I love India a lot, its people, its unique culture. India has not changed for many decades, as if the country has frozen in the past.
Last New Year we decided to go to India on our own, without a guided tour. Our plan was to reach Goa from Delhi by land within 15 days and spend two weeks on the beach.
Previously, we had taken a trip to Goa and made a faint acquaintance with India. So we weren’t frightened by its poverty, dirty streets or smog. Yet as it turned out we weren’t fully ready for all kinds of surprises. I’m glad I have something to remember and to share now.
One of the high points of the trip was a train trip from Agra to Varanasi.
We got the train tickets in advance in Delhi. Based on our previous experience we decided on the Sleeper car as the best quality and cost combination: six berths in a compartment without doors, two side berths, fans, bars on the windows, no bed linen. Tickets cost 271 rupees each (about 6 pounds).
The train leaves at 20.40 from Tundla, 15 km from Agra.
On the platform we bought griddlecakes for supper, and ate them in the company of huge rats scurrying about for food. From time to time locals jumped off the platform to urinate, because there weren’t any restrooms at the train station.
The train arrived on time, but as we discovered later it isn’t always that precise.
I have to mention we were wearing all the warm clothes we had – track suits, socks, T-shirts, even two blankets!
The ticket said the trip from Agra to Varanasi took 8 hours, the train was due to arrive at 4.40 am, on December 22, 2012.
We shared a compartment with two young Italians and two Hindu men, but soon we were joined by 6 more people from a cheaper car. Surprisingly, the check-man didn’t ask the locals for their tickets. So we were sitting almost elbow to elbow with total strangers. It wouldn’t be so bad after all, but half an hour later almost all the Indians in the car started to eat. Their supper consisted of very smelly food in metal disposable boxes that after the meal were thrown straight out the window in defiance of the waste containers. After the supper our neighbors began to chew tobacco, occasionally spitting on floor or into the window. Some climbed into upper berths and sat there picking between their toes.
Someone turned on the fan, but we had to turn it off immediately because it started to scatter around small red cockroaches.
Under the berth on the floor there was running a pretty little field mouse.
The train was old and the wind was freezing. Our clothes and blankets could not save us from the piercing cold. It was impossible to sleep. The Italians climbed to the third tier and sat there back to back shaking from cold so much they risked to fall down. We wrapped up in blankets and built them into some sort of a tent above our heads hoping our breath would somehow warm the air around us, but all was in vain. Besides, my Hindu neighbor occasionally tried to steal the bag off my shoulder, thinking I was asleep.
At 4.40 we rejoiced and rushed towards the exit, but it turned out, the station we arrived at wasn’t Varanasi. When we asked when Varanasi is, the passengers answered, “Next”. At each next station we got the same reply: “This is not Varanasi. Varanasi’s next”. Amazingly, no one was worried that the train was running behind the schedule, except us and the Italian guys. All the other passengers were absolutely calm, and it scared us even more.
To our surprise, we arrived in Varanasi at 20.40 pm! We were exhausted, deprived of sleep and sick. And we had ahead of us two more similarly colourful weeks! As I didn’t embellish a word, even might have forgotten some details, this may seem the most terrible trip to some. However I would go through the same again, if I had a chance, because our life is a series of experiences and the brighter they are the more unforgettable our life is.