Overnight Train to Varanasi

As a group we were apprehensive about this overnight train journey to Varanasi, the religious capital of India. However, as it turned out, all our fears were for naught as you will soon see.

At 5 PM we jumped into a number of cars and headed for the train station. Again, the trip to the station did not disappoint as we weaved through cars, bicycles, pedestrians, tuktuks, and street vendors. AJ says that you need three things to drive in India – Good Driver, Good Car and Good Luck!!

All three elements came together and we all arrived at the railway station in one piece. We obediently followed AJ through the station to our platform amidst the other thousands of passengers that all had the same goal. Our train had already arrived so even though we were early, we boarded immediately. We were all the in same carriage but as there is only six bunks per berth (three per side) we were divided into groups of four. We were paired up with Lisa and Louis and two local gentlemen rounded out our six. One of the fellows did not speak much but the other was very friendly and we spent a pleasant few hours enjoying Sachin Singh’s company. He told us his travel tales and gave us local information and tidbits. Around 9 PM I felt that I was ready for bed.  Each bunk had a set of sheets wrapped in brown paper and a rough blanket. I was on the top bunk so it was bit of a struggle getting the bed made but it was good enough. After one last trip to the toilet, which smelled bad but wasn’t too dirty yet, I crawled into my bunk in the same clothes that I started the day with. The movement of the train rocked me to sleep and though I woke up a few times during the night, I actually slept pretty well. We arrived in Varanasi about 8 AM and after comparing notes, I found that most of the group slept better than expected. The toilets were still useable in the morning so the train journey was not nearly as scary as we imagined that it would be.

Leaving the station, AJ packed us all into tuktuks to take us to the hotel. This is the first time that Richard and I have been in a tuktuk and it was another experience that did not disappoint. The traffic is much the same as Delhi, though the streets are narrower and in much need of repair. So, as in Delhi, horns are honking and all types of vehicles are fighting space on the road. The difference is that now we are a much smaller vehicle and a scrape against us could do some serious damage. Richard took a number of videos but I do not think that they will begin to capture the sights and sounds that we were experiencing. Cows and pigs were wandering the streets or picking through the garbage on the side of the road. A few dogs and many people also added to the confusion. 

We got to the hotel, had some breakfast, checked into our rooms and had a much needed shower. We are now ready to head out for an afternoon of sightseeing with an evening river cruise to follow. It should be nothing but interesting!!  

The following three videos were just on our way to the hotel.

A Day in Delhi

I am not even sure how to start. After my post yesterday, Richard and I went for a little walk around our hotel. Walking in the street was taking your life into your hands. We tried to look at the shops around us but we had to keep watching out for traffic at every moment. There were many street vendors selling clothing, which included everything from suits to winter parkas. Most of the shops did sell clothing or textiles of some sort. We did find a little corner store where we were able to buy some water. We found a McDonalds and checked out the menu though we did not have anything to eat. There are no beef products on the menu – only chicken and vegetarian. We headed back to our hotel and waited in the lounge  for our group and tour guide to arrive. We have a wonderful group (I have to say that because they are all following the blog now LOL). Caroline from UK, Lisa and Louis from UK, Mick and Roe from Australia, Miriama and her son Felix from New Zealand and Naoya and Noriko from Japan. Our tour guide is AJ. I listed all their names because we will be spending the next 11 days together and I am sure that their names will come up periodically. After our tour briefing, AJ took us to a restaurant around the corner. Everyone tried something new and though the flavors are different from what we are used to, I think that everyone enjoyed it. It was a great opportunity to get to know each other within a social setting.

We started early this morning with a walking tour of Old Delhi. Though we had been briefed and we knew what we were going to see, it was the journey to get there that was the most interesting. We walked to the metro station and as it was still fairly early, the streets were not as crowded as they had been the afternoon before. About a ten minute ride on the metro took us to Old Delhi. The cacophony of cars, people, motorbikes, and horns honking assailed the ears. Oxen and horses pulling carts and walking alongside the motorized carts, bicycles and vans seemed incompatible. The smells of exhaust, street food, and garbage assaulted the nose. And AJ led us through this traffic towards the largest mosque in Delhi – Jama Masjid. This mosque was constructed in 1650–56 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahān who was also responsible for the construction of the Taj Mahal. After taking off our shoes, we wandered around the courtyard area that holds 20,000 people for prayers. Jama Masjid is oriented toward the holy city of MeccaSaudi Arabia, which lies to the west.

Jama Masjid of Delhi

From there we walked over to Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, a Sikh temple. This time we took off shoes and socks and went into the temple. We sat for a few minutes and listened to prayers to the 10 prophets. From there we walked over to the Soup Kitchen (for lack of a better description) which is attached to the temple. Here, food is prepared for 5000 people per day, free of charge. We walked through the kitchens where they were cooking lentils and making chapati (similar to a crepe) and the dining hall where they were making naan bread. Other than the bread, all food is prepared by hand. It is a huge undertaking everyday but they have many volunteers and many donors to keep this program alive.

We headed back to the metro station and then to the hotel. Funny story – At our metro stop, Lisa and I were talking and somehow did not make it out of the train before the doors closed on us. I’m sure our faces were in shock as we watched our group standing on the platform as the train, with the two of us still in it, left the station. Luckily, a young Indian man had also missed his stop and he guided us back to where we should have got off. A couple of seconds of panic but it all ended well.

So now we are waiting to board our overnight train to Varanasi. They say that you haven’t had an Indian experience until you ride the train. The group as a whole is apprehensive but I am sure that we will survive. See you in Varanasi!!

Our family for the next ten days.

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The favourite or most popular beer in India is Kingfisher.

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On the street.

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Keeping the bad spirits out.  People will hang a combination of peppers and lemons in order to catch the bad  spirits.  When the lemons and peppers are dried out they are thrown into the street along with the bad spirits thus keeping the bad spirits out of your shop or home.

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The Mosque from the outside.

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Getting our headgear on the enter the Sikh Temple and inside the Temple.

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The following are pictures of the area in the Sikh Temple where they prepare the food for the thousands of people they feed every day.

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The temple from the outside.

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