Home > Buddhism, Hindu, India, Nepal, Travel > Into Bihar With a Bang

Into Bihar With a Bang

We spent our six month travel anniversary in transit between Kushinagar and Rajgir, diving headfirst into one of India’s most notorious states, Bihar. For many years Bihar has played the role of India’s unfathomably ugly duckling; renowned for being lawless, dirty and, as an acquaintance described it, ‘like being back in the 17th century.’ The current Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has done a lot to improve conditions in the area, but it still remains a challenging place to travel with very few creature comforts. It also happens to be the area in which the Buddha gained enlightenment and spent a large amount of time teaching, with most foreigners travelling there for that reason.

We bounced along on our delayed train journey, chatting to an Indian guide who spends a lot of time in Nepal. We concurred that one of our favourite restaurants in Pokhara was the ’Lovely Indian Restaurant’, admittedly not for the food itself but for the cryptic names on the menu such as the ’Pan Cack’ and the ’Purry Vag’. The pictorial accompaniment confirmed the suitability of the former appellation, though thankfully the latter remains a mystery. The Bihari elections were taking place at the time and those in our carriage were involved in a heated discussion, interrupted only by a Welsh ’Yelp!’ Far from sharing her views on Indian politics, Hazell was in fact expressing her discomfort as a large, wooden train window fell and guillotined her petite elbow. ‘Oooo’, the carriage replied as Hazell’s elbow swelled. ’I think it’s fractured Carl’ was the sheepish reply. We’d started off in Bihar as we meant to go on.

We arrived at Patna train station, the state capital, to be chauffeured promptly to the bus station. The anaemic driver of our pedal rickshaw huffed and puffed his way there, and was surely glad to see the back of us and our 30kg of luggage. Patna South bus station is a sight to behold, and while attempting to manoeuvre her bag with a suspected fracture, Hazell very astutely described it as ’the asshole of the world.’ We had entered an evolutionary black hole; the human race was devolving with each bus departure.

We waded bravely through the sty; dirt, piss, faeces and all manner of waste squelched between the toes of our flip-flopped feet. Buses jostled for position like bumper cars, while attempts at orchestration comprised of sweaty, turbaned men yelling at each other in Hindi. This was a change from the India we had seen so far, it was overtly aggressive and we struggled to get our voices understood in such a manic, non-English speaking throng. A group of men surrounded us as we pleaded ‘Rajgir? Rajgir?’ only to be met with blank faces. We tried every possible intonation, ‘Rajgeeerr?’, Rajguur? Rajgoor?, until someone laughs and pipes up: ’Oh Rajgir, no bus.’ We then played a wonderful game of pass the parcel as one man threw our bags on a bus, for the next one to throw them back off again, all while the vehicle was trying to exit the station.

The conductor was actually a friendly chap; he informed us of where we needed to change and helped us when we got there. He then returned to yelling at the top of his voice at other buses. By this point it was getting dark and we were in the middle of the Bihari countryside, starting to feel a little exposed. The palms, huts and mounds of refuse became silhouettes and then disappeared into the black; the man alongside us stared out of the window while spitting red jets of paan chewing tobacco onto the floor. We ate a dinner of ‘channa’ pea shoots, mixed expertly by a salesman with lime, coriander, red onion and chillies. To our relief we finally pulled into Rajgir, a dusty crossroads of a town with only a few guest houses. We chose to stay in the state owned tourist guest house, a creepy affair with oversized rooms and an ambiance that suggested it used to be a hospital. We said goodnight to the gecko living in our shower head and were glad to be getting some rest.

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