Friday, 12 November 2010
The Train - Varanasi to Delhi in 17 Hours.
The rickshaw dropped us off at the train station where hundreds of people sat with masses of luggage waiting for their trains. Most of the signage was in Hindi and we found it tricky to figure out where we should go. A man at the info desk told us to sit and wait in the main hall area and as I sat the women behind me tapped me on the back. They wanted to talk and ask questions and find out if I had any australian coins. This is something I have been asked for a lot and havent had any but this morning I had found a 5c piece. I pulled it out along with some coins left over from Singapore. And swapped them for some rupee coins. This drew quiet a crowd. So much so that we decided to move down to our platform.
We waited for another 1/2 hour and bought some packet snacks to get us through the 17 hour trip.
As we boarded we finally understood what the travel agent had been talking about. Our space was a walled off compartments with bench seats on either side and a sleeper above, then there was the aisle and another bench seat under the windows and a sleeper above.
We shared our area with two young Russian women, a young Indian man and an older Indian man. The two bunks on window wall was shared by a family, husband, wife and two children about 10 and 15.
We got comfy and started our journey. It was hot but the fans and movement of the train kept it comfortable. Every 20 minutes someone would walk past singing out, selling food or drinks. The most common call was chaaai chai chai ... Chaai chai chai ... Chaai chai chai. It began to sound like a mantra.
We stopped at a few stops, some of which were just in the middle of fields. And the train started to fill up. The sun was starting to dip in the sky and an older woman came and sat on the Russian girls bench. Trish mentioned that it might be time to set up our beds so we had officially grabbed our space and we asked the young guy if he minded.
The way it worked was: we were sitting on the bench and the backrest lifts up to make the middle bunk of three. Once you have all three beds up there is no longer anywhere to sit in you compartment.
We set up the beds, I was on the bottom bunk and Trish was in the middle. Got our bags sorted so that we would be aware of them as we slept and after a dinner of water and packets of chips and nuts. We lay down to try and go to sleep.
It took me a while to start feeling sleepy and I noticed that more and more people were bustling around our space. I wandered to the loo and saw that all the aisles and corridors were filling up. Got back to my bunk and I dozed. I woke to see an older guy standing up in a crowd of people at my feet and told him he was welcome to sit on my bunk (although that meant he had to hunch over). I dozed. I woke and found five Indian men watching me sleep, not in any insidious way, they were just sitting in our space. They laughed as I smiled and rolled over. I dozed. I woke to find a different young guy trying to get comfortable at the foot of my bed. I dozed. I woke to find the same young guy asleep in bed with me, head to tail. I dozed. I woke and found that our entire cabin was filled to the brim with people. Two people in every bunk except for Trish's and one of the Russian girls who also had the middle bunk. The floor was packed with sleeping bodies even under my bunk. I had the young guy in my bed plus another guy who was slung between a tiny free space on my bunk across the aisle to the next bottom bunk. I had a moment of claustrophobia because this whole space (smaller than an average bathroom) had somewhere in the vicinity of 20 people crammed in. I dozed.
As the sun rose I wanted to get up but there was no space. So Iay there and had a laugh with all of the guys. The Chaai chai chai guys started walking up the aisle muddling their way past the semi sleeping people.
6.30am, after 17 hours on the train we finally pulled into Delhi station. Tired but happy we jumped a cab to the airport. Waited for 6 hours (and managed to find a place for a head, neck and back massage) and then hopped a plane for Jodhpur.
The train was one of the hardest parts of our trip. It was also by far one of the most insane, hilarious, and enjoyable parts. Do I want to do it again? Maybe ... But not today :).