Train to Varanasi

Continued from Delhi Day 6.

I slept in today until around 9. I actually woke up kind of early at around 6:30AM. I stayed in bed and kept on falling in and out of sleep. My plan today is to not do jack shit until later in the afternoon when I have to board an overnight train to Varanasi.

I had the free breakfast, omelet, then it was time for lunch. I am going to be stuck on a train for 12 hours, best not be adventurous before that. Chicken korma, mixed vegetable curry, rice, and some roti will do. Tried and true, and damn good!

I spent all of morning updating the blog. Then I started to take care of logistics. I had booked a flight with Kingfisher Airline for a leg of the trip in India. Kingfisher is on the brink of bankruptcy, and could fold at any minute. I bit the bullet a while ago and bought a backup ticket from Jet Airways. It was $277 for the Jet Airways ticket and was only $150 or so for Kingfisher. Well, I’ve been unable to cancel my Kingfisher ticket thus far, because their internet cancel system has been down. Perhaps down on purpose…

I also had to take care of my final flight home for the end of my trip. Out of the 3 flights needed to get back home, the first two got rescheduled back for hours. This meant that I would be 3 hours late to connect to my last leg of the flight. An hour on the phone with Travelocity, they told me to call back the next day when it’s regular business hours in US. Couldn’t they have told me that within 5 minutes of me calling? Lame!

Made phone calls to take care of travel, and ended up not solving anything. I did accomplish one thing though. My train ticket was confirmed, but the actual car and berth had not been assigned yet. This happens to some of the trains and they don’t prepare the chart until only a few hours before the train departs. I looked up my ticket number online and was able to get my car and seat assignment. Good, one less thing to worry about when I descend into the Hell that is New Delhi Station.

It’s 4:30PM and I am finally leaving Delhi after a week here. I’ve decided to name my backpack, because it has been my reliable and constant companion here. It shall be named Yoda. Yoda seems like he would weigh about 36 pounds in a galaxy far, far away.

I negotiated with one rickshaw, and agreed on a price of 60INR straight to the station and to no where else. I took off my backpack and my satchel(man-purse), did some aerobatic maneuvers with Yoda and got into the rickshaw. Then the driver said that we’ll go shopping first. FUCK! I literally said “I don’t need this stupid shit right now!”, got all of my stuff out of the rickshaw, strapped everything back on and walked away. Ugh, stupid bait and switch.

I decided that I’ll just continue to walk towards the Metro station. If no other rickshaws stop by, then I’ll just squeeze into the crowded Metro and get to New Delhi Station that way. I walked and walked, and the station was right in front of me, then a rickshaw stopped for me. I negotiated him down to 80INR(not cheap, but I am tired of walking), and got in. It would have been a nightmare to squeeze into an overcrowded metro train at rush hour with my big backpack. Glad I didn’t have to do that.

A lot of rickshaws have a guy and a girl cutout in a heart shape in the mirror. So you look in your mirror to the left side, there’s a truck there, but you don’t see it because you only see a guy in a heart. Awww, how warm and fuzzy, then the bus runs us over. I don’t get it…

Getting closer to the station.

There are always a billion pedicabs in this area.

OK, deep breath. I’ll start the windmill with my arms so no touts and scammers will come within 2 feet of me.

This man had a decent button down shirt. He seemed fine, except for the fact that he was completely drunk or high or both and was literally stumbling all over the place. He had to keep leaning on things to keep from falling over. It’s 4:45 in the afternoon.

Hmm, only one person has half assed approached me so far. I didn’t even have to do the windmill yet.

The stupid lines that I waited in the other morning that got me no where.

Down in the middle of the photo, you’ll see a white building in the distance. That’s the other building that I ran to where I waited in another line that got me no where.

I am on 12560. I am here way early, but you never know what traffic will be like in Delhi, so by the recommendation of my hotel, I got here early and played it safe.

Like my pink dials? Just got past security and I got bothered by exactly 1 tout. It wasn’t the windmill that kept them away, but rather the fact that there are almost no tourists here today at this hour. The busiest station in Delhi, and I can look around for 5 minutes and see no other tourists other than me.

I thought coolie was a pejorative term that was no longer used? I guess not.

Here are shots of the platforms. I walked up the overpass to all the platforms to make sure I can find platform 12 easily.

Came back down to the waiting rooms. There were three waiting rooms. Lower class, upper class, and ladies. I really wanted to wait in the ladies room, but had to settle for upper class.

I am the only tourist in this entire waiting room. In fact, I waited here for over an hour and exactly 1 other tourist came in during that time.

Oh MIA, you rebel you…I often delay reading my Economists for reading when traveling. They are so dense that one magazine lasts me a long time. Good content to weight ratio.

I love the puns in The Economist. I had plans to stay in the famous and storied Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. You can see it in the photo above from when it suffered a terrorist attack a few years back. Well, the only rooms they had left was in the newer add-on tower and not in the historical building, so I decided against it. Maybe next trip to India!

In the restrooms in the waiting room, they had these rooms. They look like showers, but only had a single faucet. How does this work? Do you bring a towel and towel yourself?

OK, 30 minutes before train leaves, time to head for platform.

Train is already here.

Found my car and here’s the chart showing all the passenger’s names and their seat assignments. I blurred out my name, but you can see how I am probably the only tourist traveling in this car.

Found my cabin. This is a 4 berth(there are also some 2 berth cabins) first class AC cabin, the best class available. You know, I need the best cabin to let everyone know that I am the best. It was 1835 INR for the 12 hour overnight ride and that translates into roughly $37. Not too bad, I get to travel and have a place to sleep for the price of one.

The upper bunks. There are two industrial strength fans on the ceiling.

Train schedule posted inside the cabin. This train only goes from Varanasi to Delhi and back. It had been at platform 12 in Delhi all day, I just didn’t look closely enough or else I could have waited inside the train instead of in the waiting room.

Look! 3 Western style toilets and 1 squat toilet. What does the I in IC stand for? Does it stand for “I just accidentally pooped on my shoe while popping a squat”?

The stairs for reaching the upper bunks. They fold away when not in use.

I shared my train cabin with just one other traveler, an older gentleman named ARS. He’s a photographer turned businessman and he’s in the rice exporting business. We had a long chat about all sorts of interesting things. He’s going to Varanasi for business but has friends there. Somehow we got on the topic of Indian weddings and I said I’ve never been to one. He says that he’ll call his friends and see if there’s one going on, and he’ll invite me to one if he can find a wedding. Sweet! Apparently, 15 days before Holi, no weddings go on, so today all the weddings start back up again. Perhaps I’ll be lucky and attend an Indian wedding and see what it’s like. If there’s a wedding that I can attend, ARS would leave a message with my hotel.

We talked about cost of schools in India and how it’s roughly $200 for a good school in Delhi and $125 for a lesser school without AC. He said that some pedicabs make $50 dollars a day if they work really hard. I couldn’t believe that! Seriously? The pedicabbers come from poor villages and they can support a family on their income. I’ll talk to others and try to verify that amount. Seems very high to me though.

Chai tea time!

Same issue of The Economist as MIA giving a finger. Knowing The Economist, this photo was no accident, but as a fuck you to the censors!

I had ordered food on the train. It’s supposed to come out at around 8, and it’s almost 9. ARS asked the staff and our food should come shortly.

Here’s dinner! Fried chicken. This was the non-vegetarian choice. ARS had the vegetarian choice and had 4 different kinds of curry. I wanted his food instead, but the fried chicken was still very very good.

I just accidentally pooped on my shoe while popping a squat toilet.

Western toilet.

After dinner, this man came over and pulled down the bunk, that usually serves as the seat back.

He very carefully and expertly made my bed. ARS told me that I am supposed to tip him tomorrow.

ARS’s hobby is fortune telling. It seems like many Indians are into fortune telling. AP who I had met yesterday also mentioned fortune telling.

It was around 10PM and ARS went to bed. I decided to go to bed as well. Our cabin was lockable, so I felt that my belongings were pretty secure. There’s a chance that we might get other passengers at another station, but they’d have to knock for us to let them in.

This is my first overnight train experience, and it was a night of fitful sleep. As we headed towards Varanasi, the train sped up and raced across the night. The train kept on swaying left and right nonstop and at random. The rails were bumpy and the rails were loud. It felt out of control to me as I slipped in and out of sleep. I kept waking up feeling like I was on an airplane going through rough turbulence. I finally said fuck it and took a Xanax to help me sleep. Well, that worked like a charm.

Next thing I knew, 6 hours had gone by and it’s now 6:30 in the morning. The sun has come up and we are somewhere near Varanasi. The train had these really darkly tinted and dirty windows, so good photos were impossible.

Soon, morning chai tea was served.

I was finally able to get photos of people doing their morning business. Why they must do this right next to the rail tracks, I do not know. They weren’t squatting on the rail this time because…well, they’d get run over.

Here’s a woman popping a squat. For a country that is so conservative, they have no qualms about taking a shit in a very public place.

The world is your oyster…errrr…I meant, the world is your toilet!

I’ve never seen shit stacked that high and that nice. I saw these nice piles of stacked shit, and asked ARS what it was. He said that it was dried cow dung to be used as fire fuel. Shit, that shit is a nicely stacked pile of shit!

More piles of shit.

Our train stopped short of the station to wait for another train to clear out of our platform. We blocked this intersection for maybe 10 minutes. Some of the guys on bikes were impatient, and decided to take their bikes and cross underneath the train…Not the greatest idea.

Drying shit.

“Hey, I am going to take a shit by the rail, do you want to join?” “Yeah, I’ve got to shit too” “Me too!” “Let’s all take a shit together by the rail then!” HIgh Five! I guess next to the rail may provide them the best privacy from the town because otherwise they’d have to walk to far away outskirts of town to take a shit.

Now, I see a lot of men taking shits, but where do all the women take a shit? I saw about 1 women for every 10 men taking a shit. It’s true then. Girls don’t shit, and when they do, it doesn’t smell. I did see a young woman take a shit by the rail and all her glory was for everyone to see from the train. It’s so crazy how this is acceptable in such a conservative country that has to cover up everything all the other time in public.

Before disembarking the train, the man who made my bed came by and it was tip time. I saw ARS give him a 10, so I did the same. Then I hear them speak to each other and the man who made me bed was joking around. Afterwards, I asked ARS what the exchange was, and he said that the man who made me bed thought that I’d tip more because I’m a foreigner. ARS said that 10 is a good amount.

Reached Varanasi!

No Exit. That’s OK, we’ll all exit here anyway.

I am supposed to wait here and someone from the guest house will come pick me up. Soon a guy approached me and he had was from my guest house to get me. That was easy enough.

I followed him out into the madness outside of the station and we got in a rickshaw. Wait…why am I paying the guest house a premium price to only put me in a rickshaw? Ugh.

Free range beef and big vegetable market.

There were just cart after cart of vegetable sellers. It looked like they all sold more or less the same stuff.

We got to this spot, and the guy from the hotel said that we had to get off. We’d need to pay a tariff to go farther and he didn’t want to pay it. Well, shit. Why am I paying for a fucking transfer for if I am having to take a 10 minute walk for the last leg.

Pilgrims here to bath in the Ganges.

Lots of flower sellers here.

Soon, we descended into a small alley where only foot traffic is allowed. This is the old part of Varanasi. We started weaving through the nameless maze. OK, I guess this is why I paid for a transfer, because otherwise I’d never find the place.

The streets were narrow, and full of shit. Some are obviously cow shit, but others are questionable whether they were dog shit or human shit. I am sure both.

Tree growing out of this little temple.

Never knew cows acted like dogs.

We just kept on walking through these different alley for maybe 5 minutes taking random turns.

I finally decided to take a photo depicting all the shit dodging that I had to do in this area.

Then I turned around from the same spot in the above photo and couldn’t find the guy who was leading me. Oh wait…I am in right front of my guest house, and he had already walked inside. So, the front steps of my guest house is literally full of shit. Sigh…

The guy who led me here is actually a tourist guide from the hotel. He tried his best to sell me on the idea of hiring him. Well, I resisted and told him I’ll decide later. I am not sure if I’ll get a guide or not. Maybe I will, but today, I’d just like to walk around on my own.

The courtyard below.

Yes! Awesome! Happy! Took this from a balcony in my guest house! This view is the reason why I booked this place.

Hindus bathing in the river.

I’ve never seen what the other side of Ganges looks like across from Varanasi, and I’ve always wondered. Well, now we all know. There’s nothing there but some trees.

Check in desk down below.

They’ve got lots of rules here. Am I in prison? Lights out at 10? But the only drugs that I use are illegal.

I checked in, but my room won’t be ready for another couple of hours. I was tired and hungry, so I decided to just head up to the roof top restaurant to have some breakfast first and wait until my room is ready.

I got a table right by the edge and it offered me this spectacular view, again!

More people are bathing now.

These boats would take a whole group of people and they’d go to the bank on the other side. I guess they bath over there too?

What the rooftop restaurant looks like. This is the best part about this guest house. Awesome view in an awesome location. The weather is also beautiful. I think it’s in the high 70s and low 80s here!

First breakfast.

Eat while I watch people shit.

Second breakfast. I live to eat.

This is where I sat at during breakfast. Awesome! OK, it’s time to go down in the courtyard where there is wifi and do some blogging.

There’s a music school right across from the rooftop restaurant so during first breakfast and second breakfast I heard faint music in the background.

I know this is the same view over and over, but I am just so happy to be here and to see this.

I am supposed to take the stairs from my hotel into that path down there that’ll take me straight to the Ganges and where all the ghats are at. I’ll be headed down there soon. Room is ready, time to find my room.

Sidenote. Many of the tourists that I see here buy and wear Indian clothes(I do see more tourists here than in Delhi). Except, the stuff that they wear are tourist Indian clothes, because I see almost no locals dressed like them. It’s always the long shirt and some baggy airy pants. 99% of all Indians that I see are either dressed like a Westerner wearing shirt and jeans/pants, or sometimes the women would wear a full sari. So much for these tourists trying to fit in to the culture…

To be continued at Varanasi Day 1.

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