Friday, 18 June 2010

What's Your Price?

"Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" - Lord Acton

When on a journey into the unknown unexpected events present themselves on a frustratingly frequent basis. My road was to take me from Kathmandu to a town sitting somewhere in India and a unique paradise unknown to the rest of this vast sub-continent. A small farming project which promotes entirely self sufficient living and a lifestyle so free and beautiful it would be worth travelling monstrous distances to catch just a glimpse of it, the name of which I had hastily scribbled down on a crumpled napkin, being the extent of my directions. In my opinion it was quite optimistic to believe I could travel half way across India in a direction I didn't know, following just a name, and not get myself in to stupid situations. That lack of optimism was unquestionably justified. The heading I had chosen was to start out West, through the centre of Maoist controlled Nepal, maybe not the smartest choice considering they had decided to overthrow the government on the day I departed. Over 18,000 Maoist revolutionary soldiers descended on Kathmandu and I was to be found at the very centre of them. Finding a bus willing to make the long trip to the western borders was difficult enough, but the choices left to me were minimal, so I shouldered my pack once again and so begins the gruelling adventure.

The bus ride was scheduled to take fourteen hours, nothing I hadn't had to endure a hundred times over during my travels. However, this was something all together different. The residence of Kathmandu had also decided it was time to get the hell out of Dodge, the roads were jammed for mile upon mile. We covered maybe three miles in little over seven hours. Small makeshift food stalls and shops sprung up along the roadsides selling everything imaginable at outrageously inflated prices, talk about being kicked whilst your down. I was so tired by this early point I climbed to the roof of the bus, nestled myself among the various bags and boxes, and lay looking up at the infinitely bright stars twinkling high above in the black velvet sky.

Eventually movement came, bringing a rushed excitement as everyone piled back to their seats and settled themselves for an uncomfortable night ahead. I woke next morning after a heavily drug induced sleep, feeling groggy and bedraggled, to the sound of shouts and movement as the bus was being thoroughly searched by a group of well armed soldiers. Several people were physically dragged from the bus and into a small guard room sitting in the woods a hundred yards from the road, we didn't wait to find out the outcome of their hasty departure, but instead roared off again with full power and the engine screaming.

We finally arrived at the 'bus station' in a desolate part of remote Nepal twenty nine hours from departure. I happily flung myself from the bus and to my great annoyance found my bag had already been unloaded and was sitting comfortably on the back of a colourful rickshaw. I was unimpressed to say the least. I apparently infuriated the driver for swiftly removing it and went on my way to the sound-track of angry shouts. I walked for an hour in the blistering heat along a seemingly endless road, picturesque though it was. On finally stumbling to the Indian border (having missed Nepali Immigration) I sat myself in front of the official in charge of making my entry as easy as possible and confidently handed over my passport. Here we go.

The border post was as isolated as you can possible get, utterly uninhabited save for a family of cows grazing nearby. The official looks at my papers, then at me, again at the papers, and then smiles. First thing he says is this; "Go back to Nepali Immigration and get stamped out" so back I head and do all the necessaries. Head held high I return and expect the process complete, not so. After a long while he tells me I can't cross to India as there is a serious issue with my visa, he doesn't elaborate. So here I find myself in no-mans-land, unable to go forward nor to go back, right in the heart of nowhere. Three more police officals arrive and I'm taken to a room in the depths of the building, out of sight. The questions begin, good cop - bad cop scenario and a lot of general fear mongering. They tell me endlessly I'm in a bad situation, as if I didn't already grasp the concept! The price is finally given to me, cold and clear, $200 to pass and be on my way. I sat for a moment and considered my options, they stand and watch me, a gleam in their eye. Maybe not the smartest of choices but I give my answer as clear and cold as they gave it to me, "No". Needless to say they were unhappy with my decision and turned the heat up. Three hours they kept me, and all they received were glowing red faces and a ruffled hair-do. Without so much as a glance at me one of the officers take my passport, stamp it, and cast it whimsically into my lap. Uncertain of their next move I got the fuck out of there sharpish, grabbed my belongings and walked in the only direction I could, away and finally into India.

I was forced to spend the night in a village on the Indian side of the border, filthy Banbassa. I guess a bed is a bed but this bed happened to be the worst I have had the pleasure of lying my weary head upon. Already having spent thirty hours on the road it was however, still greatly appreciated, I found a cold beer, watched the golden sun set and sat on the terrace way into the night until the birds stopped singing their songs and the world was fast asleep.

My task for the morning was to find someone who knew in which direction I should set out to find the particular town I was headed. After much deliberation I clamber on yet another bus and rumble my way out of town. Several hours pass and the sinking feeling hits, I have been sent the wrong way on a direction unknown to me. Desperation drives me off the bus into a village with no name, I stand in the dust bewildered and lost with a crowd beginning to mass, ever growing as word of me passes through the streets. Overwhelmed I walk on and find myself in a sea of fields, scorched by the sun with the subtle scents of dry hay and grass wafting around me, children running through the sweeping meadows, splashing through streams and chasing animals until exhaustion sends them sprawling in the dirt, happy and content. The only option left to me is to hitch the rest of the way, hoping it will find me closer to my destination. Standing at the side of the road waiting patiently for a ride I see a car speeding toward me in a flurry of brown haze. To my immense luck its a police truck. They stop and ask to see my papers, here it comes, "you cannot hitch in India, you must come with us to the station, or... you can pay the fine". I laugh at the irony of the whole situation and cast a wodge of notes through the open window, what choice do I have, luck is clearly not on my side.

The next truck to stop holds an ancient old man with a heart of pure gold, he sets me in the wagon of his truck with the animals, gives me a mango and sets off. Nothing could sully the happiness I felt on that drive, absolute freedom without a care in the world. I lay back and watched this beautiful world roll past with this golden mango tasting sweeter in my mouth than even the best of Eden's apples ever could. The hours float by in a heavenly bliss, Kerouac has nothing on me!

Against all odds I arrive at my oasis in the hills with a thousand miles covered in just three days. The town sprawls, tumbles, turns and cascades over the bronzed hills, its lights twinkle in the purple dusk, mirroring the very stars in the sky.

1 comment: