After a long unscheduled “rest”in Sarnath, it felt good to be back on the bikes and ride comfortably about 70 kms to the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Guest House in Ghazipur, which had been recently upgraded with good quality furniture and mattresses, the latter being the most notable requirement of tired cyclists, and as on many occasions, we were the only guest in the hotel, and it being run by the state government, had the full complement of staff to look after our dinner and breakfast needs.
The next destination, Doharighat had an identical UP guest house and we looked forward to a good night’s sleep, having had yet again an easy ride through small villages and open fields with yellow mustard seed plants and the occasional sugar and rice fields throw in. I duly approached the person behind the UP reception desk in a deserted lobby who told me quite curtly that there were no rooms to be had and then he disappeared. My suspicions were raised since there were no cars or buses in the parking lot so I just stood there patiently for a couple of minutes when Person #1 returned and I asked again if we could get a room, to which he said no. I smiled and tried to look pathetic and told him that we had been staying in UP guest houses through our travels and we were very tired after riding 80 kms.
A few minutes later Person #2 appeared, an obvious superior and after some discussion takes place between them and it’s clear that Person #1 was sent to look at a room. More discussion and Person #2 say sorry “but it’s impossible”. I once again play my ‘”we are card carrying members of UP Guest Houses” and are very tired and we don’t want to cycle 60kms to the next town and could I at least see the room that they had been discussing. Person #1 shows me a room with peeling walls but with same nearly new furniture and the much coveted mattresses that we enjoyed the night before. By this time Person #2 arrives and directs Person #1 to open another room that looked perfectly OK, other than the fact that the linen need changing and tells Person #1 to give me this ’’impossible room’’, and by the way he tells me there is no hot water.
Person #3 now appears - clearly he is the lowest man on the totem pole- and I ask him when the others have departed if we could get new sheets, towels and buckets of hot water and with the aid of a few rupees he returns smiling with everything we asked for, which only goes to show that in India even the impossible is possible with a little patience, persistence and showing appreciation of those who actually do the work. Later we dined again with the place all to ourselves, with its full complement of staff.
From the mundane issues of accommodation, we were looking forward to Kushinagar, as part of our on-chronological tour of the famous Buddhist sights demarking his life: Kushinagar being the place where the Buddha died and was cremated in 563 BCE, having come from Sarnath where Buddha gave his first sermon, to Lumbini where we are today, the place where Buddha was born.
The highlight of our stay in Kushinagar was the Mahaparinirvana Temple, that houses a 5th Century six meter long reclining Buddha, that was unearthed in 1876. Set in a beautiful parkland, the temple was truly serene and moving, as a continuous stream of devotees, in a small tomb, chanted, lit candles and brought offerings of flowers, incense and money, some of which ended in the right pocket of the attendant. As in Sarnath and in Lumbini most major Buddhist countries are represented with the own temples and meditation complexes and devotees wearing their national colours move in unison to the various holy sites in these communities.
After a short ride to Gorahkpur, we faced a nearly 100 km day to the India-Nepal border town of Sonauli. Despite the fancy digs at the Park Regency we found six staff sleeping on the lobby couches at 7:15 a.m. well past the time the restaurant was supposed to open, so we decided to leave on near empty stomach to beat the heavy morning traffic, typical of all large Indian cities. We had covered about 10 kms when over a span of a few minutes the western sky turned black and the fierce winds forced us off the bikes and rain began to fall. Fortunately within a few minutes we found a house with an overhang and a half open rollup garage type door where we were protected from the heavy downpour and were able to put on several layers of clothing to keep warm. Through the open door, two kids about three and five offered us chairs inside their room, brought us tea and snacks while we could only make out the shadows of their mother, who no doubt, out of modesty, kept out of sight.
After an hour it started to clear and conscious of the fact that we had done only 10kms and it was past 9:30 we started to ride first in the drizzle and using heavier downpours as an opportunity to consume road side chai but our frequent stop making it to our destination seemed like a remote possibility. Still, we had made some progress and after a good lunch by 1pm, we “only” had 50kms to go. By this time we were both thoroughly wet but persisted at the goal of reaching our border destination; waiting for a bus might have caused hyperthermia and moving was the only way to keep warm. With only a few kilometres to go and still about two hours of daylight left, we had more tea and our favourite “snack” a two- egg- bread- omelette from the road side egg-wallah.
Fortunately by this time the rain stopped but it was getting colder, thus I was elated to find the local UP Guest House only to be demoralized as they were obviously full, and preparations were well under way for a wedding. A quick inspection of the only other optoin in town convinced me that our best option would be to sleep on the Nepali side, the only limitation being the bumper to bumper traffic and slowly setting sun. The road was a giant mud bath that added to the challenge, but by persistent manoeuvring of our bikes between cars, truck, buses and rickshaws enabled us to push our way to Immigration . We cleared Indian Immigration reasonably quickly and in about 15 minutes we also had our Nepali Visas.
We were both getting seriously cold and a couple of full hotels added chills to our spirits as the prospect of riding in the dark the four kilometers to the next town started to loom large. Fortunately, persistence paid off and we did land, in the near dark, at the Mamata Hotel, recently completed with a lovely room with hot water. We were both on the verge of tears of joy. Later a small group of overland adventurers in a sizeable bus, who had arrived at the hotel the same time as we did, told us that it took them three hours to grind their way through the border traffic, which goes to show that cycling has its advantages, if you are persistent and are prepared to ride the distances to soak up the local scenery, which at times come with some rain and loads of possibilities.