Saturday, October 01, 2005

Window Seat: By Bus to Nepal

Nowadays you can fly from India, or anywhere, to Nepal, of course. That would save pain in your backside, and enable you to see the Himalayas from the air - during the dry season only. In monsoon they're not visible (June-October or so).

However, you will then miss the rides through thrilling border towns like Gorakhpur, Senauli, Butwal and Beheliya, a whistle stop through Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, not to mention umpteen (about 12) road blocks by the Royal Nepalese Army looking sharp in their blue camo and AKs. You do get a beautiful, if long, bus ride through the lower Terai and shimmering green terraced rice fields. Most tourists don't go to this part of Nepal. It was cool to be vaulted from the dry, dusty drab Senauli border almost directly into the emerald plains then up, up into the misty hills, and to see the "real" Nepal prior to arrival in the big city.

An added attraction was the fresh rubble from recent landslides blocking the roads. This is a very real danger during rainy season. The meandering highway followed the steep Rapti river gorge for at least five hours, sheer hillsides with a violent grey ribbon of river below, swollen by the seasonal rains.

I came by train from India to Gorakhpur, UP, spent one night there at the Ellora Hotel (150rs, very clean up top), and caught the 4am bus to Senauli. From Senauli I was hauled by a 15 year old on a cycle rickshaw to the Indian border post, where they wearily stamp your exit. I then continued on the cycle rick across the border to Beheliya - now Nepal - where the considerably cheerier Nepali border people take your $30, photo and stamp you IN for 60 days. Change your money nearby.

DON'T bring in any Indian 500Rs notes, they are banned right now in Nepal. 100s are fine but no 500s or 1000Rs. I didn't believe them and later had a really hard time changing the Indian 500s for Nepali. You have to find an Indian person (try hotel proprietors) and keep it top secret.

By this time one of a dozen touts will have approached you for the mini-bus ride into Kathmandu, which leaves either right there by the border, or a short taxi ride away. I paid about 250Indian Rs for the 9-hour ride - no extra charge for the serangi-playing urchins who climbed aboard to serenade us, or the old ladies in head wraps carrying baskets of turnips, or the 10 year old hawker with his backward baseball cap that careens out the open door and yells at every stop, "Ho Kamadoo Kamadoo! Ho Kamadoo Kamadoo!" Midway to "Kamadoo" another tout will have approached you offering a room. Don't worry, they are not nearly as pushy as the Indian touts. You can arrive in Kathmandu with a hotel and even a prearranged ride from the bus station (they cel phone ahead).

Don't eat any food on the road that is not from a sealed pack, ever. Even if you're starving, which you will be after nine hours of potato chips. I got giardia this way.

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