Vacation India, part 4

Goa to Nepal, days 13–17

The trip from Goa to Mumbai began at 11:00 a.m. with the boisterous West Bengali family with whom we were sharing our coupe opening a bottle of whiskey. It wasn’t long before they were singing and drunkenly expounding on West Bengal’s long legacy of poetry and literature. It seemed like the trip home was going to be a test of my constitution.

Mainly I say this because the only train that wasn’t booked-up out of Goa was a day train, leaving Margoa early Friday morning and arriving in Mumbai late that night at around 11:00 p.m. When the evening finally cooled off our coupe, I was being lectured on the greatness of not accepting a Nobel Peace prize, which was pronounced, thanks to the whiskey, Nobel Peesth Preith.

In and Out of Mumbai

When we finally got into Mumbai we were all exhausted after the train ride. No one really was up for sleeping in the train station so we decided that we’d find a hotel for the night.

Trains somewhere, going somewhere

Somewhere, two India Rail trains invoke a sense of history.

The place we had crashed at for the day when we’d last come through Mumbai was too expensive for just the five of us (Andrew, Laurel, Liz, Tony, and I) so we had to find a different place.

We were all tired enough that just having a taxi driver take us the place his brother or cousin or whoever ran seemed like a good idea.

Last time we’d passed through Mumbai we had been harangued by taxi drivers telling us they could take us to the cheapest and best hotels in Mumbai. Considering our situation, it wasn’t a terrible idea; we just didn’t realize how much of a gamble we were taking.

The taxi driver had promised all sorts of things: good location, enough beds, clean rooms, soft towels, et cetera, et cetera. He lied. He lied about everything. I should have known.

The five minute drive from Victoria Station slowly turned int the o twenty minutes and neighborhood went from quaint to sketchy. The hotel was called Zam Zam.

Hotel Zam Zam was located smack dab in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. If I was from any other country besides the United States and if the world viewed the United States any differently, I might not have cared, but United States was marching on Baghdad, and Peace Corps HQ was suggesting we tell folks we were Canadian.

The night before we left Nepal, a guy approached me on street in Biratnagar and asked me in Nepali if I was Australian. When I told him I was from the United States, he shouted, I fuck them you! I fuck them you!

Was my Nepali that bad that he chose to curse at me in broken English for the sake of clarity and not Nepali? Jerk.

And so we were all a little tense. We were tired and at the mercy of the taxi drivers. As we entered the lobby we met the clerk, who was a nice Muslim man.

Behind him there was a poser of Mecca and on the desk there was a collection jar with a sign on it, asking, Help stop US aggression in Iraq.

The clerk curtly asked, May I have your passports?

Once we got to our rooms and our doors were barricaded, the night passed uneventfully, though somebody pounded on my door at about 3:00 a.m. I got up and listened. Someone belched and then stumbled down the hallway. I went back to sleep.

We had to leave the hotel at 4:30 a.m. to catch our early train to Gorakhpur. Our stay at Hotel Zam Zam had been interesting and nonfatal. We were cultural ambassadors. After paying for the room, I was sure to drop a coin into the clerk’s jar. He didn’t smile.

We had some puri sabji before boarding our train on Thursday, April 10, 2003. For the last leg to Gorakhpur we’d gotten Second Class AC, which meant we were riding in style.

Instead of sticky vinyl beds, we’d be given sheets, pillows, and of course, AC. What I can say about Second Class AC is that it is boring.

Really boring. No transvestites. No Bihari vagabond minstrel children. No white-haired woman pointing plastic firearms in Laurel’s face. Just a lone tea vendor came by the entire trip.

This gave us time to think and in doing so we decided that it was stupid to spend a night in Gorakhpur when we could spend that night in Benares instead. Benares wasn’t far from Gorakhpur so it wouldn’t be a problem.

When we rolled up into Benares on Friday, April 11, 2003 (day 15), we grabbed our bags and departed.

Benares

I called it Benares, not Varanasi. Two names, one place. It’s just like Mumbai vs. Mumbai. If I say to someone in Birganj, I went to Varanasi, they look at me waiting for me to say something intelligible.

Andrew purchases a samosa and Kara is frightened

Traveling by India Rail brings randomness and oddity.

But if I say, I went to Benares, everything is understood. It’s the way I speak so it’s the way I write.

As we stepped out of our coupe and into the Benares train station we were assailed by an assortment of rickshaw, tempo, and taxi drivers. We hadn’t even left the platform yet.

I tried to press through the crowd, though they pushed back. Laurel lost her mind again and yelled, Chhaindayna! For more Laurel speaking the wrong language in the wrong country, see part 2.

Perhaps 15 people stuck to us as we exited the station, yelling this and that about their hotel, their tempo, their hotel, their helicopter, et cetera.

When we got outside I had around seven or eight people so close around me that I could have put my arms around all of them. They were shouting information about mythical hotels and false prices when I lost it.

You’re all lying to me! I shouted and then began walking in a circle, which I thought might confuse them, but it didn’t. So I walked around in a circle with taxi drivers, rickshaw wallahs, and my friends walking in a circle, too.

Laurel finally noticed, asking loudly across the crowd, What are you doing, Scott?

In the end we decided to go with the guy who told us he had a helicopter. It seemed like the rational thing to do. Show up in a train station in a second-world country and someone offers to ferry you from the station to your hotel of choice by helicopter, you take them up on it. When we asked him where it was he said nothing, only pointing to the sky.

Surprise, surprise, he didn’t have a helicopter. He did have a brother-in-law, though, who was more than happy to drive us to Hotel Surya, the random hotel we’d picked out of the Lonely Planet book.

I was still a little wired from bum-rush at the train station, so every five minutes I’d prompt the tempo driver, Where are you taking? Are you lying to me? I know you’re lying to me. You’re all lying to me!

Well, he wasn’t. He took us to the hotel and turned out to be a nice enough guy. Hotel Surya was a nice change from the huts in Goa and the dive in Mumbai. The rooms faced a large, open English garden that was vibrantly alive.

The hotel’s restaurant was open-air and located adjacent to the garden, which was quite nice.

We spent the night relaxing at the hotel. The next day, Saturday, April 12, 2003 (day 16), was long. We got up at 4:45 a.m. and rushed over to the ghats, holy places where Hindus are cremated next to the Ganges River.

So we sat there, drinking tea and groggily wondering if we were better people for watching the sunrise over the Ganges River in Benares. We concluded we were not.

Moments later as we were walking along the ghats young guy about my age began talking with Andrew. He was peddling postcards, necklaces, but nothing interesting.

Well, that is until he pointed at two young boys sitting nearby on the steps of the ghats.

Postcard? Necklace? Sex with small boy? It wasn’t even six o’clock.

Benares is a place of contradictions. It’s one of Hindu’s holiest places, yet it is covered in manure. Bathing in the Ganges is believed to purify one’s body, yet the water is so polluted there’s no diluted oxygen in it, which means it is technically septic water.

Stuck between the ghats are yoga studios and meditation schools that advertise in English, Now offering yoga, meditation, happiness, and enlightenment.

Trains somewhere, going somewhere

Somewhere, two India Rail trains invoke a sense of history.

We hung out at the ghats until it got hot. Our train didn’t depart Benares until midnight, so we had all day to kill. For several hours at Hotel Surya, we avoided the heat by watching TV in our rooms or by having a coke at the restaurant.

Andrew, Tony, and I got shaves at the hotel and the girls got facials. I opted for a massage myself and got a lot more than I expected. It’s a long story.

While at the hotel, we got an email from Dave, who had gone to Delhi to pick up a laptop that a friend had brought from the United States for him. We had all felt bad when we left him alone at the train station in Margoa.

His time in India hadn’t been easy and an acute paranoia had sat in after his glasses were stolen, which was probably being exacerbated by his solo trip to Delhi.

Here’s how he was doing:

Yeah man, I ahte [sic] India.

I arrived into New Delhi and got my computer. So all good, but then I try and get tickets out of this &%!*@$ place and all hell breaks lose. Oh man, I am $&*@#!!. I can’t get out of this $&*@#!! country till the 13th or 14th [of April]. I don’t know man. Train, air, all booked cuz now there’s a college break, or spring break, or some $&*@#!! like that. I got scammed at some travel agent who tried to sell me bogus tickets, took my American cash and wouldn’t return that $&*@#!!. I thought they were going to try and slit my throat and kill me.

I ahte [sic] it here. They gave me a maaza and I thought they spiked that $&*@#!! with drugs so I couldn’t drink that $&*@#!!. So now that I got this unexpected delay of four days I think I may go to Agra. Anyone in? Man, by the time you $&*@#!! read this $&*@#!! you will be in good ol’ Nepal, where the peeps are friendly, the tea isn’t tea, and there ain’t that many Indian people that SUCK!

—dave

When Dave arrived in Agra, he was welcomed by a huge banner outside the train station that read Hate America. Love Islam.

He left Agra that day. He ended up getting to Kathmandu for a Peace Corps meeting on time with nothing else of his stolen. He was back in Nepal, where the peeps were friendly and the tea wasn’t tea.

Vacation had come to an end for everyone, though some of thought a little differently about India. As we approached the India-Nepal border at Sunauli bright and early on Sunday, April 13, 2003 (day 17).

Andrew put in a cassette of music from the Bollywood movie Kushi, which he’d bought in Mumbai. We caught a second wind and with Sunauli in sight began singing along:

Oh, ohhh, oh, ohhh, OH! Good morning India!
Oh, ohhh, oh, ohhh, OH! See you tomorrow India!