Back into the Fire

After an amazing time in Nepal, we headed back to India to meet my friend Debanjan, who we’d made plans to spend a few days touring Delhi with. Our return journey was somewhat more eventful than the initial trip to Pokhara. (Note, all these events happened in India. The Nepalese portion of the journey flew by without a hitch).

First, our bus from the border to Gorakhpur was invaded by a large group of students, and many people were kicked off to make room. Luckily, we were sitting at the front and had already paid up front, so we managed to escape this fate. Then, the bus managed to get itself stuck in a rut/canal along the side of a street, only 20 minutes from our destination.

Extracting it took several iterations. First, the driver tried just driving back and forth, succeeding only in getting more stuck. Then, men started getting out of the bus and pushing on the front and back, trying to rock it loose. As time went on, more and more men got off to do this, until we were all outside, doing our useless best to push a bus out of a ditch. Every effort also worsened the slippage, and the bus was getting quite tilted towards the building to its left. At this point, all the women got off the bus as well. A pickup truck was flagged down and tried to push the bus out, succeeding only in spinning its wheels and burning a lot of rubber. Finally, they managed to convince a huge cargo truck (Indian equivalent to a semi) to give it a shot. This was a several step process.

First, a cushion (read entire seat) was removed from the bus and placed as a buffer between the two vehicles. The truck backed up, managing not to crush the man holding the cushion. The truck pushed. The rear lights on the bus shattered and the cushion sort of deflated and poofed out a lot of dust. The man indicated to the truck to continue. The truck pushed. The bus moved! The passengers cheered! The truck pushed. The bus kept moving. A concrete window awning on the nearby building came in contact and blew out all the windows on the back of the bus. The truck stopped pushing. The man indicated to the truck to continue! The truck pushed. The bus moved, ripping the awning right off the wall and dropping it into the ditch. Everyone ran to jump on the bus as it slowly drove down the street, brushing glass off their seats. No one made any attempt to do anything about the property damage that was just caused.

After that little escapade, we spent a few uneventful hours at the station before boarding our overnight train back to Delhi. Naturally, our seats were already filled, and matters weren’t helped by the fact that each bay of seats seemed to have two mutually exclusive sets of numbers. Well, we managed to nudge them out of the way, and squoze ourselves in, our backpacks having to be stuffed next to us, as the luggage space was also all already filled. The people who had been in our seats? They just moved to the other side of the isle, where there were Indians and not foreigners, so it was ok. By the time the ticket inspector came by about an hour into the journey, we had 12 people sitting in space reserved for 6. Amazingly, everyone seemed to have a valid ticket! We learned later that you can pretty much sit wherever you want as long as people don’t complain and you move before the seats are folded down into beds. So Alina and I (who had the bottom bunks and thus would have to displace people) spent the first 5 hours of the ride constantly looking at our watches, wondering when or if these people would leave, and when it might be appropriate to ask to put our beds down for the night. I was convinced we were going to be jammed in like that for the full 13 hours, and my sore butt was just not up for it. Luckily, around 10 pm, we must have reached some mecca, and the train cleared out pretty well. After that, we quickly deployed our beds before anyone else could sit down, and passed the rest of the night in relative peace before arriving to face Delhi a second time.

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