Impressions of India
Gorakhpur Travel Blog› entry 12 of 17 › view all entries
As soon as I cross the border, I feel the energy change. India feels rougher, dirtier, stranger than Nepal. And more exciting. I've really grown to love Nepal over the last few weeks, but as I walk back into India I am reminded yet again why I fell in love with this country so hard in the first place. This is a land where anything can happen.
By the time I reach the Indian immigration checkpoint, I am bouncing on my toes in excitement and grinning from ear to ear. The official at the desk (in a bizarre sort of falling down pillared gateway at the side of the road) stares at me, slightly bemused.
"I'm just happy to be back" I tell him.
He stamps my passport, then tucks jasmine flowers in my hair and beams at me.
"Welcome back" he says.
I love India. I LOVE INDIA!
Once I've finally got some money, I ride the roof of the bus down to Gorakhpur. The Indians aren't as leniant about this as the Nepalis, and I'm ordered to get down. I take a lesson from Alison and try the 'sweet and girly' tactic.
"Oh no, don't worry, I'm fine up here. It's so nice to see the view."
Nope, no go. It's not fair. If Alison was here they'd probably be asking to marry her by now, but with me they just scowl and insist I get down. Why do I not have a face like a doll. Why??? I try another tack.
"It's so hot down there," I tell them, trying to strike exactly the right balance between 'sweet and girly' and 'intensely suffering'. "I feel very ill. I'm worried if I sit down there I may throw up." In case they fail to get the message, I mime a bout of violent vomiting. That does the trick. They leave me alone.
In Gorakhpur, I find out I have to wait until the next night to get a train to Haridwar, so I check into the cheapest hotel I can find and wait. I spend most of the two days sitting in an outside dhaba opposite the station, ordering cold drinks and people-watching. Gorakhpur, as far as I can tell, is an absolute shit hole. It is swelteringly hot, and stinking piles of rubbish are heaped along the road, with cows sniffing round them in search of food. Scores of Indian families are camped out on the pavement outside the station waiting for trains, some sleeping under the boiling sun while swarms of flies buzz around them. But there is always something to watch. A fight between two rickshaw drivers that fizzles out as suddenly as it starts. Station attendants chasing away giggling street kids from harrassing the tourists and richer families. The guy in my dhaba wrapping up samosas and chucking them into woks of boiling oil faster than I could put a plate in the microwave.
I can't explain what it is about India, but I love every inch of this dirty, smelly, crazy country. There is more poverty and suffering than I've ever seen in the west and that can be heart-breaking to see, but still the whole place seems to pulse with vitality. Life is rawer here, more real. And beauty seems even more intense when set against the filth around me. The delicate, richly coloured saris of the women, the smells of curries simmering in charred pots in the dhaba, the friendliness of the owner who seems genuinely delighted to have me here, despite me spending hardly any money - I take in everything and remember seeing it for the first time, the impression it made on me then and still does now.
I don't care about the heat or the flies or the long wait. I feel like I've come home.