Friday, January 23, 2009

Getting to Varanasi--Train Ride from Hell

Before I discuss Varanasi, I wanted to mention the plethora of animals which are everywhere in India. I expected to see free roaming cows. We’ve all heard about it, but what you can not imagine is the multitudes of them. I thought maybe I'd see two dozen cows in Delhi. No. There are at least 5 on each block! They lie in the roads, eat trash, and shit everywhere. It is quite sad because most look very unhealthy. In addition to the cows, there are hordes of feral dogs, most of whom are lactating females or puppies. I guess about 10 dogs per block, in every city we visited. To add to the mix are monkeys, goats, and wild boars freely roaming the streets and sidewalks. Then there are camels, elephants, sheep, parrots, peacocks, bats and giant beehives. Who needs the zoo?

This one was completely blocked in by the cars:To travel to Varanasi, we had to take an overnight train. Train travel is ubiquitous in India and notoriously off schedule. Luckily, our tour guides helped us navigate the train stations. We took a short train ride upon leaving Agra to get to Khajuraho and Orchha. The journey was 2.5 hours long, but the train was late by about the same time. On this train, each passenger in our class received a liter of bottled water and a meal. We were dreading the overnight train trip which was supposed to take 12 hours, because we did an 8 hour overnight train in Vietnam, so we knew it would be grueling. The train to Varanasi was mediocre at best, but we did OK for the first 10 hours. We stopped at a major station in the morning and more than 50% of the occupants disembarked. Things started to go south when we sat at that station for more than 2 hours with no explanation. The remainder of the trip involved traveling about 20 miles per hour for a 1/2 hour and then stopping on the tracks for at least 30 minutes. We had no idea what the problem was or how long the journey would take. All the while, we were never served any food or water, and there was no snack car. Thank God I jumped off the train at one stop and bought bottled water and 2 teas, and double thank God I had snacks with me. When we hit the 16 hour mark, I had a bit of a breakdown. The whole trip wound up taking over 19 hours with no food or water! To make things worse, we alighted knowing we'd have to repeat the journey in 24 hours to return to Delhi. I was not a happy camper.

Later we learned the delays were due to dense fog in the region causing massive issues with flights and trains. It made the front page of the newspaper. In retrospect, we were fairly lucky to have arrived at all. Our poor driver waited for us at the train station all day, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The silver lining: the fog and an accident resulted in the cancellation of our return train trip. Imaginative Traveller responded perfectly and booked us a flight and arranged an additional hotel in Varanasi. I have never enjoyed a flight more than the one from Varanasi to Delhi.

On the train: it was freezing due to no heat which is why we are wearing hats.

1 comment:

The Fab Miss B said...

We had a very similar incident traveling in Uganda. We were going about 120 miles by train and it ended up taking 24 hours. I think the lack of explanation is the hardest part- its a lot easier to be patient when you know what to expect. (Knowing to bring food and water along would have been helpful!) I'm so glad you were able to tack a plane on the return! Love the picture of you with the girls btw.