This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Varanasi to Kathmandu

Leaving Varanasi and arrival in Gorakhpur

Still suffering from traveler's diarrhea we arrived at Varanasi station just after midday expecting to catch our train but found the train was delayed with no expected time of arrival. The only way to know what was happening was to listen to the garbled announcements on the echoing loudspeaker system three in Hindi for each one in English as to which train was coming and which platform it would arrive on. This meant we had to wait sitting on the ground on the station over-bridge so that we could get down to the right platform when the train eventually arrived.

Of course all the shady spots were already taken so we had to simply bake in the sun four four to five hours. Somewhere towards five in the evening an old friend from New Zealand who was heading to Calcutta appeared out of the throng like a karmic apparition - small world meetings in the cubic centimetre of chance! Then about half an hour later at sunset we finally set off for Gorakhpur, the Japanese encephalitis capital of the world, and the last stop on the line before catching a bus to the Nepali border.

Gorakhpur station and the Hotel Raj

Ariived in Gorakhpur at 11 at night to find a horrendous line of rickshaw drivers, but managed to pull our luggage across the street to a line of cheap and grotty hotels. We set the alarm for 6.15 but at 5 am before dawn, the universe blared out a discordant loudspeaker chorus of "Hare Krishna - Hare Rama" and we knew it was time to make tracks as best we could by bus to the border.

After about an hours delay while they filled the bus to bursting and trawled around town for more, we made it to the border at 9.30. am.

Gorakhpur is no tourist paradise. We stumped past the touts and walked over to the Hotel Raj an unassuming station-side doss house and crashed still recovering from the runs and the imodium alkaloids taken to suppress them. Lo and behold before the dawn, a hideous refrain of "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Hare Rama Hare Rama" began at full bore purveyed on loudspeakers outside the hotel by a shop owner in the street below. So, rooted out of a disconsolate slumber, we set off on the first bus we could catch for the border.

Towns on the road between Varanasi and the border (2000)

The road between Varanasi and the border runs through verdant countryside with a string of small towns along the way full of a wild mix of ox carts and laden trucks, all of which the bus passes through.

The countryside 2006

The cooped up view-less 2006 bus with more small towns

The bus we caught was crowded to the max and had almost no visibility so I have included some shots of the towns along the road from my transit of the same road in 2000, going in the opposite direction.

Heading north in 2006

As you reach the border, on a fine day you can see the Himalayas looming out of the haze that wafts up from the Indian plains and becomes caught in the Nepalese foothills.

Just before the border 2000

The border transit in 2000

The Indian and Nepali border gates 2006

At the border, we got our Nepalese visas, and by about 10.30 were on another similar bus to Kathmandu. After an hour or so we stopped for food (we just ate cheese puff balls and I foolishly ate chili ones which have caused a rebout of the cramps).

Nepali side of the border town waiting for the next bus

On the Nepali side the bus had a better view

This bus had a better view, but when they saw me hanging out the window filming, they invited me to go up with the luggage touts and make the journey sitting on the roof of the bus in the luggage rack.

This gave excellent views of the surrounding countryside and the road ahead but is a very difficult platform to photograph from because the bus is lurching around on the uneven twisting road, particularly in the mountains. Its also naturally quite dangerous and a lot of people traveling this way have bee electrocuted when they failed to duck for low-hanging overhead wires.

The route we took headed for the foothills and then made a right hand turn east along the lowland are of Nepal near the border.

A series of scenes on the road through lowland Nepal in 2006

After about an hour the road turns into the foothills and begins a climb up into the higher valleys behid the first row of hills.

A series of images climbing into the first valley in the foothills

The road then continues through higher valleys caught in the rivers that flow through the first foothills approaching the Himalayas.

A series of images of the countryside and towns in the 'inland' valleys

We passed several elephant teams but I didn't have time to catch them while hanging on for dear life to the lurching luggage rack.

A nomad encampment

A couple of the luggage touts riding with me on top

The road then begins to wind into a steep sided river gorge which we follow for the next couple of hours gradually winding higher.

A series of images driving up the gorge

The road was full of heavy trucks with a good number of logging trucks apparently carrying virgin hardwood. While I was riding on top, Christine was down below getting near molested by a Nepali man who was leaning all over her and refusing to give her enough room on her side of the seat so I ended up coming down and glaring him down.

Eventually, as the light faded, we began to climb the precipitous pass which carries the road over the lip of the the hills surrounding Kathmandu valley itself. We will also see this again going the other way at sunrise in the journey to Pokhara.

The high pass over into Kathmandu valley

As we drove into Kathmandu city, chaos struck. A taxi driver had been killed and the taxi drivers were all staging a strike, blocking the roads into the capital, so the buses and trucks were all stranded with their engines running blowing dense clouds of toxic diesel fumes over us all.

Bedlam in Kathmandu

It took about half an hour of coughing and seriously considering getting out and walking before the bus made it into the equally crowded central area and we could get some transport to a small sparse backpacker hostel.

The newspaper report

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