|Oh God, now I have another 24 hour bus from Hades to describe and how I managed to come out of it with a gashed nose and two black eyes - and I haven't finished the last one yet. Now before I get round to it could someone explain why I left the comfort of the mountains to spend time in the furnace that is Varanasi because I'm at a loss to understand my thinking.
I'm going to make this one brief, I'm written enough about long painful bus trips. In general this one has to have been one of the better ones. I booked the bus over a day in advance and got my pick of seats. In Nepal they have a good system for booking seats, they have a book of plans of the buses, 1 plan per departure and when you book your seat they cross out that seat therefore everyone has a set and no bus is overbooked, in theory. When I got on someone had claimed my seat by putting a bag on it, there was a matching bag next to it so obviously someone got there too late to get a pair of seats. I removed the bag from my seat and sat down in it, I'd chosen A5 from every seat on the bus and I was sitting in A5, I've had enough of bad seats lately. I had the bus conductor then his boss and a few random people telling me to change seat but I politely refused, I had a ticket with my name and that seat number on it but most importantly I had my arse on the seat and possession is nine point nine, nine tenths of the law. Eventually they gave up on me and arranged everyone else - great system. There were three other foreigners (more froggies I think) on the bus and they should have followed my rules as by the time they complained that they didn't have the seats they had booked they were stuck in cramped seats at the back with a television behind them pushing the seat forward and it was too late to get anything done.
We nearly left on time and then spent the next two hours stuck on the ringroad in the daily snarl up but also managed to waste some more time picking up other passengers and freight. It was pitch dark by the time we crossed out of the Kathmandu valley and started hurling down the other side, I'm not sure whether I find it less frightening when I can't see the drops off and the oncoming traffic or more frightening knowing that the driver can't either. Halfway down we stopped, I think it was to let the brakes cool down, I could smell burning and there sounded like there was a warning beep going in the cabin but I find it hard to believe that these buses would have a brake temperature sensor. It served as a good pee break for most of the bus and cigarette break for those of us of a nervous disposition. Once we were off the hill it was reasonably pleasant, my seating partner was friendly enough and never made any moves to use my shoulder as a pillow, his snoring was no worse than mine would have been if I could have slept. The road condition wasn't bad and I never banged any part of my body on the window. At midnight we stopped again, this time for supper, the meal break was nearly an hour long but when we moved away we only drove into the next town and then pulled over by the side of the road. I remember doing the same thing last time I did this trip, they pull over for everyone including the crew to sleep. I find this frustrating as they aim to hit the border at 6am but if the trip is only nine hours and not twelve I would have much rather left Kathmandu later when it was cooler and I'd had a nice meal. Of course I couldn't sleep and being back down towards sea level the temperature had risen dramatically and there was no breeze with the bus standing still. We left about 3am and I instantly fell asleep and then couldn't wake up, I couldn't stir myself for the breakfast stop and found it hard to move myself when we arrived at the Nepalese border town.
I believed one of the cycle rickshaw drivers that it was 3km to the border mainly because I couldn't be bothered to argue but soon found out that it actually was 3km, why didn't he say 7km like everywhere else in the sub-continent? He recommended a money changer on the way and it was giving the official rate from Nepalese to Indian rupees so I changed all the money I had easily to hand. Then I walked through both border posts with no problems, no hassle and no requests for bribes. After the Indian Immigration post I ignored the crocodiles as Uncle Aliment would have called them and walked to where I found 2 buses waiting, one for Delhi and one for Varanasi. The two guys hanging around outside them guided me onto the Varanasi one andtold me just to take my pack on with me. I asked the cost and he said Rs392 which I said was more than I expected but he pointed out that it is an eight hour trip, actually I'd be over the moon with eight hours it took Jason and myself fifteen hours a few years ago after we got stuck behind an accident on the only bridge for 100 miles either way a few years ago.
When I got on the bus there were three Koreans on it and the boys came on and started giving them a hard time. They had bought their tickets over the border in Nepal (which is always an ill advised thing to do as it's almost impossible to go back and complain) and the bus boys told them that they would have to pay again as they wouldn't see the money from Nepal. They started getting quite nasty and threatening to the Koreans and told them to get off the bus. I missed the next bit but after getting off they got back on and then faced demands for baggage charges and the whole scene started again. In the mean time I'd already paid them and got a ticket but one of them started telling me that I had to pay a baggage charge. I realsied at that point that they were dacoits as the Indians call them and gave him the 'don't try it on me' stare, his mate called him back, I think he sensed that I may be more trouble than the Koreans although I'm not sure I would have been as they looked like nasty pieces of work. Just as the bus was about to depart the genuine conductor and driver got on in their uniforms and my suspicions were confirmed. The dacoits got off and started to walk away, I called them back with the worst swear word I know in Hindi (it's not very nice) and proffered the worst insult I know how to give without losing my left boot - it landed nice and juicy at his feet. This was one occasion where I wouldn't have minded a bus full of Israelis fresh from the army.
I'm sure that it was the same bus I took with Jason, possibly the same seat which was certainly just as broken now as it was then. The bus rarely filled up but it was the local bus through every town and village between the border and Varanasi. It was comfortable enough and with all of the stops I managed to buy half a litre of pop in every other town so the heat never really got to me but it was tedious. I still couldn't stay awake properly and generally slouched across the double seat I had for most of the trip. Then at one point it filled and I had to give up half my seat, I must have dosed off sitting up and the driver must have hit the breaks hard as the first thing I knew was a loud cracking noise and then the pain as I woke up. I'd rammed forward and broke my fall with the bridge of my nose against the metal back of the seat in front. Everyone turned around to look at the blood dripping off my snout, oh how I wished I'd known the Hindi for "It's not bloody funny, right!". I managed to stop the bleeding and clean it up but I had a strange feeling in the corners of my eyes and guessed they were colouring up.
No more real adventures happened, the bus emptied out again and I got to slouch once more. It was still daylight when we arrived in Varanasi and a Rickshaw Wallah offered to take me to Yogi Lodge for Rs50 which is very reasonable. I warned him not to take me to the Old Yogi lodge or the New Yogi Lodge or the Ganga Yogi Lodge or the fake Yogi Lodge and he promised but I could sense us verging from the true route towards the end and knew he was taking me to the wrong one. At the fake YL he tried to convince me that it was the right one and they had done some alterations since I was there, like change the roads, rebuild the building and move it halfway across town. I paid him and then had to pay a cycle rickshaw wallah to get me back on course until I got my bearings again. To be honest I don't know why I bothered as the genuine YL wasn't a shadow of it's former self and is living on it's past reputation now.
Varanasi hasn't changed in the least, it's still probably the craziest heaving mass of humanity on the planet and the world centre of brightly coloured junk selling. Still incredibly cheap too, for everything except alcohol. I didn't do a lot, a couple of trips down to the main bathing ghats where I found a nice rooftop restaurant to sit in the shade and drink gallons of lime soda. I had a bit of an adventure when I set out to walk to the station to book my train out and got slightly lost, for a few pence I could have jumped into a rickshaw but decided to persevere and nearly dehydrated myself despite drinking almost 5 litres of water and pop during the walk. I got there in the end and was sure that I'd seen a big M in the sky a few blocks away when walking there but couldn't find it on the way back so had to settle for a South Indian Thali restaurant. The M was probably a heat induced hallucination.