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May 16, 2020 / catherinebwrites


The Burning Ghats

Where else are you going?” my friend asked. He’d traveled in India a lot.

“Varanasi.” I replied.

“Gird the loins,” he warned, “it’s an experience.”

He was right.

We set out from the main station in Delhi in the dark. We reckoned the train journey would give us a chance to see the Indian countryside.

Main train station Delhi

Because the journey was 8 hours long, we decided to treat ourselves to first class. The seats were comfortable, there was plenty of legroom and considering it included meals, snacks, drinks and newspapers, the cost was reasonable.

We set out in the dark and waited impatiently for the sun to rise and show us India. The sun did rise but all it displayed was a curtain of fog so thick and so grey that all we glimpsed were ghostly shadows, a tree, a building, the heft of a station.

“The sun will soon burn it off.” we consoled one another.

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First class travel

It didn’t. We spent six hours in the thickest fog I have ever experienced. When, finally, we emerged into daylight the train gathered speed. We watched swathes of bright yellow mustard flash by, boys driving goats, women squatting to work in fields of green corn, hamlets of mud-coloured houses,clusters of trees. But not a hill or a mountain in sight. It seemed as though all of India was one great plain. I rose to go to the toilet.

The toilets in all our hotels had been fabulous and as we were travelling first class expectations were high. I opened the door and found a hole in the floor. Oh… The problem was… how can I put this delicately? When a train is racketing along, lurching from side to side, accurate aim is next to impossible. I stepped gingerly on to the low, foot-shaped pedestals and discovered that a lurching train also makes it hard to stay balanced. I vowed not to visit again.

We reached Varanasi in the late afternoon, two and a half hours late. And stepped into mayhem.

Try finding Wally here!

Our Homestay promised to send someone to meet us. We stood in a tsunami of people wondering how could they possibly find us? We were sure we’d be stuck on this platform forever or else we’d be crushed to death.

Every tourist who’s been to India returns with tales of the crowds and the chaos. What they never tell you is that Indians know how to do crowds. We, impatient westerners, push and shove in a crowd. Indian’s don’t. They flow around one another like water round rocks.

The train is enormously long, hundreds were getting off, hundreds more getting on. People were greeting family and friends, or saying good byes. Parents were guiding children and carrying babies. Men were unloading packages, others loading on goods , some were wrestling with suitcases, some lifting plastic-wrapped bundles on to their heads. Boys sidled around selling water or snacks. But no one was crushed. We found that, if we moved slowly and sideways, we could weave our way through the melee.

We searched about for someone holding a sign with our names. We couldn’t see anyone. Should we head for the entrance? Should we stay where we were? Then it dawned on us, we were the only westerns in sight. They wouldn’t miss us. Suddenly two young men emerged smiling and waving large sheet of paper with our names on it.

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Street in Varanasi

They guided us out into the street where a different chaos reigned. A chaos of tuk-tuks and bicycles, cars, taxis, carts, cows and miscellaneous traffic all tangled together. They got us into a tuk-tuk. Off we careened, beeping and swerving along rough-surfaced streets, through a welter of traffic that made rush hour in Delhi look staid. I had to remind myself of the lesson I’d learned on our first days in India. They definitely know what they’re doing. We’re probably safe.

Quiet street in Varanasi

At last we turned into some quieter streets and pulled up outside a gate. Inside there was a calm garden courtyard and a man there to welcome us. He was Harish, owner of our Homestay. He showed us our room and told us what time dinner would be.

We lay on our bed and recovered.


Leave a Comment
  1. PedroL / May 16 2020 5:59 pm

    Tha photo of everyone trying to get the train was kind of scary… I imagine myself there not knowing what to do lolol thanks for sharing this post, it was truly cool to read and see your photos, Varanadi must be unforgettable šŸ™‚ stay safe and greetings from Portugal, PedroL


  2. The West Laine Wanderer / May 16 2020 7:08 pm

    This is very interesting. I don’t know a lot about India so thank you for teaching me! Greetings from London.


  3. white kitchen tap / Aug 31 2020 11:36 pm

    exciting blog. I will follow you.


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