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A glance at India - Our days in Raxaul, part 5

People-Cultures-Cities

How did we get to Raxaul?

As you can read in the previous issue of Nature Photo Magazine, having finished the photo tour in Rajasthan most of the people in our group returned home, but I stayed in India to discover another region of this huge country which is barely visited by foreigners. The philantropic disposition of my wife (who is an obstetrician and gynaecologist) made this trip possible as she decided to spend her well-deserved holiday in 2011 (just like in the previous year) working in the small town of Raxaul, North-India as a voluntary obstetrician and gynaecologist. In 2010 she undertook the adventure on her own, but at this time I joined her myself.
Photo: © Pál Teravágimov - Girl in the afghani village close to the hospital

The journey started in the capital city of India, Delhi, followed by a 26-hour train trip to Raxaul, 950 kilometres to the north-east. The train journey from Delhi to Raxaul was fabulous. We suspected that we would have a splendid journey right at the beginning when we were watching close up as our fellow passengers who did not hold reserved seat tickets kept jumping through the windows of the train which rolled into the station, throwing in their luggage and bundling the female members of their family into the carriages. Of course, it was associated with excited shouting. The who gets in the train first will have a seat and can reserve even more seats for his folks, that was reason behind the hysterical crowd scenes. After the first attack had passed, it was our turn as we had reserved seats, so we could have our seats comfortably.
We travelled third class as there is no other option on the train to Raxaul. There are no compartments here, only „blocks”. One block seats eight but we were eleven and of course plenty of cases and bags. We were packed densely like herrings and tried to convince ourselves that it was the adventure we wanted. Luckily, after eight in the evening we could fold our seats flat, so both Emese and I could have a sleeping berth, so we could watch our fellow passengers having their dinner from a cosy place. This way the rest 23-hour part of the journey seemed to be only a moment.

Bihar state

Raxaul is situated in the Bihar state of India, right at the border of India and Nepal. Bihar is one of the poorest states of India, the annual income per capita is only 115 dollar. The main problem is the lack of health system and education. However, there have been serious developments at least in the field of education in the past decade. Ten years ago only 60 percent of men and 33 percent of women were literate, by now these figures increased to 73 and 53 percent, at least according to the official statistics.
Local people make their living from different services and commerce, and a significant proportion from agriculture. When we asked our friends working in the hospital about the underdevelopment of the state, everybody blamed the incompetent and extremely corrupt local government as the main cause of the troubles. Such opinions are confirmed by the 2005 report of the biggest international corruption watchdog Transparency International which shows that Bihar is the most corrupt state of India. The organisation studied the extent of corruption based on 11 different aspects and Bihar state has proved the most corrupt of all aspects.
Photo: © Pál Teravágimov - Indiain graffiti

Before Emese travelled there the first time we check up in several guidebooks what they write about Raxaul. What we found was not really promising, we can more and less summarize it that Raxaul is a dirty dusty hole and if possible try to avoid spending even a night there. If you yet have to stay there for some important reason, then you’d be better off to go and find an accomodation in Birgnaj, on the other side of the Indian-Nepalese border. Of course, guide books are prone to dramatic exaggerations.
But unfortunately I have to say that in case of Raxaul, that description is quite exact. The city cannot be called particularly attractive even with the greatest benevolence, although people are extremly kind, almost without exception. I walked the streets of the city and the nearby villages day by day, and almost everybody welcomed me friendly. They did not need asking twice for a permission to be photographed, mostly they asked me to photograph them and all of their family members.
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