This was not only our longest day of travel (~26 hours), but also contained a record number of transportation modes continuously strung together covering 609 kilometers of crazy drivers and buses playing chicken with each other. Starting with a motorcycle ride in Bardia, Nepal, then a local bus, another local bus, jumbo rickshaw, walking, local bus, another local bus, moto rickshaw, railway, and finally a real car taxi ride in Agra, India. To say this was a long day would be an understatement. All this travel was done at temperatures in the high 90s with no air-conditioning. Luckily, we met some really nice people who helped us along the way, and thankfully we had packed a ton of snacks and samosas!
Our first bus wins the prize for the dustiest ride we have ever had. The bus looked like it was a 100 years old, and as we drove over the dirt roads through the villages, the dust poured inside from every seat bolt, crack in the floor boards and all the open windows… it was amazing that this bus was actually running and that we still have functioning capillaries in our lungs.
We met Helper #1 a few clicks from the border in Nepalgunj when she recued us from a swarm of bicycle rickshaws. We squeezed into a jumbo rickshaw with her and 15-20 other people (two sitting out of the window and Robin on Kevin’s lap) and drove right past the immigration office (because the Nepalese and Indian residents in the jumbo rickshaw didn’t need to file any paperwork to cross the border)! After getting stopped by border patrol, we walked 1 km back through the waves of traffic to fill out our paperwork (which btw is all done by hand in a big scrap book that had to be multiple years old). Apparently this border crossing only sees about 2-3 foreigners per day, so they aren’t really optimizing for us. Never the less we eventually walked into India.
Our goal for the day was to get to Lucknow, India. We eventually met Helper #2, a nice English speaking man waiting on a bus to Jaipur in hopes that the driver would drop him off in Lucknow along the way to Jaipur. While waiting for the bus to fill up, our new friend helped us exchange our Nepali rupees into Indian rupees with some sketchy street money changers (you should have seen the crowd of red toothed people that all gathered around to watch our transaction intently). Here was Kevin’s attempt at sneaking a photo:
Unfortunately, the bus wouldn’t take us to Lucknow and dropped us off a few hours later in Bahraich where Helper #2 ushered us onto a different bus that was completely packed full with people already standing. He yelled at a few people for a while until he created seats for us all. After a 3 hour journey, we arrived at about 10pm in Lucknow where we drove around in a moto rickshaw looking for a hotel that would accept foreigners but wasn’t beyond our means. By now, it was almost 11pm, and we were not too excited about what we saw in Lucknow so we ditched the idea of a hotel, and opted to press on to Agra and sleep on an overnight train.
At about 11:10pm we arrived at our first train station in India, just 30 minutes prior to the next train departing for Agra. About 14 million people ride the train each day in India and luckily for us, we met Helper #3 who took us under his wing. He took us to buy a general ticket, guided us over the masses of people sleeping on the floor, and escorted us to the correct platform. We learned later that we had a standing only ticket in the ‘cattle car’ and unknowingly bribed the conductor into giving us a bed. The standard sleeper class on the Indian Rail looks like a jail cell at night; the beds are basic with chains suspending the middle of three bunks, there are no sheets, bars on the windows, and the whole thing smells like a bathroom because the train toilets drain directly to the tracks below.
We pulled into Agra at about 6am, jumped into one of those classic white Ambassador taxis, found a hotel, turned the aircon on high and with a big sigh of relief we concluded our 26 hours and 32 minutes journey with a nap in a real bed.