Broke and homeless on the Nepali border
Sunauli Travel Blog› entry 11 of 17 › view all entries
I reluctantly drag myself awake at 7am. My bag is packed and ready to go, but I'm not sure if I am. I give Charlie a long, tearful hug, while he mumbles a long, sleep-blurred string of endearments, advice and promises to meet again. I take a last couple of photos of our rooftop and the jumbled roofs of Kathmandu. Then I leave.
Kishan comes with me to the bus stop, doing all my haggling for me. It's amazing what a difference it makes to have a Nepali with you. We have one last chiya and joint together, then I have to leave him too. Even though I know it never would have worked between us, it's still hard saying goodbye. I sit up on the roof of the bus and find myself swallowing back tears. I never would have dreamt in those early days of 'Thamel-syndrome' that I'd cry to leave this place, but I do. I put Pink Floyd on my ipod, ignore everyone who tries to talk to me, and repeat to myself the same little mantra -
"It will get better in the end. If it is not better, then it is not the end."
To make it even harder, a lot of the bus journey follows the same route as the ride to Pokhara. Every familiar landmark we pass I think of Alison, and then of Charlie and Kishan and Marco, and all the other friends I may never see again. For all the euphoria, travelling can be a strange and lonely life at times.
The guy next to me on the roof is making increasingly desperate efforts to make friends with me, but I'm just not in the mood. Eventually I say to him - "I'm really sorry man, I don't want to be rude, but I've just had to leave some people who mean a lot to me, and at the moment I'd just like some time alone to think." Surely, SURELY, no-one would persist after that? But he does. I don't want to be rude... but I am. I tell him to fuck off. I know he means well, and I feel bad, but just once in a while I need people to respect my privacy.
At about 1, (possibly in response to the appaulingly bad karma I've just sent out), the bus stops in an enormous traffic jam and doesn't move again for the next 3 hours. It turns out that some local students, in protest at not getting a study book they want, have held a massive strike and blocked the road. It is annoying but I am impressed - I can't quite imagine any teenagers in England getting so upset about lack of study books that they block a road. Although, of course, there's always the possibility that 99% of them don't give a shit, but are happy for any excuse to cause havoc.
The result of the strike, at least as far as I'm concerned, (I have no idea if they got the book or not - I hope so), is that it's long past dark by the time we arrive at the Sunauli border. It's nice in that I get to lie on the roof of the bus with music in my ears and watch the stars appear above me, but not so nice in that the border is closed by the time we get there, and I have no Nepali rupees left. I was counting on crossing the border before it closes at 8 and withdrawing Indian rupees from an ATM. I am now broke and homeless in Sunauli. Damn.
I am sitting on my bag in the bus station, trying to consider my options, when a Nepali guy approaches me and asks what's the matter. I tell him and, in true Nepali style (bless them), he offers to help. At first he is determined to drive me to a hotel, and it takes me a good 10 minutes to get the point across that this is absolutely no good to me, as I don't have any money. When this fact finally registers, he insists on taking me to a daal bhaat shack and paying for my dinner while we consider what to do. Finally, he says I can go back to his house on his motorbike.
I think about it. I know I've always accepted invitations to peoples' houses in the past, but this is a bit different. At night, in the middle of nowhere, on a bike with a guy I only met 10 minutes ago (who, incidentally, keeps telling me he loves me)... it seems pretty high risk. On the other hand, what other options do I have?
Option 1 - sleep in bus park. Worst case scenario: get robbed, raped, or killed. Best case scenario: have an uneventful and very uncomfortable night.
Option 2 - go home with strange man. Worst case scenario: get robbed, raped, or killed. Best case scenario: have a comfortable night and an interesting experience.
I decide to go with option 2.
We drive back to a little concrete house on the outskirts of Sunauli, which seems to house about 15 people. They crowd round, understandably a little intrigued by the sudden appearance on their doorstep of a homeless, penniless, shoeless English hippie. The effort of answering the same questions over and over again for the next hour is pretty draining and I'm already exhausted but hey - I can hardly complain. Eventually they take me up to the roof, where they put down a mattress for me and erect a little mosquito-net tent over it. This, apparently, is not in any way an unusual place to sleep. Two other women of the family are sleeping here with me, in separate little tents, and as far as I can tell sleep like this all the time. In fact it's rather nice to lie here, with the night breeze touching my face, listening to the chirping of unseen insects in the fields and watching the stars through the gently fluttering veil of netting over me. Once I've got rid of the guy who drove me here, and convinced him that I do not want a goodnight kiss, I reflect that I've done pretty well for myself in the circumstances. Then I sleep.
I am woken at 6 in the morning. I am NOT NICE when woken at 6 in the morning. Completely forgetting where I am, I keep my eyes closed, tell whoever is shaking me to fuck off, roll over and go back to sleep. I am shaken again at about 7 and am about to repeat the same performance when I remember - I am an unexpected, unpaying guest in this house. Oops. I struggle out of bed, apologise profusely, and go downstairs.
In the cold light of day, the first thing they notice about me is that I am appaulingly dirty. In fact I am encrusted from head to toe with a visible layer of black grime. Slightly embarrassed, I explain to them that I've spent about 12 hours riding down a dusty road on the roof of the bus, but I don't think they understand or care. I am dragged to a hand pump outside the house in all my clothes and forceably washed. The whole family stands around and watches while I am covered with soap and scrubbed from head to toe. I try to tell them that I am, despite appearances, capable of washing myself, but every time I try to open my mouth another bucket of water is tipped over my head and I end up just spluttering, much to the amusement of my audience. So I shut up and go with the flow.
They give me more daal bhaat for breakfast, (hell will freeze over before Nepalis ever get tired of eating daal bhaat), ask the same questions yet again for another half hour, then I thank everyone, say goodbye, and the guy that picked me up drives me down to the border on the bike. I will never get over the kindness and hospitality of people in this area of the world. However poor, they are rich in ways that I'm afraid have been largely lost in the west. They have the biggest hearts and most trusting natures of any people I've ever met.
I say goodbye, and head off to get my passport stamped. I am still sad to leave Nepal, but the strange experience with the Sunauli family has cheered me up immeasurably, and I'm feeling pretty good again.
Besides, India is ahead of me.