The driver lugged my backpack to the entrance of Howarth train station, the entrance was bursting at the seams as travellers fought their way in and out. Stepping over bodies of people casually waiting for tickets, I made my way into the huge waiting area, groups of Indians scattered around huge mountains of luggage - announcements shrieking over the tirade of chitter-chatter of patiently waiting passengers. The time was 5.30pm, my train departed at 7.10pm, I had time to kill!
Taking a seat I watched couples engrossed in conversation. Mothers trying to control their children and men trying to capture the attention - and affection - of lone women travellers. My train, number 13005 arrived - it was time to board. Making my way to the platform I fought the hundredss if not thousands of other passengers trying to grab their seat. I was booked, I has a reserved space (but only at last minute having been a little unaware how much in advance you need to book trains in India – 4 weeks!!!) my second class air conditioned sleeper carriage was awaiting me on coach B1.
India has one of the largest train networks perhaps, only second to china, originally built by the British – and by all accounts very little has been added since the Brits colonial rule. Spanning the width and breadth of the country it is one of the most efficient ways to travel - my tickets - R850 - just over £10 for a 14-hour journey. Not bad at all!
In the section where I was positioned their were six beds, I crammed my six foot frame into the Top bunk that barely fitted within the confines of the bed. I spoke to a Chinese traveler and a local Indian before falling into a deep sleep. 7am I woke. How I managed a 10 hour-kip is beyond me…especially on a train.
The train pulled into Varanasi at 9.17am - just 5minutes delayed having traveled over 500km. Well done India! (I can travel only 13 minutes, one stop in London and be over 7 minutes delayed…at least this is one habit I see the Indian’s managed to shrug off from the British – but this is my first trip afterall).
Varanasi station was bustling but much calmer than Kolkata. A tout tried to encourage me to travel by motor tuk -uk with him. You need to be careful here, they will try to take you where you don't want to go. Fortunately, I had booked the Sahi River View Guest House in advance having read praise in Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor.
I attended the tourist information desk at the station who confirmed the hotel booking by phone for me and then arranged a tuk-tuk to take me there. R150 - sure I overpaid but at less than £2 I wasn't complaining, it turned out to be a 20minute ride through the town.
It was a hive of activity. Markets strewn across streets, cows meandering at their own free will - feeding on food & trash - dogs slept in the shade. The smells kept changing: flowers, fruit, feces, piss, herbs and spices. Rubbish sprawled the sidewalks as children made their way to school.
So this is Varanasi?
This is what I've read! And what's expected! Time to explore!