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Raxaul: a bustling dustbowl

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15th Pokhara – Raxaul

Our van arrived 15 minutes early, causing me to skull my breakfast to avoid making our driver wait, but then 5 minutes into the trip, he stopped for about 20 minutes to have a yak/ask directions to Raxaul from his brother/boss. I was soon regretting wishing he would hurry up, because he drove like a maniac, and I was quite carsick within half an hour.

The next two hours were torture, bolting through the mountains at top speed, swerving even on the straight bits of road, but then I got distracted by the huge, beautiful green-blue river winding through the valleys below us. Leaving the pointiest bit of the himalayas, we then entered the sort of foothills/ floodplains, where we had to be stopped a few times by border men, because we were entering special zones or forest. I don't know what kind of tree it was, but we drove through miles of this stunning, tall, open forest, with little evidence of human impact. Apart from the odd tramping track. And half-built/ long-abandoned shed.

Passing buses full of fairly sad looking Indians, with spew marks on half the bus sides, we reached a series of towns, and in each one, our driver shouted at the blue camo army people (that stand around everywhere) for directions. He did not have a clue where he was going. They all thought it was pretty funny.

Many dusty miles later, we reached the border of India and Nepal, and... we could not find where to get our passports stamped. And then we were in India, and the number Michael had given us to call didn't work on anyone's phone, nor did Sammy's, so we just bailed and went to the ONLY hotel in Raxaul that even gets a mention in Lonely Planet. It wasn't that flash, so Philip and I left the 3 girls at the hotel, and went a-hunting for the hotel Michael was staying at, aback trusty autorickshaw steeds that kept trying to buck me off.

The Duncan Hospital is painted in that classic earthen red, with low celings, shawdowy corners and winding passageways. It's clearly a complex that has developed over time, and, really, it works pretty well. Anyway, down a crazy series of passageways, we finally reached the Western Guest House, the part of the hospital where western interns (such as Michael and Sammy) stay. It is also the only part of the hospital with a garden. It's paradise, relative to the rest of the city.

Through a fly-screen door, I heard Sammy's voice, and then were was beautiful Sammy, and a slightly surprised Michael, paler and gaunter than I recall him being, and smiling faces and a much calmer world to the one outside. After even more rigmarole, we managed to get the girls and luggage (by pony and cart) back to the hospital, where we would be staying, and settled down for some masala tea, biscuits and corner store Christmas cake, to share stories, and reflect on the last ten/five/three weeks. It was so, so nice to see Sammy and Mick again.

Before long, it was dinner time, and we bit by bit met the other girls from Holland and Perth who are staying at the Guest House, all of whom are lovely. I'm not really sure what the Dutch gals are up to, but the Perth girls are 6th year Med students, doing a more practical sort of exchange than Mick and Sammy.

After a really nice dinner, we played pictionary, which Michael and I would have done better at if we could read words/colours. Not that I'm bitter.

16th

After another AMAZING meal, this time home-made jam, pikelets of glory and cornflakes (nom nom), we went and sorted our whole illegally-being-in-India situation. Not tooooo traumatic.

Then we were lucky enough to be offered a tour of the hospital. Starting off in the old hospital (the earthen red bit), we visited the generators (which are at least more consistent than the power stations), library, x-ray and ultrasound machines, intensive care ward, labour ward, newborns, laundry and a whole heap more. I won't go into any depth, but will say that it was really fascinating to see how efficiently everything seemed to run. The saddest part for me was seeing all the families waiting outside. The hospital obviously doesn't have enough room too provide accommodation for them all, so, huddled in a corner, there is just a sea of blankets, where mohers, fathers, wives, sisters, children, and so on, lie, waiting to be able to visit whoever they are there for.

We then went over to the new hospital, which is not yet open, a huge, 3/4-storey building with lots of natural light, white, shiny walls and open, straight corridors. Ignoring the plaster dust and so on, it looked pretty well ready to go, with all the machines, beds, toilets, chairs and lights installed. The contrast between the two hospitals was bizarre. And to think that the whole thing was funded by their own money (the Government does bugger all here)- crazy.

More dericious food, and then out into the dusty streets of Raxaul, because I had agreed to go shopping with Sammy. I usually consider the thought of shopping while travelling absolutely vile, but this was actually really, really fun, and a great step into another world. We were looking for sarees, which involved the shopkeepers pulling about a few dozen different options, and laying them on the table, nd everyone going 'ooh, aaah'. Bron, Joss and Susan came along too, and joined in eventually. Philip and Michael preferred to stand on a heinously noisy, dusty, smelly street outside for several hours than be in any way associated with shopping. Whatever floats your boat, guys.

After making our respective choices, we had to get them fitted to us, and then went bangle shopping. At this point, Philip, Susan and Michael went home, while we powered on, battling with shopkeepers over the price of some bits of round metal. Banter. Fun.

Home again, and we packed up, ready for our midnight train, and then went to the church service that Michael and Sammy attend every day in the hospital. Usually it's in the morning, but being a Sunday, it was at 5:30pm. One of the Dutch girls was leading the choir, and then an Australian woman, who has been working in hospitals in India for of the last 11 years, did a talk about being the 'foreigner' in a community. I guess she'd know about that!

Roast for dinner, then everyone played card games, and all too quickly, we were on the road again. Yes, I cried, again. Hilary fail. Crying leads to tireness. The train was a 12 hour jobby. I slept the whole way.

Posted by hazelnutty 20:35 Archived in India

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