Long term travel is not the same thing as a vacation. Vacation is taking a break from real life for a few weeks. When you are on the road for months or years, travel is your real life. And just like real life, travel has stressful times and bad days. One of our worse travel experiences was the 36 hours it took us to get from Agra, India to Lumbini, Nepal.
We left the hotel in Agra at 7:30 am for the train station. Two of us were already showing signs that the poor sanitary conditions of the town were affecting our digestive systems.
At the station two young boys grabbed at Rand asking for money. Beggars are everywhere in India, but these two were persistent. They followed us to our platform and hovered around, patting us on the arms and legs. We tried to ignore them, but eventually Rand picked one of them up and moved him away from us. This was gentle treatment compared to the hitting and kicking a local man gave to the other begging boy a while later.
Three hours passed we were still at the train station. Despite other trains arriving and leaving for Delhi, ours was late. We tried to bribe a station attendant into letting us on a departing train, but no luck.
Eventually our train came and we spent the next several hours sweating in our sleeper class car. For overnights we book 3 A/C class, but during the day we save money, by riding sleeper class. This is usually fine, if it’s not hot. But when it is hot, it is kind of miserable. Also, with the windows open, it can be very dusty.
In Delhi, we had to take a cab to a different train station for our overnight train to Gorakphur. We thought maybe we could indulge in some western comforts (ie. McDonald’s ) in the big city, but the only restaurants near the station were unhygienic looking hole-in-the-wall places. And considering that two more of us were beginning to experience Delhi, I mean Agra Belly, we didn’t want to take any chances. We later figured out it must have been the lassis we ordered at breakfast after seeing the Taj Mahal since the daughter who doesn’t like lassis was the only one who didn’t get sick.
We had a three hour wait at the Delhi train station. Now India train stations can be pretty gross, but this one was particularly disgusting. The benches were all full, so we had to sit on the ground. We looked for a dry spot because, who knows what the puddles were? Urine, probably.
Next to us was a family whose baggage was wrapped in a blanket that was covered in flies. Flies buzzed everywhere in the station, but they were most interested in that blanket. And also the father of the family whose arm was covered in sores.
Our food for the day consisted of bananas and packaged cookies and chips, the only things we could find that felt safe to eat. Perhaps it was lucky that 4 out of the 5 of us didn’t feel like eating much anyway.
Overnight trains in India are not bad, but also not good. In 3 A/C class, there are bunk beds stacked three high in compartments of six. The beds are slightly longer than I am at 5’4” and not very wide. Also, they are kind of hard. I spend the night on Indian trains tossing from left to back to right as I wake up to pain in my shoulders, hips, and lower back.
After a night of tossing and turning, we arrived in Gorakphur. We grabbed a taxi to the bank to get US dollars for our Nepalese visa and then planned to go to the bus station to get a bus to the border. When the driver offered to take us to the border for around 20 USD, we said yes without hesitation. After more than 24 hours of travel, we just wanted to get to our destination as quickly as possible.
At the bank, we were told that we couldn’t get US dollars on Saturday and would have to wait until Monday. Wondering whether we would have to stay the weekend in Gorakphur, we told our driver our predicament. He led us outside to the sidewalk where men sat at tables with boxes of cash. A man gave us the exchange rate and Rand got rupees from the ATM. We traded the rupees for dollars and went on our way, laughing at how ridiculous it was that we couldn’t get dollars from the bank, but got them easily at a table on the sidewalk.
For the next three hours the girls and I sweated on each other, squished together in the back seat of the taxi.
At the border we said goodbye to our driver and found the hole in the wall immigration office to get stamped out of India.
Then we walked on the dirt road across the border into Nepal. On the Nepal side, we entered their immigration office to get stamped into their country.
Then another taxi and another sweaty hour and a half squeezed into a car and we finally made it to our destination! We arrived in Lumbini, hot and exhausted, hoping that the next 36 hours of our travel life would be more pleasant.