Wednesday 2nd September
After feasting on an expensive breakfast we walked back to the station and made a reservation on the 02:30 sleeper for Varinassi (Banares). Sounds simple, but despite the very short queue it took us an hour. Everything in India seems to be done as slowly and methodically as possible and with all the documentation made in at least triplicate. There is absolutely no point trying to rush anyone. After awhile one slows down and adapts to the unhurried business and the sedate pace of life around. The trains move slowly and people wait patiently (or sometimes not) for hours, and hours.
After the train ticket we sought out a bank to change money. Another long and tedious job. Better make it part of the holiday experience rather than a functional necessity to get out of the way as quickly as possible.
Changing money was not an easy task. It is no use walking into a bank and expecting to cash a traveler's cheque. We went into a least four banks before being directed to the main branch of the state bank. We walked about 2km to find a bank where we could get money - fortunately it was in the general direction we wanted to go anyway.
On the way to the bank we passed a sugar cane drink stall. Jane and Ben had tried it elsewhere on their travels in India and highly recommended it. So we bought some; 75 paises per glass.
Extracting the sugar cane sap
The drink is made by pressing the lengths of sugar cane between rollers and collecting the sap. The cane is broken and folded and squeezed again, over and over again until the cane is reduced to a dry shredded mess. For our drink we got a squeeze of lemon juice too, but sometimes it is lime or even ginger. I liked it, but noticed that the juice seller had only a couple of glasses and between customers rinsed them out in a bucket of murky looking water. Had this been a wise buy. Two weeks ago I would only drink bottled water and now I was trying exotic juice from a dirty glass.
In the bank - yes - slow, do everything in triplicate paper work style, they were fascinated by my being left handed. I don't know why. Anyway, cash replenished, I headed for the Air India office to buy a ticket for Amritsar which I had decided I would visit after Varinassi. In contrast to the methodical thoroughness of the railway station and bank, the airline office didn't check the availability of the flights or seats. They simply wrote out and handed me the tickets. $80, not bad I suppose for a return flight from Delhi to Amritsar, but now I am broke. I'll have to get my $54 back from Jane and Ben (flights out of Kathmandu).
We continued to walk, heading for the Beehive, which is near the shores of the river Ganges. The beehive is a large granary build to store grain after a famine several hundreds of years ago (history here not my strong point). I don't think it has been used.
I was still determined to try some Indian snacks, cooked at and sold from the roadside stalls. I bought two samosas, mainly potato but with spices of some sort, 30 paises each and very nice too,: spicy but not too hot. We also bought ice cream. Two weeks ago I wouldn't have dared, but now I'll try anything: sugar cane juice, ice cream and local snacks. Somehow I have convinced myself that I shan't (can't?) get ill. The temptation of the food is causing a sort of recklessness.
We climbed to the top of the beehive. It was hot, humid and a struggle. The view from the top was worth it: great panoramas across the Ganges.; a wide river with no visible banks, just abroad swathe of water laid like a ribbon across the flat country side. It was very hot. We had to rest before descending down to the river side.
We were immediately surrounded by hoards of people, mainly but not all children. They simply stand and stare, preventing our passage. We stand and stare back. Eventually they smile, we smile and they move out of our way and let us pass.
Buffalo, bicycles, people and clothes. All are being washed in the muddy waters. The water looks so clouded with mud, I'm surprised it cleans anything.
Bathing in the Ganges
After a while we left, taking a rickshaw back to an ice cream parlour we had seen earlier. We spent a pleasant couple of hours relaxing and drinking ice cool drinks and eating ice cream. Absolutely delicious. The food here is every bit as good as that anywhere: freshly squeezed juice, cool and delicious. Ah! to all those warnings, I'll drink it until it comes out of my ears.
At four pm we set off back to Hotel Nilgiri. We were having trouble finding a rickshaw when a young man said he was driving there in his car and would be pleased to give us a lift, no charge. We accepted. He and his friends must have been well educated and relatively wealthy. All had fathers or brothers who were doctors in England. They wanted to take us our for the night but we declined; we were tired and dirty and we wanted to shower, eat and sleep before going off to catch our overnight train. It was a sleeper but we were not hopeful of much sleep.
I don't know why but we ended up at the railway station at 6:00pm, a full eight and a half hours before the train. We should have gone out with the young men. Groan; what to do? Read. Read some more; Walk up and down the platform stepping over those fortunate enough to be able to sleep anywhere, anytime and then read again.
Indian railway stations are always crowded. People come apparently prepared for very long waits: night clothes; bed rolls, full kit for camping out on the platform!!! Every available space on the platform, in the waiting room, the foyer, by the ticket office is used or taken as someones "plot". A bed of sorts appears and another Indian traveler lies down to wait.
We ate in the railway restaurant. Very good scrambled egg and toast. Excellent coffee. Jane and Ben tried cornflakes too but sent them back because of the "worms" they found in them. No doubt an old, out of date box. I bet cornflakes aren't often requested on Indian railway stations. Jane and Ben had more toast and they dared me to try the "standard meal". I ordered the standard vegetarian meal.
It came on a stainless steel tray with indented dishes. In each indentation a different dish. Mostly spiced potatoes, onions and peas of numerous varieties. It came with a huge mound of plain boiled rice, two chappatis and some sauces. Except that it was all cold, it tasted OK. There was only one sauce I didn't like. They thought this would "cure" me of my liking for Indian food. Will I suffer for this tomorrow? I hope not. I still think it is better to eat the typical food than tempt fate with the unusual. Why come to India and eat cornflakes - is it supposed to be safer?
Jane and Ben bought more books. I didn't see any I wanted. They were too expensive to buy just for the sake of it. More waiting. We went into the gents waiting room with Ben. I tried to sleep on a wooden bench. Maybe nodded off once or twice but spent longer pretending that I was likely to get sleep than sleeping. Must of dozed off. Awoke at 1:15am, only an hour to go.
We collected our rucksacks and went to the platform. Torrential rain. Waited another 30 minutes or so. We boarded the train at last and an official showed us to our bunks - and also groped us, squeezing our breasts. It was deliberate. He did it to both Jane and myself. This was the fourth time it had happened to Jane and the second time for me. It is disgusting - what do they think they are doing?
We had two middle and one lower bunk. Jane and I were adamant that Ben must sleep in the lower bunk. My first encounter with unwanted hands had been while sleeping on a lower bunk.
Hard wooden bunks. I gave my pillow to Jane. Somehow I didn't care about comfort anymore. I felt like a mind wandering around and had given up feeling the aches of the body in tow apart from the thirst during a blisteringly hot days.
We arrived in Varinassi at just after 9:00am the following morning.