Varanasi – ghats, goats and gazillions of germs

(apologies for bad typing on this entry – the keyboard at this cybercafe is particularly bad!)

We gathered our stuff at the hotel last night – they’d charged us 40Rp to keep it safe all day – and ventured out to get a taxi to the train station. Waving one driver away for trying to charge us 150 Rupees, we managed to talk another down from 120Rp to 90Rp and into the bargain found a third person heading the same way who we split the fare with.

On the way there, we got stuck for almost ten minutes at one traffic light while a woman who could only grunt tried to get money off our new friend in the front seat. She must have rattled her tin cup for five minutes right by his ear. Hans was on the point of taking it off her when the lights finally went green.

The station was the usual bedlam one has come to associate with Indian public transport, but it’s organised bedlam. We knew the train number and the platform announcement was clear enough. We headed for a food hall which, as luck would have it, was showing the Liverpool v Chelsea game on a nice big screen. I only got to watch about twenty minutes, but saw replays of both goals.

As ever, getting onto the train was a nightmare. Indians stand in puddles, not queues. A “Q” is just a letter in a foreign alphabet to them. As such, getting onto the train was probably somewhat akin to one of Hans’ army training exercises. Arms, legs, suitcases, bags containing I don’t want to know what (but which at least weren’t wriggling) and children thrust underarm. Trying to remove my rucksack was a nightmare. Back home, common sense would dictate that allowing me the 10 seconds required to shrug it off and throw it on my bunk would be 10 seconds well spent and allow easier movement in the carriage. Not here. Oh, no. I think I smacked three people in the jaw trying to get the thing off as they simply wouldn’t stop trying to crush past.

I tried to sit on one of the lower seats, but it began to get a bit crowded when we realised that three people were sharing the lower (single) bunk. I don’t even know how you’d book this, but they’d managed it. I just slung all my stuff “upstairs” and lay there reading. Hans clambered up onto his as the other 5 bunks in his little enclave opposite had six or seven people spread across them.

Dot on time, we took off as people screamed and ran for the exits because they were only onboard to see relatives off. Not a problem as it’s not like they lock the doors on moving trains over here.

This was to be a 14-hour train ride, so we settled in. Annoyingly, they didn’t have anywhere near as many food options as we’d got on the ride to Mumbai so I went hungry overnight. My own silly fault.

There was a loud argument between the guard and someone at the end of our carriage at one point, which seemed to hold up us somewhere around 10pm but we’ve no idea what it was about. The guys with guns (there were several on board) didn’t get involved, thankfully.

The best/worst part, though, was the old guy in the middle bunk opposite Hans. Now I know I’ve gone on about Hans’ snoring and it’s become a running joke. But this man… oh, wow. Hand on heart, no exaggeration, he drowned out the train. Even at its loudest going through tunnels and over bridges. He sounded like a horse being choked.

Hans tried to film him, but it was a little dark. He’s managed to get the sound, though. At one point ourselves, the three guys beneath me, and a few people in the “unit” behind Hans were in tears of laughter as he got louder and louder.

Until we tried to sleep. This man didn’t stop even when he rolled over. All flipping night. My earplugs pretty much shrugged their little yellow shoulders and said “Sorry – best we can do” and put their fingers in their ears. Thankfully he’d gone to sleep at 9pm, so was awake by 5am. Which is when I actually managed to nod off before we arrived in Varanasi at 10:00.

On arrival, we had to get off the train (which involved more pushing an shoving) and then the entire trainload of people was forced through a single doorway into the outside world through one of those doorway metal detectors. Utterly pointless and incredibly uncomfortable – as well as distressing for some of the smaller kids caught in the crush.

One able to breathe, Hans rang the guest house and they send an autorickshaw to get us. A good thing as it was over five minutes’ walk from where the vehicle had to park to the house itself. The streets near the river are very narrow and filled with cows!

We dropped our stuff there and went for a walk along the riverside. There’s a lot to see and the city stretched a fair distance. Semi-naked hairy men bathing, people scrubbing with soap and then washing it off with water containing 1.5 million bacteria per 100ml, kids with kites, a mad Indian dancing like a loon, more people trying to sell us drugs…

Lunch was at a German bakery where I settled on veg fried rice – my stomach needed something easy after not having anything in it for 14 or so hours. Then onwards we walked further along until we got to the cybercafe I’m sat in now. Tapping this up while chatting to Noa on MSN and getting sore fingers from the dodgy keyboard.

But we must dash. We have a boat trip booked in a little over an hour and we’re not sure how far from the guest house we are. Again, photos will be published when I can. The guest house has wireless but it’s insanely expensive.

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