To the Birthplace of Buddha

Lumbini (Nepal), 12.07.2013

We reached Nepal today, after two days instead of just one, due to the terrible slowness on the roads of India. Yesterday morning we left Agra at 09:20 and began with a good dose of Indian city traffic. It didn’t get a lot better during the following hours on the road. The same ordeal of driving in India we have already seen so often now. It was a day lost, through flat and unexciting land. We drove without interruptions, just the occasional gas stop. No food on the road, we ate from our reserves in the car. Heat and humidity outside were brutal.

The highlight of the day was the crossing of the Ganges river, a big brown stream of water under a bridge. At 18:00 we were just in Lucknow, little more then half the way we wanted to do. Since we would have been in the middle of nowhere when it would get dark, we decided to stay in this city and find a hotel. Our pick was fully booked, but they recommended another place, that took us over an hour to find. From the outside this hotel seemed a relief, very classy and upscale. After a day on the road in this absurd place this would have been the right cure for the evening. But the moment we entered the lobby we realized something was wrong. It smelled, and the “upgrade” to a room in the basement seemed strange. And indeed, the room was completely humid and smelled even more. This place’s glorious days were long over. In the restaurant it was so freezing cold we had to put sweaters on.

This morning we woke up at 05:00 and at 06:00 we were on the road. What a peace, nobody around. In 20 mins we were on an empty highway, and for three hours we drove fast and tranquil. Around 09:00 everybody seemed to have woken up and the usual horror on the road started again. But we had already 250km behind us. The next couple of hours we made our way first through a highway, then a countryside road. The road was fine, the Indians on it were the real problem. In no other country have we seen a toll of lawlessness on the roads as high as in India. Smashed cars, trucks fallen over the dams of the roads, dead animals of all types (dogs, donkeys, cows, horses) in all stages of decomposition litter the roads and surroundings here. We also found toll stations to be quite unusual, the staff is in civilian clothes and we first thought this was a private enterprise to extort money. Also, where in Europe one machine handles the distribution of tickets or collection of money, here in India 2-3 people per gate do the job. One cashier, one man passing the money bills from car to toll booth, and the occasional other man standing around or opening a manually operated gate. We managed to pay in a minute or so, but all other cars took much more time for this process. We couldn’t quite figure out why. Driving on, we noticed that the land was pretty much all under water. Fields, houses, temples – submerged. Beautiful to look at from the comfortable seats of our air conditioned car, but probably a pain for the peasants who stood in it knee deep.

By 13:00 we had reached the border. A long line of trucks stood waiting, we sneaked through until a guy in a yellow shirt stopped us, telling us to go to immigration. We did so, and also managed to get our carnet stamped at customs. These customs guys seemed to love our company and didn’t want us to leave. “Who is that guy in the yellow shirt with you?” “He is not with us, I thought he works for you.” “No, we don’t know him.” It was clear some surprise from the man that hd stopped us would wait at the end. Bakshish? Currency exchange? Tuktuk? Currency it was. We got into the car and just left, driving the few meters into Nepal. A policeman waved us through, but another guy in a black shirt came running for us knocking on the window. More currency exchange? We started to get irritated. We drove back, went into the customs office after getting rid of the bugger. I handed over the carnet and my papers. “Where is the stamp from immigration, the visa?” “No idea, do we need to get a visa?” “Yes, across the street.” So we did, and 50 USD, 20 minutes, 2 passport pictures and several smiles later we had our visas. While Helena went back to safeguard the car, that was already surrounded by people a bit too curious for our tastes, I went back to the customs guy. “You need photocopy of passport, visa, driving license. In the green building over there.” I went into the green building and got my photocopies, sweating. “Is this car yours? I can’t find your name on the carnet.” I went to the car and got the power of attorney out that allowed me to drive the car. Staring at the document in Spanish he said “I need photocopy of this.” I went back to the copy shop and got him his copy of 13 pages of Spanish powers of attorney that he will never read nor understand. He filled the carnet, I put my data in a big filthy register book. “Go with this man and get stamp.” I followed another guy across the backyard into an empty office. Then up the stairs into another office. Then down the stairs, across the dusty courtyard to another pavilion. He couldn’t find the officer that needed to sign and sent me back to the main building to wait. So I did, for half an hour. My shirt was wet, and cheap Bollywood telenovelas on the TV in the customs office (!!) didn’t help. He finally came back, without signature. 10 seconds of discussion with the initial customs guy, and the “chief of the main building” signed it. He had been sitting there, doing nothing, since I walked into this place for the first time 1,5h ago.

We made it, into Nepal! The moment we entered the country we felt something had changed. The more we drove on we understood what precisely. The litter all over the place had disappeared. Nobody rang the horn of his car. Drivers of all types vehicles looked around before moving and used their rear mirrors. It feels relaxed, peaceful, calm over here. We enjoyed the hour’s drive over the fields, peasants working on their land, buffaloes bathing in water, kids driving on bikes. How laid back, no rush, no fighting on the street, no aggressiveness and chaos and suicide attempts in front of our car. At 16:30 we drove onto the parking lot of our hotel.

In the last hours of sunshine we visited the garden complex around the birthplace of Buddha. The site itself is quite simple, a square white building with just a golden roof on it, the Maya Devi Temple. It covers the ruins around the stone at the site where Buddha was born. In front of it the Ashoka column stands. We got a sensation of simplicity and understatement. This being a very holy site, many other religions would probably have built massive temples around it. The whole complex strikes by the silence and peacefulness in and around the buildings and the lush green of the park and waterways. We went to see some temples, several Buddhist countries have buildings here.

Back at the hotel, the usual cold shower before dinner cooled us down and washed the sweat away. Walking back to the room after dinner I almost stepped on – a small black snake! I called the guys from the restaurant, and they came with a mop and a torch. The snake was trying to escape down the corridor. One of the guys went to get something to kill it. “What type of snake is it?” “Black cobra.” “This little snake? Is it dangerous?” His face lost its smile. “Yeees, very dangerous.” “OK, I wait until you guys have handled it…” The other guy came back with a wooden baton, they pulled the snake outside and smashed its head. Game over. We had driven over a similar small black snake today at the fields around Lumbini. We thought about the many people in the fields, covered in water, and wondered how many would encounter these snakes every day.

Trip data for the day 11.07.2013

– Km driven: 502

– Hrs on the road: 10h

– Diesel l/100km: 10,2

Trip data for the day 12.07.2013

– Km driven: 468

– Hrs on the road: 9,5h

– Diesel l/100km: 11,0 (55-56 Indian Rupees per 1l diesel, €0,71)












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