Into India

On Sunday we walked across the border into India. We took a taxi from Lumbini just 26 kilometers down to the little town, Sunauli, which is on the border of Nepal and India, and where you can get across from one country into the other relatively easily.

Sunauli was a typical Nepali experience of tourists, and people catering to the tourists. Places to exchange money, places to book bus tickets and plane tickets and any other tickets that you wanted. Places to buy fruit. Places to buy anything else you wanted to buy, or for them to try and sell you any of the things that you really didn’t need to be buying. Places for everything.

The border crossing into India
The border crossing into India

We let the taxi drivers who were surrounding us trying to get us to use them once we got to India shuffle us over to the Nepali immigration where we got our passports stamped, our exit visas, and we were officially allowed to leave the country. And then we walked across the border. Down the road swarmed with trucks waiting to get through to Nepal, past the guard who glanced at our visas, and under the arch way. And into India.

India. Crowded, bustling, India.
India. Crowded, bustling, India.

India. Just one step over the border, and the place was different. Everything felt different. More crowded. More people, more dogs, more things being sold. More pushing, more shoving. Less space. Less air. Foggier, even, it seemed. Everything that Nepal was, but so much more. Like someone had taken the things that make Nepal Nepal and pushed them to the extreme. Where we had seen poverty by the side of the road it was doubled. Quadrupled. Where there were buildings that were falling down, India’s were suddenly bigger and falling down even more. Amplified. Everything was amplified. With no space to breathe, to move, to do anything.

It was a short 50 meter walk down the main road until we got to the immigration office on the Indian side, and after a quick check and a stamp by them we were officially, legally, in the country. The next stop was the local bus. We hopped on and waited for it to fill up and then we were on our way to Gorakhpur, a (relatively) short 3 hour ride through farms and swamps and extremely crowded villages, to the train station that was able to take us to Delhi.

The train station at Gorakhpur.
The train station at Gorakhpur.

It was strange being in a new country that was so close to Nepal. There was so much about it that felt similar: the writing on the shops, the shops and what they were selling, the dogs and the goats and the cows in the middle of the street. But there was so much that was different, too. So very much.

There were cows, more cows, more packs of cows than before. And more people. So many more people. People crowded in and out of the stores. Stores piled on top of each other, competing for attention in such a small space. People spilling out onto the streets and sitting by the road.  And in the rural areas, the big buildings that were built so long ago and are now crumbling to pieces. An ancient feel to the entire place. Where in Nepal there was so much construction and so much movement forward, the places that we passed felt the opposite. Like all of their movement forward had been done already, that the things had been built and then left there. Left there and started to crumble away.

Old station, old trains.
Old station, old trains.

And little things, too. Words that sounded familiar, but different, too. Where I had become used to certain words, and picking up pieces of what the people around me were saying, all of a sudden this ability was gone. I was again in a new, strange land.

It is a strange dichotomy here. There are the places that are poor. That are so poor. That are falling down, falling apart, worse than I had seen in Nepal. But then again, maybe they seemed worse because there is so much more.

And then there are the things that are so much better than what I saw in Nepal. The roads, for one. The roads are paved. So many more roads are paved, at least.

Trucks waiting to cross the border into Nepal.
Trucks waiting to cross the border into Nepal. And a dog.

And we come to New Delhi, where there are road signs and manicured lawns and nice houses and new stores with shiny fronts. Some of the things that you might see in Kathmandu, but probably wouldn’t. Bigger, better, newer, more advanced. More technology, more everything. The city is pretty. Very pretty! It is organized, there are cars (so many more cars than I ever saw in Nepal). And I want to compare it more to a western city than to Kathmandu. But then I remember the pieces of the country that we went through to come here. They are so different, so run down.

There is so much here that is moving forward, that is modernizing so quickly. And yet there is still so much that is not. There are the research centers, the universities, and the government buildings surrounded by high, fancy walls. There are the fancy neighborhoods. There is organization and structure to the city. There are paved streets. There are street signs. And there are also the areas of the city, and the areas outside the city that are full of run down shacks and overflowing with people. It feels like two different worlds smashed into one, at times, because the differences are so huge.

It is an odd place to be, and also a wonderfully interesting thing to get to see. I, for one, am intrigued.

A woman waiting for the train in Gorakhpur, India.
A woman waiting for the train in Gorakhpur, India.

One thought on “Into India”

  1. Your description of the contrasts in the country you have seen in such a short time remind me of an interview I heard on Charlie Rose with Indian Finance Minister (a half a decade ago) P. Chidambaram. Charlie commented on India’s economic success story, pointing out that from a largely impoverished nation a couple of decades earlier, India had grown the largest middle class population in the world, 250 million people. Yes, Chidambaram agreed, but we also have 800 million people living in destitute poverty.

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