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Published: September 29th 2018
The plan for today was to arrive in Varanasi around 1120, after a (relatively) luxurious 1AC overnight train journey. This has not happened.
When booking there was no availability on the train from Agra to Varanasi so we had to get a connection to New Delhi and pick up the train from there. Unfortunately our train to New Delhi arrived 2 hours late and we missed our connection by about 10mins. None of the trains we’ve got have been on time, unfortunately the one time we need one to run slightly late it was actually on time!
On the plus side we had at least found something to eat on the train. After double checking our train had definitely left the platform we heading over the the enquiries office to find out if they could give us the name of the next couple of stations and it’s time of arrival there. My brother and his wife have previously managed to get a taxi to the next station and catch up with their train when in India. The guy literally laughed in my face at such a ridiculous suggestion saying it was a ‘super fast express’ and refusing to tell us the stations. He told us there was another train at 830 tomorrow morning and that we should get that. He was dismissive when I asked if there were any seats available as they were all sold out on line.
Reluctant to assume we’d be able to get seats and miss the opportunity to get a bus instead we went to talk to a different person. This one seemed to think there wasn’t a train at 830 but there was one from a different station at 630am, there were seats of all classes available, but we couldn’t buy a ticket from New Delhi.
Fine, we decided to head over to the other station and try and get a ticket.
New Delhi is known to have problems with its taxis and tuk tuks
(the hostel we’ve booked there has sent us pages of information about their current scams and how best to avoid them - this is the first area that’s done that). We managed to find a tuk tuk driver who seemed to know the station we needed and said he’d take us on the meter. Fine. We get into his tuk tuk with all our bags and he promptly starts asking for 600 rupees (to go about 7.5km according to the railway staff). He says it’s 30km! We remind him we agreed meter, he says no, fixed fee. I think we actually laughed when he said 600 rupees (we’d just done the same distance in Agra for 120). Getting our bags out the price started to drop rapidly but only got to 400 and we were gone.
As we walked away another driver offered to take us. Checking the station with someone who spoke English we eventually agreed to 300 rupees (it was after midnight and I didn’t care by then). As we left the station carpark he asked for 50 rupees for the parking - we refused. Fortunately he did take us to the correct station and there were no further arguments.
By this point we were already thoroughly fed up. Tired having woken at 5am the day before to see the Taj Mahal and upset that no one was being even vaguely helpful I just wanted to go to the airport and go to Nepal early.
We tried to buy a ticket for the 630am train. The good news was that it existed, we were at the right station and that it left from platform 5. Having spoken to 3 different people though, and been sent to a shut ticket office, we were only offered general seats. The 4th person said there were no other seats available (contrary to one of his colleagues and the guy in New Delhi) and that once on the train we should just ask the ticket conductor for an upgrade, ‘for a little money’... Fine, we bought the tickets.
General class tickets are a free for all, there is no allocated seating, the windows are open and barred. It’s hot, cramped and the toilets are disgusting. Moreover it would not be a good idea reading our kindle or iPad in this class. I wasn’t looking forward to it (I know some people say it’s an experience - it’s just not one I want for 13 hours having had so little sleep).
We followed the signs upstairs to the dormitories only to discover the 2nd floor, where they’re supposed to be, looked like a scene from the former Yugoslav republic. The paint was peeling, the floor blacked out, wires hanging out of the ceiling, pools of urine in the corners. Great. Downstairs was noisy, busy, bright and the floor space was already full of bodies. We decided the dark upper floor was marginally more conducive to some sleep. Bags clipped together, Stephen made sure my penknife was to hand before wondering off to the toilets (completely unnecessary but it did feel rather isolated). We then lay down on the floor to try and get some sleep. It was cold and hard although I managed to sleep a little before waking from shivering.
Awake again at 530am we decided to double check there weren’t some allocated seats available. The correct ticket office was now open and we managed to get beds in 2AC. We have now bought 3 tickets to get to Varanasi!
Once on the train I can safely say that this is the dirtiest one we’ve been on so far. There’s mould on the ceilings by the AC vents and rather a lot of creepy crawlies running around (including cockroaches). Vaguely clean sheets acquired we settled down to get some sleep.
On waking again the very kind couple in the berth with us shared their delicious home made lunch. There wasn’t a lot but they insisted there was enough to share - after so many problems with other people this kind gesture very nearly made me cry.
This is another of their ‘super fast express’ trains. It stops lots and doesn’t go very fast. Our idea of catching the other train was really not so ridiculous.
I’m also not sure why there was ever an issue with getting reserved seats - our carriage is fairly empty meaning the AC is really, really cold!
Let’s hope we love Varanasi and it will all be worthwhile!
I can’t say I’m particularly looking forward to going back into Delhi - the people were far more aggressive than we’ve had elsewhere and on the drive through there were huge piles of rubbish at the side of the road. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
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