Wednesday, August 15, 2007

TRAVELLING TO VARANASI



ITINERARY
My trip to Varanasi by train was supposed to begin at 20:50 which is 8:50pm and It was an overnight train which would have me arrive at Varanasi at 8:30am. I had arrived via taxi to the New Delhi Rail Station, after checking out of the YMCA and said my goodbyes, at 6:45pm. I had acquired an additional bag so my bags were becoming a bit more challenging to carry -- especially at a railstation or airport where you are "overtaken" by so many taxi drivers, porters, etc. I decided to have a porter help me with my bags -- so I flagged down one and then another also stepped up -- they were to each carry a bag on top of their heads - usually resting on a scarf that is piled up to protect their heads - as we headed towards the Train. I would later find out that there is extreme competition for these bag carrying positions and even had one time where the two guys proceeded to fight with each other -- with my bags on their heads as I had to continually ask them to stop (I felt like I had aquired two children) and maneuver through hundreds of people in very hot conditions. Yippie.

CHANGE OF ITINERARY
So we make it to the inside of the station and I look up at the Board to see what track the train will leave from and over to the right of the train number I see: CANCELLED. My first impression was to look at my two new friends with the bags on their heads and say, "Oh my gosh -- the train is cancelled!" and then I laughed -- and so did they. I said, "Now what" and they said, "come my friend" -- so I proceeded to move through the hundreds of people (grand central has nothing on crowds in India) to the counter where there is no such thing as a line -- only a larger gathering of some of the "hundreds" usually in a big pile -- all vying for a position at the counter -- I took my spot and tried to get to the front -- first being very polite and then realizing -- I might have to change my strategy if I wanted to leave in August! I made it to the front -- constantly looking back at my friends with the bags on their heads and they very reassuringly smiled and told me "its ok" "its ok" -- I was then told I should go to the "International Help Center" -- which is up the stairs and closes in 10 minutes.

We proceeded around the back and up the stairs to an airconditioned room where there were assistants helping people with their plans. I had my friends come inside and sit down and enjoy the airconditioning as they watched my bags and I proceeded to see if I could change my plans. I found out there was another train that was leaving at 11:30pm and would arrive at 11:30am it was OLD Delhi Station and would arrive at another city about an hour from Varanasi -- but I could take a taxi -- this seemed like the most viable option. I changed my ticket (this took about an hour) then I proceeded to have my friends take my bags with me down to a taxi where I would head over to Old Delhi Rail Station (about a half hour ride). I was going to get to an internet cafe so I could contact my friends Rahul & Lorette and let them know that I was not coming on the morning train -- I was out of air time for my phone -- another challenge.

My friends with the bags proceeded down the stairs and to the autorikshaw and helped me load up -- I offered them two very generous tips for their trouble and they had really big smiles on their faces and smiled and waved as I drove off -- they had a good time I think!

MOVING
So I am heading to Old Delhi station and ask the driver to stop at an Internet Cafe on the way thinking -- I must contact Rahul & Lorette and let them know -- don't want them to travel to the station and wait for me when I am not coming till 4 hours later (boy was that a wish list!). I prayed and ask the Lord to settle all of this as this was so out of my hands. I was doing fine with it all until......

we find an internet cafe and the autorickshaw driver says he will wait but I can tell he is upset -- for what I do not know -- major language barrier. I am heading down a walkway -- in the back of some alley - looking for this internet cafe -- I get inside and they want my passport -- only don't write down the number -- they keep it for awhile -- I am wondering, "is this ok" -- then I get to a computer terminal and it won't load up AOL -- which is where I have Rahul & lorettes information -- including their phone number -- I try 2 machines -- it isnt' working -- I ask for help -- not getting any -- I don't see my passport -- I am thinking my bags are in the autoriksaw outside -- it has been 20 miutes -- did the guy just leave -- where is my passport? I started to get anxious and frustrated and said -- forget it the computer isn't working -- and got my passport and left and went outside to see -- my autoriksaw and the bags were still there --

OLD DELHI RAILWAY
Finally arrive at the railway station -- see there is a locker for bags and store my bags and then head out again to get an internet cafe -- find one after 45 minutes (it is now 8:30pm) -- I send an e-mail about my delay -- get their phone number and load the number in my phone -- try to buy air time -- can't find any. Go back to station and wait for train. Finally get on train at 11:00pm and then we sit for an additional hour and half -- finally we leave and I fall asleep -- you share the car with 3 other people and you eat and travel together and then sleep in bunks -- mine had 4.

WERE NOT IN DELHI ANYMORE
I wake up at 5:30am in the morning and the train is stopped -- I look outside -- it is fields of grass -- for miles. I ask where are we -- I am told a train derailed -- we have only travelled about 2 hours on our 12 hour journey -- and we will be delayed. Long story short -- we had been sitting since 2:30 am -- we actually took off towards our journey at 12:30pm in the afternoon -- 7 hours after I woke up -- we would travel very slow for about an hour and then stop -- this continued until I finally arrived at the station at around 8:30pm at night and then had to take the taxi for an hour to my friends house -- I think I arrived at the station in Varanasi and then to my friends house around 10:00pm. -- 30 hours after I started my journey.

At times when the train was stationary and I realized that I didn't have any toilet paper -- that it was really hot and that AC didn't work on the trains when the trains were not moving -- that the smells that were intermittant were now constant and I began to be really uncomfortable -- I started to realize as I looked outside -- that people live like this all the time in India on the trains. That discomfort and waiting and crowds and all is the norm -- even though I was subject to this -- when the train started -- my car would have AC -- I would get to a place where I had someone to meet me and things could be better -- many people on that train didn't and many outside the train in the villages on the way wouldn't either. These revelations are so powerful -- I ultimately was thankful for my time on that train -- although it did get hairy at times.

WIND IN MY FACE
When it did start to move finally and pick up speed -- I found myself near the door and opened it up and sat down on the steps and the wind was blowing in my face -- it felt great -- it was such a sense of adventure -- now I know why I see those pictures with people hanging out of the trains -- ITS FUN! Of course it is very dangerous and you could fall out or something -- but I was reminded about all the ways we "grow up" and get responsible and we loose that sense of adventure - I am pretty much convinced -- we need to keep looking for the doors that open and let the wind blow in our faces........

PEACE
JOHN

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