Siliguri to Urlabari 80km
Urlabari to Lahan 147km
I wasn't in too much of a hurry to get going this morning, realizing that the border was only 35km away, and border officials are not always the earliest to get to work. Even so, I was a little excited, and had Fiona and all my bags at the bottom of the steps, three floors, by 6.15am, which in the scheme of things in Asia, is not early. But we were locked in....... Quietly, I tried to get into the reception area, past the three young staff members sleeping on a platform, but that door was locked too. I gently tried to rouse the closest, to get him to open up......but he wouldn't budge. My shaking got louder, I knocked on the door. None of them woke. My banging got noisier, and my voice louder. One of them rolled away from the noise. I turned the lights on, and by now was getting grumpy, shouted..... The youngest, about 10, slowly opened his eyes, looking confused. He eventually got the message. I wanted out. In typical Indian fashion, slowly, he climbed over the other two, fished around for a key, and opened the door. I followed with Fiona. He fished around for another key, and couldn't find it, and finally found
one, but for a side door. Fiona and I had to go back through their bedroom. The other two hadn't budged. Finally, I am out of the hotel. It's taken almost 30 mins to get through one locked door. I hate to think what would happen in an emergency.
My "damn I dislike Indians" thoughts slowly left me, as Fiona and I navigated through the morning traffic and goings on. No they're not so bad, in fact they're pretty cool, it's just that some stuff really frustrates the hell out of me. In fact, they're great. I got to the final turn off in India, which was pretty confusing, a small rutted road, through a market, and hundreds of cycle rickshaws, and as soon as I stopped to check my map, half a dozen locals were at my side, to give me advice.
The border was soooo easy. As a foreigner I needed to go via the customs office to get my passport stamped, which took less than five minutes, me being the only customer. All the locals have no formalities, so I was very quickly cycling across another friendship bridge with heaps of rickshaws and pedestrians, and only a couple of vehicles.
The Nepal side was just as easy and quick. Passport scan and stamping, its 9am and I'm in
Nepal. Wow. My immediate impression was, wow this is so very much like India. The people look the same. The buildings look the same. But there are definite differences. Everything is cleaner. There are far fewer loud blasting horns. It's not nearly as congested and busy. The whole atmosphere feels less frantic, more relaxed. Is it just me? Am I just relieved to finally be here, a final destination for this part of the adventure? No its definitely a different atmosphere. Once again, I'm amazed at the difference an arbitrarily drawn line on a map, can make, to what you experience. Nepal is definitely "softer", "more gentle" on the senses.
I'm ready for second breakfast. I find a likely looking place, and park up Fiona. A few locals appear, but not nearly as many as in India, and a lot more subtly. Most can speak English, and I'm answering the normal questions. I munch through a yummy bread roll, and a sprite, and get up to leave. "Please Sir. Wait just one more minute". A lady appears. She wraps a silk scarf around my neck, paints red powder on my forehead, and gives me a small bunch of flowers. "Welcome to Nepal". I've got tears in my eyes. "Please let me introduce you to....." I am introduced to a lovely young lady. Turns out she is the captain of the Nepali Women's Cricket team. She is very keen to make contact
with other women's cricket players. (If anyone has some contacts, let me know.)
I'm on the road. I'm in no hurry. It feels great to be here. I cycle up to a very colourful group of tents,
with lots of women in colourful saris. Photo op. I'm scooped up by a fella.....Please come with me sir. Am I in trouble? Nope. He introduces me to the organiser of a seven day festival to open this brand new outdoor temple. I'm sat down, given tea, and food, introduced to dignitaries, given phone numbers and email addresses of people who will be willing to host me in Nepal, more food and water...... He even rings a famous Nepali adventure cyclists who he thinks I should meet near Kathmandu. I'm crying again.
Finally, I'm back on the road. I meet a English lady, with her Canadian cycling mate. We chat for quite sometime, sharing information. They've overstayed their visa, and are a little worried about consequeces. Hey, this is Nepal. I can guarentee the consequeces will not be as traumatic as the same offence in USA. Really helpful info is passed on, and a special bond formed between like minded travellers.
There just does not seem to be any urgency to go
far, but I'm pretty quickly 45km past the border, and there are big black clouds building up in the west. I find a hotel.....it's even got wifi (intermittent) .... and a restaurant. I get to talk to Ju. And there is a huge lightning and thunder storm happening outside. Could the day get any better? I go to check that Fiona is okay, and lock her up. Oh goodness. Shes not where I left her. No worries Sir, says the Security Guard. I shifted her into this room, out of the rain. I love Nepal.
I'm not in any hurry the next morning. I've got 500km to get to Kathmandu, and Ju isn't arriving until 20th, three weeks away. I meander along the road. Within 20km I'm dragged off the road twice for tea and welcomes. It's pretty nice. You stop to take photos, and are not mobbed. Then, in the distance, I see a cycle tourist, going the same way as me. It's Fin, from Australia. I'd meet him in Myanmar, where we were both recovering from illnesses. We've been cycling within a day or two of each other ever since. The cyclists yesterday had told him I was on the road, but he had past me sometime this morning.
We spend the rest of the day cycling together, exchanging stories. It great. Before we knew it, we had cycled 130km, but the next hotel is 20km
away. The sun is setting, so we get a move on, looking for a campsite, or hotel. Just as it gets dark, we find one, with several obvios eating places just over tge road. Couldn't be better timing. I love Nepal.
Today I've been away from home 310 days, and topped 19,000km.