January 22nd, 2008
From the Maya Devi Temple, I walked back to where the bus had dropped me and had dal-baht at the little restaurant, though I hesitate to call it that. The man warned me that if I were going to Kathmandu, there has been a strike since this morning. Strikes in Kathmandu can get dangerous, occasionally even with hand grenades being tossed, so I was glad I'd risked the over night bus ride. It ended up being safer and I would have been tuck in Kathmandu until the strike ends.
I took an hour long bus ride to Bhairawa then transferred to a rickshaw to take me to the border in Belahiya. It was fun riding along in the cycle-rickshaw amongst the other friendly locals, waving and smiling as we went by. The border was a hectic, noisy mess, with huge transport trucks holding up traffic. I took the chance to photograph the colourfully decorated trucks when a man rushed over and asked if I was a journalist. I told him I wasn't, that I just take pictures for fun, and he let me be. I sort of wondered if I would have had trouble if I was a journalist, what exactly they were worried about...
Somewhat reluctantly, I crossed back into India, and did the reverse paperwork from a week earlier. From Sunauli, on the Indian side, I caught a bus to Gorakhpur, arriving just after dark. In Gorakhpur, I started feeling very far away. The bus terminal had no English, but Kushinagar is a famous enough place that they understood where I was going.
I returned to the street to find the bus and didn't have to wait long. I sat in the back with a kind looking man and his family and tried my hardest to stay awake. It made the ninety minute ride feel that much longer as I would feel my head bobbing from side to side occasionally. This wasn't a place or time that I wanted to miss my stop.
I arrived in Kushinar around 9pm, but it might as well have been the middle of the night. The bus driver let me of at the town arch and was gone, leaving me alone. I read that there is a Vietnamese temple nearby that offers rooms to pilgrims but I didn't know where it was, let alone where I was, and it was dark, very dark. It was the first time I'd been dropped off anywhere in India I wasn't being solicited for a ride to a guesthouse and it was the first time I wished I was being offered a ride. But there was no one anywhere. I'd never felt so far away.
As far as I could see, there was only one road, so I headed down it until my eyes adjusted enough to look at my map. The temple was just 300 hundred meters down the road. My nerves relaxed somewhat now that I had my bearings. It's only the night evening after the full moon and the moonlight began to pierced through the mist enough that I could make out silhouettes along the road. The strip of short, boxy houses ended and I started to see outlines of pagodas and pointy tiled roofs floating in the distance.
I arrived at the temple after a few minutes, but the wrought iron gate that surrounded the complex was locked. I began to mentally prepare myself to nestle by the gate on the side of the road until dawn. But first, I gave to gate a gentle rattle and waited. As I was about to give up, I noticed someone coming out of the main building with a lamp. He asked me what I wanted so I told him, a place to sleep. He unlocked the gate and led me to the two storey dorm along the side of the temple. The power was out, but he gave me two candles and a lighter. I dropped my backpack on the floor, stretched out on the bed, and let the relief of laying down for the first time in two days permeated through me.