Leaving Nepal was a hard day’s work – this time no illusions about tourist bus, just your run of the mill, broken down small local bus that didn’t look like it would make it out of the parking lot, let alone the mountains! Near the border, we had to catch another bus the 5 Km to the border, which was even smaller. Gerard couldn’t stand upright when some kind soul gave us their seat.
Now we had heard that the crossing was chaotic, but chaotic barely scratches the surface of the total disorganization, especially on the Indian side. Nevertheless with ringing ears from large clean Korean tourist buses blowing their horns at us, not to mention anybody else who had a horn, we found our bus station and got on a “government bus” to Gorakhpur.
We have been in some grubby towns but this one gets the prize! But not only was it filthy, but all of the equally grubby hotels were grossly overpriced. A rickshaw took us to perhaps 8 or 9 throughout the town, and finally beaten down we stayed in the President, which wasn’t quite as grubby as some of the others but still grossly over priced for what it was!
The town had no redeeming features and first we couldn’t even find a restaurant, but through the gloom, kind smiling faces shone through – and came to our aid. While we were searching for a hotel with a rickshaw driver who could speak no English, a young girl pristine in her school uniform, left her own rickshaw and ran over to us offering to translate. The next morning, asking a young man on the street where we could get breakfast, he replies, “No restaurant, but you can get tea and biscuits,” and led us to a cart selling excellent chai. Once again, it’s not so much the places in India that are fascinating – it’s the people! So often, they will interrupt whatever they’re doing and go out of their way to help, surprising us with their spontaneous kindness and generosity. Later, we found one restaurant very clean and pure veg south Indian food.
One might ask, why had we come to such a pit? To catch a train to Kolkata. Sounds simple enough – for those who’ve never traversed the rocky terrain of the India Railway Reservation System…but for anyone unfortunate enough not to have reservation (like ourselves) we have “waiting list”, “remote location WL”, “RAC reserved against confirmation”, “pooled quota”, “foreign quota”, Tatkal, 24 hour notification and 2 hour notification…etc. etc. And then to complicate things further the computerized reservation center was no where in sight at the train station – only the usual disorganized throng of Indians around 5 or 6 ticket windows pushing and shoving each other.
The station master, in his little office on the side, explained to us what to do and where to go. A light at the end of the tunnel! We purchased a ticket with help from a few more young friendly Indians – but it was a ticket we’d never seen before – premium-priced Tatkal but still only waiting list and without confirmation until 2 hours before departure. So to pass the time we tried to ferret out the “main attractions” (as our friend Bushan would say) in Gorakhpur. We spent a lot of time between our hotel room and the restaurant which served a tasty masala dosa!
As the man said, “Come back two hours before departure…” – and sure enough we got confirmed seats. All’s well that end’s well! With a sigh of relief we boarded, and the thought came across our collective mind –if the Indian railway system is handling with remarkable accuracy the reservations of 2o million people on any given day, embarking and disembarking in literally thousands of locations, then perhaps Obama should send his so-called computer experts, who set up the botched online healthcare registration, to India to get a few pointers!