A slow train to Varanasi
Trip Start Apr 06, 2008
28Trip End Feb 02, 2009
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Arriving at Lokmanyatilak station in Mumbai was quite scary - I can't begin to describe the sea of humanity and complete chaos. Having said that I was able to spot my train's platform but it wasn't in yet. I was ages early so I went to find the 'first class waiting room'. Imagine the grubbiest, smelliest Railtrack waiting room you have ever visited - that would give you an idea. Funnily enough, shortly after I arrived, the cleaner decided to mop the floor and ordered everyone to put their luggage on the seats and vacate the room. Some of the locals complied but I, and the rest of the locals, ignored her! At this point I got chatting to a young Indian couple who were on the same train as me. That was a relief as they made sure I got the right train and the right carriage. I was in the 2AC (Aircon with 2 tiers of bunks) carriage. There is also a 3AC (3 tiers) and the whole of the rest of the train - umpteen carriages - is true cattle class with barred windows and people hanging out of the open doors.
As soon as we left Mumbai, the Indian couple invited me to go and share their lunch and I accepted! Getting food on the train was interesting. For some meal times a man would come down the train and ask if anyone wanted a meal. For those that did he would then scribble something on the train wall. Another man would then come along about an hour later, read the scribbles and deliver the meals. Other times this didn't happen and we were left to buy food when the train stopped at stations. I only did this once, it was so scary leaving the train with no idea how long it was going to stop for! Other times I looked helpless and the locals took pity on me and got me water and tea from the platforms! I was sharing my sleeper compartment with a nice Indian lady called Anamika. She also looked after me and told me what to do and not to do.
All was going well up to Allahabad (3 hours from Varanasi). We had been on time give or take half an hour, but by Allahabad we were 1 hour late. We were supposed to stop in Allahabd for half an hour, but instead stopped for 2 hours! There are no announcements at all, not even in Hindi, so no one knew what was going on. By this time, Anamika and the young couple had got off and the ticket inspectors, who had been much in evidence earlier on, had also disappeared. I started to get a bit edgy.... However, we eventually moved off.. in the opposite direction! After a brief panic I got my guide book out, looked at the map of India, and decided that it actually made sense that we would change direction at Allahabad!
We finally arrived in Varanasi at 23:15 (instead of 19:15). I had this weird idea that Varanasi would be a quaint 2 platform station. I couldn't have been more wrong. It has umpteen platforms and an even greater sea of humanity than Lokmanyatilak! I was rather worried that my pickup would have given up and gone home, but someone was there with a board with my name on it. Phew!