direct, personal questions without so much as saying “hello” first. A very strange experience indeed. Already we can see that India is going to be a challange. It is like being in another universe. In fact, it feels like we really are alien life forms judging from the stares we get!
Upon passing through the “Welcome to India” gate, you will pass a group of uniformed guards on your left at a traffic arm (like a checkpoint for cars). From there you should walk about 20 meters and on your left will be a table set up right on the edge of the dusty, trashy street with a few old men sitting leisurely at it. If you are standing right in front of the table, you will see the sign for the “office” but not before because it is small and the sensory overload from everything else in the way will obstruct it. At this table you will get a form to fill out and one of the men will stamp you in and send you on your way. Depending on your next destination, you can take a private taxi or the local bus. A tout for a private taxi may come find you while you are at the border office/table but feel free to wait to deal with him until you have fully finished your border entry business.
The private taxi is a nice air conditioned car and will cost quite a lot. For example, we were quoted INR 650 for a 4 hour ride for 4 people. For us, it was just too expensive. If you want to take a bus onward (you will not want to stay in the border town Sonauli, that is pretty much certain), simply walk another 200 meters straight from the border office/table and the bus station is on the right side of the road. There are plenty of touts loitering around the parked buses occasionally shouting destination names. Ask one of them for your destination’s bus but be sure to find out how much the ticket will cost as well. You will pay for your ticket on the bus and be given a receipt to prove payment since passengers board at later points throughout the trip. We were heading to a Gorakhpur (approx. 4 hours away) to catch an onward train to Varanasi and our tickets cost Rs. 57 each. It was a simple local bus, not in great shape, pretty bumpy ride and slow but at least we did not fear for our lives the entire ride like in Nepal.