DAY 56 - CHITWAN/BORDER/GORAKHPUR
Greetings from Thailand, 'the land of smiles'. It's great to finally be out here, enjoying the tourist friendly conveniences, culture and party atmosphere of the capital, but first I'll let you know how we finished the first leg of our journey. We arose early in Chitwan after enjoying our final night in Nepal, and, after dropping our bags off in the guest house store-room, took a minibus to the starting point of our elephant ride. Four people sat on each elephant and me and James found ourselves at the rear of our one. It was a great experience, sitting on these beasts, gently lumbering along the road, swaying as the sun broke through on the horizon, making our way to the entry to the park. Children selling bananas to feed the elephants with ran below our feet, yelling "catch!" as they attempted to throw a bunch to us, a cheeky method of lumbering us with the costs. We were satisfied with watching a nearby group of touristy Americans feed their elephants and kept our wallets firmly in our pockets. Upon entering a special area of the park covered with thick bushes, huge trees and an abundance of flowers and ripe greenery, we were instantly met with a number of deer, exotic birds, peacocks, boars and rhinos. As we were safe from harm on our elephants, we could get much closer to the rhinos than on foot, so enjoyed pretty amazing views of them from only a few feet, a mother and child slowly walking past us as we sat above snapping pictures. We journeyed around the park for about an hour and a half, passing lush vegetation and wildlife at every turn, before slowly making our way back to the start point, passing local villagers at work outside their mud huts as we did so. It was a truly memorable experience, definitely worth doing. Afterwards, we caught the minibus back to our guest house and met up with one of the staff who was to drive us to the bus stop from where we were to travel to Sunauli at the border. We quickly realised that we were to travel by motorbike - all three of us, bags and all. After squeezing onto the bike, our bags hanging off the edges, we realised that it was actually pretty comfy and had the benefit of a good suspension system, a rare luxury in those parts. Anyway, we made it in good time and enjoyed every second as we sped along dusty paths, our hair blowing in the wind as we passed settlements and children playing in the street. That romantic vision of an Enfield odyssey through rural Asia came back to me in an instant, and became all the more attractive. The bus ride to Sunauli was pretty painless and we sat back and relaxed as the hours flowed by and the towns passed us, listening to music and chatting. Once there, we caught a cycle rickshaw a few kilometres to the border itself from where we briskly crossed into India, filling out the relevant forms before embarking on a bus to Gorakhpur, arriving at the station with plenty of time to kill. After waiting around for a while, we realised that the train was to be around 3 hours late, so crossed the busy road and grabbed some dal bhat at a nearby street restaurant. Eventually, we wearily boarded the train after a tiring day and got some sleep as we rolled on to Delhi once again.
DAY 57 - DELHI
We arose relatively early, as one always does on the trains, the sunlight pouring into the carriage, and lazed around as the hours ticked by, buying a bunch of bananas for breakfast and reading. The landscape slowly became more urban as we approached the capital, and before we knew it we had arrived, disembarking at around 4pm. To our surprise, it was raining lightly, although we welcomed a bit of refreshment, prefering it at that point to the intensity of the heat. We quickly caught a rickshaw down to Paharganj main bazaar, where we found ourselves a reasonably priced room in a nice hostel called 'Hare Rama'. The bazaar itself seemed to have become more pleasant since our last visit, a sensation probably influenced by the fact that some major road works had been completed in the two months since we were last there, and the fact that we were more used to the dirt and chaos after weeks of trawling through cities. Anyway, we spent the afternoon and evening walking through the surrounding area, watching a little TV in our room, grabbing a nice lunch in Maccy D's (another one of those western comforts, I'm afraid), and updating our blogs, before heading to the huge Red Fort, where we were to watch an evening sound and light show. Unfortunately, we arrived in time for the Hindi version of the show, so had a couple of hours to kill before the English one, which we spent getting a snack and chilling in a cafe. The show was actually really interesting, using music and light to accompany a booming narration which covered the history of the fort, and, to an extent, the whole of India. We were sat in a central courtyard, surrounded by buildings which were illuminated, one by one, as the narrator gave an account of their colourful history, documenting the changing rulers of the region as he did so. Despite the rain, which arrived near the end, and the ubiquitous mosquitos, it was a great experience. As I got to bed that night, I could sense a new dawn on the horizon, and could barely believe that we were to fly to Bangkok the next day, a journey which would mark the half-way point in our trip. Reflecting back on our two months in India and Nepal, I realised that there were elements of these fascinating countries that I would miss, although my thirst for a new experience, to venture into south-east Asia, overpowered any real feelings of lament. Needless to say, we were pretty excited.
DAY 58 - DELHI/FLIGHT
Our flight wasn't until 1am, so we had a whole day left in India, which we resolved to spend relaxing and browsing the many shops in the area. After a morning doing so, we had a great lunch in Piccadelhi (the same restaurant we visited last time we were in the city), and browed the many shops of Connaught Place, the area in which it is situated, a hub of modern India. As the hours passed, we returned to our guest house, where we caught up on our blogs and browsed the net for a while, before finally catching a cab to the airport. Once there, we checked in, grabbed some food, and waited around until our flight departure time. Eventually, we were on our way. After eating yet another meal on the plane, we resigned ourselves to the fact that sleep was nigh impossible, and so spent the flight either reading or watching films on the plane's in-flight entertainment system. One day quickly merged into another, and we arrived at Thailand after the four hour flight having had no sleep, but full of enthusiasm. The next half of the trip was upon us.