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Tuesday 16th November - Delhi to Varanasai
By Claire
Monday, 22nd November 2004 05:43

We went straight to the ticket office first thing this morning. There were a few people waiting already, but the man who sorted us out yesterday came to see us and dealth with us first, which was nice. We were out again in ten minutes! We went back to pack our bags and we found a few bits of food for the train: a stall was selling hobnobs and bounty bars! A quick stop at the internet to see if any of the places Mikey had emailed had replied (they had, so we had a few nights' accommodation sorted already) and I heard the dreadful news about a film of the Da Vinci Code being made, and then we had lunch. We asked the restaurant to make us some sandwiches for the train, which came in little carboard boxes. Then we took a couple of photos of the bazaar and the cart bouncing along behind a painted, pom-pom adorned cow. We didn't have enough time to do very much - by the time we'd walked into town it would be time to come back, so we went back to the hostel to pick up our bags. The major was there, and he was in a chatty mood. He told us how great the British were in India and all the mavellous things they did for the country, and then he showed us the guest books that people had signed and all the things they'd said about him and he urged us to do the same. It's just as well we weren't in a hurry!

We put our bags on a rickshaw and I sat up with them while Mikey walked beside the bike, and we made it to the station. We had about an hour and a half, which was too long to stand on the platform, so we took our bags up to the ticket office, sat in a corner with the train book and pretended to be looking at routes. Half an hour before the train was due to leave, the platform was announced, and we made our way through the crowds. It wasn't as bad as I was expecting: five people died here yesterday in the crush for the train. And people weren't pushing in quite the same was as the Chinese had, so I wasn't in too much danger of being dragged down the stairs and killed, which was reassuring.

There were a lot of people camped on the platforms, with sacks and boxes and things wrapped in newspaper and tied with string. Most of them stared at us. Mikey went to check that we were on the right platform and I stayed with the bags and watched the little fluffy rats on the tracks. Very cute. As he returned, the train arrived and we found our carriage. There was an orderly line of people waiting along side the train blocking the doors to the carriages. I was trying to battle my way through when a young man came along, shoved people out of my way and led me onto the train. Then he disapeared before I could thank him.

The trains were not like the Chinese ones: there were no closed rooms, and the beds, arranged in fours, were separated from the corridor by curtains. The corridor itself held two tiers of beds lengthways down the train, too. Mikey and I had bunk beds on the same side, and we put our big bags under the lower berth. Two other men arrived and one paid a porter for bringing his bags. We sat in silence for a while and the train left punctually. It was strange that the train never really picked up speed. The sun started to set, men came along and offered tea and sandwiches, and I opened the pack of biscuits. I offered them to the two, so far silent, men opposite, both of whom refused, and then the older of the two asked, very, very quietly, if we'd bought them in India. There followed a very hesitant, slow conversation with the man who was actually a doctor from London, coming back to India to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of his leaving. He spoke painfully quietly, and there were long periods of silence between statements, but, after a couple of hours, we were actually chatting quite happily about our families and jobs and the things we'd seen on the trip, the frequency of Indian train crashes and the marvels of Branston pickle. The big Bangladeshi man sitting next to him found a spare bed somewhere else.

We had our sandwiches, which tasted a bit like goat and earth, and then I went to the top bunk to read. Before I went to bed, I tried to brush my teeth in the tiny sink between the carriages, but only really managed to spray water everywhere. The doctor spent forty minutes taking a variety of medications for his various ailments, and I went to sleep.

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