Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Train to Varanasi

One of my favorite things in India...masala chai.  Wang bought me
and Vera some for breakfast  on the train.
After more than the usual amount of crazy taking a night train, I did finally make it from Agra to Varanasi.  I had bought a ticket nine days ahead of time, but even then, all I could do was get on the waiting list.  I usually buy sleeper tickets (the cheapest, and probably least comfortable, option), but this time I decided to splurge a bit and move up a step to 3rd class AC.  Bad move, unfortunately...the waiting list for sleepers moves a lot faster, because there are a lot more bunks.  Even though I started at number fifteen on the waiting list, which in sleeper would have been no problem, at time to leave for the station I  was still only at number five.  At my hostel, I met a couple of Chinese travelers, Vera and Wang, who were in the same situation--they were number three and four.  One of the guys who works at the hostel took pity on us and made a few calls to see if we were likely to make it, and finally he went to the station with us and, with much running around and craziness, managed to get us sleeper tickets, for nearly triple the normal price.  However, that was fine with us at this point, because the only other option for getting to Varanasi (the train the next day was sold out, too) was to hire a car and driver, which would have been much more expensive than that (about $60 a person, a small fortune here).  But we made it.

The view from the window near Varanasi...
somebody said the yellow is mustard plants.
Once on the train, the drama wasn't over.  We crammed into a small area with several other foreigners and an incredibly patient and welcoming older Indian couple.  We met three Americans and an Israeli girl; two of the Americans had somehow bought tickets to share a bunk, and a top one at that.  I was told to just hang out there for about half an hour, and then the conductor would come and tell me where to go, so me and my stuff just took up space and got in the way for a while.  Finally the conductor came by, and gave me the top bunk just next to this crowd of people--until about 2 am.  Then, I and the Chinese couple were to move to the bunk on the other side of the original compartment.  Until then, the Chinese girl shared a bunk with the one American girl with a bunk.  All of this could have been a nightmare, except I had the good fortune to get in with a crowd of people who were determined to make the best of it, and everyone just laughed and lived with it.  The train was the most crowded I've been on in India; quite a few people were sharing bunks, and I saw one man sleeping on the floor.  Turns out there's a big festival going on near Varanasi, so that might be the reason.

Actually, I was more comfortable than ever before--for one, I finally had the bright idea to arrange my jackets and scarf on top of my bag of shoes to make a better pillow than usual (I usually use my blow-up neck pillow wrapped in scarves, but I offered that to one of the American girls who was sharing a bunk; I figured I should share with someone less comfortable), and two, it didn't get as cold as it usually does on the train at night.  However, I guess just because of the stress and craziness, I didn't get much sleep; I was quite comfortable, but my mind just couldn't wind down very well.  Oh, well.

For some reason, I was thinking that the train was supposed to arrive at eight-something, so at eight something I cleaned up all my sleeping paraphernalia and all, only to find I'd been mistaken at the train was scheduled to arrive at 10:30.  Except it was by now running two hours late.  It wasn't too bad, though, between my kindle and the company around to talk to (now joined by a French guy from Bordeaux who explained how he broke up with his girlfriend while  he's spending a year traveling in Asia, and she's dating someone else now, but when he gets back she'll break up with that guy and get back with him...), the time passed agreeably.  Around one we finally arrived...

The train station in Varanasi


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