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Proponents of colonic irrigation say it leaves you with the energy of a teenager. However, after my two-day battle with a less intrusive but undoubtedly more unpleasant “natural” cleansing I had all the energy of a kitten. This particular unpleasantness was due to a strain of bacterial diarrhoea, which, rather disturbingly, meant I ingested part of someone’s stool. Thankfully, it responded positively to a prompt course of antibiotics and soon I was able leave the immediate vicinity of our bathroom. None-the-less, the following day, when we boarded the 9-hour bus to the Indian border my normal bus anxiety was aggravated by a lack potty confidence.

Luckily all prescription drugs are available over the counter in Nepal and I had had the foresight not only to stock up our depleted first aid kit but also to buy Valium. Five milligrams later, my composure, personality and sphincter integrity were all intact leaving the military roadblocks and security checks as the only ugliness.

Despite both bus driver and passengers protesting that they were going on to the Indian side of the border we insisted on spending the night in Nepal. We had fallen in love with the laid back friendliness of the Nepalese and knowing what awaited us on the other side of the border we delayed the inevitable.

The next morning, in the sweltering heat, we walked across the border and were immediately struck by the phenomenal sense of misery. Scowling border guards offered us no friendly “Namaste”, lecherous men leered, greedily eying up our possessions and no one smiled – not at us, not at themselves, not at anyone. Perversely it felt great to be back and we walked confidently past the half hearted jeep hawkers to the waiting bus.

The bus would not leave until it was full and no one would board until it was about to leave, an obvious paradox that resulted in a bizarre game of bluff and double bluff. The bus would announce its departure with several blasts of its horn, revving its engine and inching forward. Passengers would leap aboard eager to be on their way only to be disappointed by the bus settling back to its original position. It was an uncertain game the bus driver played, too long a between feints and passengers would disembark, too many feints and his bluff would be called. Unfamiliar with the rules we stayed on board, retaining our seat advantage but losing seemingly valuable kudos.

Predictably our departure was announced with a barrage of horn blasts that would make a heavyset long haul trucker envious. The horn, a vital part of Indian driving, seems to have three purposes. It is used when overtaking, as it is rare for drivers to use, or even have rear view mirrors. It signals the driver’s importance – the louder the horn the more important. Finally the rhythm of the latest Hindi pop sensation can be tapped out. Our bus’s normal horn had been replaced, either due to overuse or driver ego, with something that sounded like it belonged on a ship or nuclear power plant. It was activated by a primitive switching mechanism – the dashboard being one contact and a metal spatula roughly attached to it the other – rarely were the two disconnected.

Inefficiency is something that India excels at and sitting down to our first meal in a small dingy restaurant opposite Gorakhpur train station was no exception. Like a fine French restaurant there were several serving staff to wait on our table, unfortunately the simile ended there. The six waiting staff did the job of one, badly. We amused ourselves observing their procession from kitchen to table: one carrying a coke bottle, one the bottle opener, one the glass, another opened and poured and presumably the other two acted as quality control. Amazingly we left full, having pretty much eaten what we had ordered.

Sixteen hours of air-conditioned sleeper train later we arrived refreshed in Delhi. Wringing sleep out of our eyes we walked straight past the hawkers into the melee of auto-rickshaws baying for our business.

“East of Kailash, how much to East of Kailash” I shouted into the group.

“Yes sir, get in sir, East of Kailash no problem” came the manifold reply

“No, how much”

“200 rupees, is very far”. Darwinian selection was happening right in front of our eyes and we were now down to the most forceful driver – or the one with the best English.

“100 rupees” I countered.

“150 rupees, get in sir”

“No you don’t understand, I will pay 100 rupees – that is all” and I signalled so as to dismiss him.

“100 rupees, no problem sir, get in” and we were on our way.

When you know what you are doing, India can be a pleasure. No standing in line for thirty minutes waiting for a cab, no worries about the fare going over the twenty you have in your pocket and no listening to endless whinging about how the government ripped them off. The average wage in India is $2,000 dollars a year, however this in no way reflects the $600 a typical family survives on and a rickshaw walla is always happy just to have your business.

Pictures - click to enlarge
Picture of Barbara on an Indian train Delhi India Travelogues
Picture of Barbara on an Indian train Delhi India Travelogues
Posh class - 2-Tier A/C The only way to travel