India had been whispering to us for years. Traces of its influence were everywhere, flavoring everything we had seen in Asia. Travelers told stories of incredible sights, cheap living, and unlimited adventure. Others spoke of a darker side filled with food poisoning, sanity-testing beggars, filth, and frustration.
For a long time we didn’t feel ready for India, but it lingered at the back of our minds. Would we love it or hate it? What should we expect? We hadn’t a clue, but as 2012 came to a close we tightened our shoelaces, took a deep breath, and readied ourselves to take the plunge.
We were having new experiences from the first second we entered the country. We have walked, flown, motorcycled, and boated across international borders. We thought India deserved something different, something new, so we piled into a pedal-powered rickshaw, mentally slapped our driver’s ass, and set off. That’s a pretty mundane first admittedly but a few minute later we got a better one. Our driver, against my adamant protests, rode straight past immigration and right on into India.
I was fully expecting to see agitated men with AK-47’s running towards us at any second as we got out. Instead something stranger happened – nothing. The street was empty. I found the Indian immigration office. I use the word “office” generously here because it was really just three men sitting behind a folding table on the side of the street. Predictably, the different index fingers raised in unison, pointing me back to Nepal. I shot our rickshaw driver a dirty look, hoping his mistake might dawn on him but he continued to pick his nose and stare blankly at the ground.
I took Val’s passport and walked more or less back to where we had started. The Nepali immigration attendant seemed utterly unconcerned that was one person was handing him two passports and stamped them without missing a word of the cricket match on the radio.
Stamped and official we now needed to get three hours down the road. A beautiful new privately owned bus waited just a few meters away, but these have a nasty habit of turning down the wrong road to let local thugs rob everyone aboard. We opted for government bus which aside from the jagged basketball sized hole, that I can only guess was the result of grenade, and the sense that the roof might peel open like a can of sardines was actually pretty comfortable.
We arrived at a massive train station with no idea which platform, which compartment, or which seat we were supposed to be in. Our scheduled departure was only a few minutes away so this was a problem. I frantically searched for a printer while Val scoured the station for an enquiry desk. Instead she found a dead body. It had been there a few days and from the look of things wasn’t going anywhere fast. India is definitely the first place we had been that has featured dead bodies in random public spaces. We must have already been adjusting though because all I could say was, “well you can’t expect a dead guy to move too quickly.”
A few panicky moments and a two failed attempts to run full speed through a crowd later we were on a train bound for Varanasi, where ceremonial cremations take place on the banks of holy Ganges River. Only then did it occur to us that we probably should have thrown the abandoned dead guy up on the roof and brought him with us, but hey everybody makes a few mistakes on their first day right?