Well, I finally had my India breaking point. Here is a story from about two weeks ago.
After camping two nights in Bayasi outside of Rishikesh, I returned to the hostel in Rishikesh at midday to wait for a night train to Varanasi, 705 km away. I also returned to the hostel hoping to find another traveler who would be taking the same night train and, I did! I met Andraz from Slovenia that morning. He and I made plans to re-connect around 8:00pm to start the journey to the train station.
As is typical with a waitlisted seat, my berth on the train was confirmed at 8:00pm, 4 hours prior to the scheduled departure of the train. Earlier in the day I was monitoring the train and knew the departure was already 4 hours delayed. There is intense fog in northern India now and these delays are common.
To reach the train station, Andraz and I walked 15 minutes from our hostel to catch a tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk drove us 6km to the Rishikesh bus station where we boarded a bus for the 45 minute journey to Haridware, a larger town with a train depot.
Public transportation from Rishikesh to the Haridware train station runs until midnight. Although we knew the train was delayed until 4:00 am, we needed to go to the station the night before because of transit availability.
Our bus journey to the station was smooth. Arriving at the train station we saw hundreds of people, covered with blankets, some surround by luggage, laying and sitting on benches and the station floor. This station is a typical basic station. There are cement floors and some open and covered spaces.
Inside the station we found the Chart Office to check on the status of our train. Hand written on a whiteboard were the train timings. Our train still showed a delay of 4 hours.
With the departure time re-confirmed, we returned to a less crowded part of the station, set an alarm for 3 hours later, and attempted to sleep. It was about 55 degrees in the station. Our companions in catching sleep appeared to be homeless people.
At 3:30am we woke up, packed our blankets and put on our backpacks. We walked to the platform and waited. There was no train. Around 4:00am we checked back at the Chart Office and learned our train departure was delayed to 8:00am. We went back to sleep on the floor as best as possible.
The train arrived around 8:00am. Andraz and I boarded in our separate classes. I quickly went to sleep in my 2nd class bed. The train departed around 9:00am. We arrived in Varanasi around 1:30am the following day. After taking a tuk-tuk the the hostel, I went to bed at 3:00 am. If you are counting, I reached my next destination 28 hours after leaving my last hostel. I had expected a 13 hour journey.
Varanasi was, as the British say, “full on.” I enjoyed the city tremendously. After this train experience and a full few days in Varanasi, it took two days of rest (one in a fancy hotel) before I was back to my energized self.
A few visuals to accompany the train journey story.
Luke from the U.K. and Andraz from Slovenia were my buddies for wandering the culturally important city of Varanasi. We stopped at an intersection to map read and observe. This is a city with more life and energy than any other I have visited.
In Varanasi there are 87 ghats (stone steps leading into the water) for ritual bathing, cremation and other spiritual ceremonies. Boats are everywhere with touts hoping to sell boat rides to tourists who wish to view the ghats from the water.
Vendors selling food, flowers for offerings, and illegal substances are along the ghats. A smaller wedding procession from the city visited the ghats.
Walking along the river it is possible to walk from one ghat to the next without passing vehicle or auto-rickshaw traffic. Most ghats were constructed after 1700 AD.
Animals have a large presence in this city. We were often stepping around cows.
Signs identifying the ghats.
Street art at the ghats with Shiva and other deities.
There is so much life in all of Varanasi, including at the main ghat, Dashashwamedh, where an evening aarti takes place. Spiritual leaders will stand on the raised platforms with lamps during the aarti ceremony and the whole area is filled with people.
The Ganga river is a part of daily life. I saw people bathing and playing in the water when I visited. There are also stone slabs for washing clothes. In a city where many processes do not appear to have an order or system, this laundry hung neatly by color coding was an intriguing contrast.
We took a break from walking to watch people playing cricket and other pick-up sports at a large field. There were hundreds of people enjoying. I did not see any woman or girls participating. (Photo credits to Andraz for the cricket images.)
Rupali, a local tourist from Delhi, joined us for our second day of wandering in Varanasi.
Kiosk shops are common in India. Kiosks may sell food, tobacco, top-up credit for mobile phones or other daily life items. To reduce costs for the buyer, items are packaged in small sizes. There are single serving pouches of shampoo, soap and other toiletries. Costco it is not.
Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi is a top school in the country. We visited this campus known for its lush landscaping. With signs identifying various departments, paved walkways, a canteen, and a central lawn this campus felt similar to college campuses in the U.S.
A morning and evening aarti take place daily at Dashashwamedh ghat, one of the main ghats in the city.
As we watched the aartie from our row boat along with many other tourists in boats, most of whom were India, chaiwallas (people who sell chai tea) wandered around offering their beverages. A chai is usually 10 rupees or $0.07.
Through happenstance, I connected with Jai, the owner and founder of a well known city walking tour company called Varanasi Walks. We were excited to meet because Jai is also a Minneapolis-ite. Jai introduced me to the local community with visits to temples, monuments, and local hang out spots.