Before leaving Nepal I changed all my Nepalese rupees for Indian rupees. The Nepalese rupee is a restricted currency and is completely worthless outside the country except at border crossings, like Sonauli on the Indian side of the border, where there is a thriving black market for anyone who has forgotten to change their money.
Crossing out of Nepal turned out to be a somewhat comical affair.
Immigration in Nepal was no problem – 15min. Would have been even less if it weren’t for the stupid American tourist playing dress-ups as a Buddhist monk arguing about his expired visa. The main stumbling block was the carnet for the bike. Nobody in the Customs office seemed quite sure what to do with it. It got passed around several times – each time being checked that the 24 identical, unused pages were still identical and unused. Then somebody decided that I needed to get a copy of my passport and visa from a shop 100m across the road. After waiting in a squabbling queue for 20min I returned to the Customs office with the vital (?) photocopy in my hand only to find that I needed to get one more signature. And guess what? He was on lunch. However, a very helpful and diligent (and, I suspect, about to be demoted) official took me 100m away over to the house where the grand poobah of Customs officials was having more than ‘lunch’. But who am I to criticise? After getting partially redressed he autographed my carnet and I was free to leave Nepal.
Surely things could only improve in India!
By comparison, border formalities in India were straightforward. Customs – no problems with the carnet. Just had to find the right book – 30min. Immigration – 15 minutes. Back out onto the streets, straight into the clutches of the “helpers” who were particularly keen to relieve me of any US or Australian dollars. After no doubt making a sizable donation to their Christmas party I just wanted to get on the bike and get moving again.
By now, it had been just over three hours since I had first arrived at the border. The suffocating heat, biting dust, choking diesel fumes, blaring horns and seething crowds were just getting too much and I had to get away.
But where to?
Up until this morning I had had no intention of ever coming to this corner of India and consequently was now “flying blind” as far as specific directions and distances were concerned.
I knew that Lucknow was the next big city but it didn’t even appear on the signs (it was over 350km away at that stage). The obvious choice was Gorukhpur which the signs said was only about 90km away – two hours if I was lucky. The Sonauli-Gorukhpur road is the busiest trade (read truck and bus) route between India and Nepal. Unfortunately, it is a very narrow, single-lane each way road. Not that anyone pays attention to that. It certainly was a baptism by fire for riding on Indian roads. Gorukhpur is a place that only Gorukhpuris could love. A large transport/market hub for the local area it appeared to have no redeeming features whatsoever.
Sadly this pattern was to repeat itself for the next 2-3 days, as I struggled to cover much more than 200-250km per day in the blistering 45 degree heat and up against the manic driving habits of the local truck and bus drivers. Cities like Sitapur and Moradabad came and went in a blur of heat haze, smog, traffic jams and broken down trucks. Averaging 50km/h was now a major achievement and 4-5 hours riding was the most I was prepared to tackle in one day. Along with numerous water stops to offset the blast of the scorching winds it made for a very long few days.