Tuesday 1st September
Got up early, very misty, and went for breakfast at a pie shop. Porridge and toast; very nice. We needed a good breakfast to sustain us on our journey back to India. Just to be sure we ordered sandwiches and cake to take away. We were worried about returning to the food (or lack of it) we had eaten in India after "pigging" ourselves on the cakes and pies.
Taxi to the airport, only to be told there was a two and half hour delay. The airport was closed to allow for the arrival of the king (or so we were told). But the airport staff were friendly and made us welcome handing out vouchers for food to compensate for the delay. No need for the sandwiches yet then!
After sitting in the restaurant for a while we ventured out into what was now a hot sunny day to watch the comings and goings of the airport; there was much activity in the customs bay where there were many men checking freight in and out. The freight mainly appeared to be rugs and carpets en route to America and Europe. But no photographs here. Only two small aircraft took off while we watched. The airport was very quiet. Was it always like this or was today special?
At 12:00 we went to check in but had to wait another 30 minutes. But eventually we were checked in; the bags were not to heavy and we cleared through passport control, security and into the departure lounge. Time for a coffee; somewhat expensive after the prices of the pie shops, but we drank one large plastic mug full each and sat down to wait. And wait.... we ate our sandwiches. By 2:30 still nothing. No announcement; nothing.
At 2:45 we were approached by an airport official who demanded another $20 from Jane and Ben. We complained. We had bought and paid for the tickets in the official airline office; we has shown them our passports and we had been through check in and customers. Why did they think they should now pay more? They bought their tickets the same time as I had. In fact I'd paid for them all. He went to check my ticket too. Still no explanation.
He took Jane's passport. Said something about students. Noticed that the visa was expiring and threatened us with what would happen if we didn't leave the country today. There was no chance of an apology from this guy. He denied the flight was late and said we had the wrong time on the tickets and we had to pay him more because we hadn't been charged the right price. He said we couldn't leave unless we paid. Things got nasty. The flight was being called and we saw our bags trundling across the tarmac to the small plane. We gave in and paid him in Indian rupees. It was all we had. he clearly wasn't happy as he kept demanding US dollars. He seemed to think we should have been loaded and had seen us as a money making opportunity. We wondered whether to complain to the Nepalese consul on our return. We didn't. But the experience of corruption in our last half hour in the country left a sour taste in our mouths. The flight left just after three. We boarded with minutes to spare.
Unfortunately it was cloudy so we missed the spectacular views of the mountains, which we were leaving behind us, but the 50 minute flight to Patna was very smooth and we could see part of the route over which we had arrived by bus the week before. The in-flight snack was brought round - we hadn't been short of food after all - and soon we were flying over the very, very flat and vast expanse of the plains of Northern India.
Vast, incredible flatness; from here it appeared featureless and endless; here and there divided into small fields; occasionally dissected by rivers and streams, much of it flooded. We must have flown over Mazafarpur. The extent of the flooding was great; it went on and on and only stopped shortly before we began our descent into Patna across the great river Ganges.
Ganges through Patna
Patna airport is small and there were not many people on our flight. After a short wait to clear immigration we went through into customs. We had to sit an wait. Everyone, and I mean everyone from our flight was searched. They went through all our bags and asked many questions. The customs officers were friendly and chatty. maybe to put us off our guard. Maybe they expected to find drugs.
A quick visit to the tourist advice to ask about accommodation. Apparently the railway station district offered a good selection of cheap accommodation.
Outside the airport it was very hot. After the cooler air of Kathmandu we had forgotten how stiflingly hot it had been in India. We were instantly besieged by rickshaw men. We selected two and stated our destination: the railway station. We seemed to pass over many sets of railway lines; possibly the same ones over and over. I never did quite get to trust the rickshaw drivers, and my suspicions were apparently confirmed when instead of arriving at the station we drew up in front of a hotel. We insisted on the station, the drivers looked hurt, we guessed they were losing commission, but they took us to the station.
We couldn't decide which train we needed or exactly when, and having got some idea of the timetable, we left without booking tickets. We asked the rickshaw men to take us to Hotel Park, as recommended by the tourist office. They didn't. They said that they knew a closer hotel. Hotel Park, 3Km they say, theirs only 0.5Km - but we must have been taken at least two. The hotel seemed adequate and we booked a double room between the three of us.
During our evening meal a local tourist guide told us that Hotel Park was very close to the station but that the rickshaw drivers had taken us to the Hotel Nilgiri because they got better commission there. As we suspected, but there was little we could do about it. Destination is not the only problem; fares can be tricky too. We try to negotiate before the journey: Driver: "Rs 5/-" we say no and walk away; Driver: "Rs 4/-; Rs 4/-"; We say yes but then at the end of the journey he still demands Rs5/-