<<  Bodhgaya, 26-Feb-2013  >>

Particularities of travel in India

Description of just another normal travel day, with ambitious plan of moving maye 160km in a single day. Incredible India!

Let me tell you something about particularities of travelling in India:

As I know (from other travelers) that trains in north India are always sold out and you have to buy the ticket always up-front, when I was leaving Varanasi, on my way to Sarnath I stopped at the railway station to buy the ticket to Bodhgaya. The rickshaw men, whom I told that I want to go to the railway station, took be to some place near the railroad track and the platforms, but which was obviously not the main building, but there was a ticket counter so I queued up to buy my ticket. After 15 minutes of waiting, some officer told me, that this is not the good spot for buying ticket, because here I would only get on a waiting list and that I should go to the main building, he told me where it was, and go to foreigner counter to buy my ticket. So I crossed the railroad track, found the main building, got to the “Foreign Tourists Hall”, waited there for 20 minutes for my turn, and when I finally got to the counter, exactly at 14:03, they told me that I just missed it, because it’s Sunday and on Sunday, the Indian Railways Headquarters in New Delhi shuts down the IT system at 14:00 and that there’s nothing they can do now. So they told me to come back next morning. When I told them that I would be in Sarnath by then (it’s only 10km away from Varanasi, but it takes 40 minutes one way), they told me that I should come tomorrow and that’s about the options which I have, because if I don’t buy the ticket tomorrow, I will not get the seat. So next day, I sorted out my options, because I didn’t feel like spending 1,5 hour in rickshaw just to buy the ticket, and I also knew that the rickshaw ride for those 20km from Sarnath to Varanasi and back will cost me approximately same money, as the train ticket from Varanasi to Darjeeling, which is maybe 700km. I found out that there is train station in Sarnath, so I decided to go to buy the ticket there. I spent 15 minutes going there, 15 minutes waiting in the queue and 15 minutes walking back, just to find out, that the train is sold out, but in Varanasi, in that Foreign Tourists Hall they can sell me tickets from “foreigners quota” (probably some leftover from colonial manners, that foreigners have certain number of guaranteed tickets). I tried one more option, went to a travel agency, spent some time there but they also could not sell me that foreigners quota ticket, so after more than an hour of wasted time, I decided to go to Varanasi to buy that ticket. 30 minutes in the rickshaw, this time I headed straight to Foreign Tourists Hall, and hell, there was like 30 people waiting there. Just to understand, issuing one railway ticket in India takes about the same time as a plane ticket in Europe: around 10 minutes. Luckily, some of those people were just waiting there for their train, so I managed to get to the counter in approximately an hour, got my tickets from colonial occupants quota, ehm, sorry, foreigners quota (thanks Shiva for this positive discrimination) and went back to Sarnath. All in all, it took 3 hours just to buy the ticket. But wait, that was the better part.

The train was leaving from Varanasi, but from a railway junction/station 12km from Varanasi, and in the Foreigner Tourist Hall they told me that I should leave Varanasi (by rickshaw) between 8:00 to 8:30 to be there on time. The train’s departure was scheduled for 10:35. 2 to 2 1/2 hours to pass 12km??? No way I thought, even for India this is totally exaggerated! At 8:30 I left Sarnath, arrived to Varanasi just past 9:00 and found one of the shared rickshaws that was supposed to go there just for few rupees. Of course that these shared rickshaws don’t have any schedule, they leave when they get full, so I waited for 15 minutes till few people joined, and then, all out of sudden, the mentally subnormal driver decided to take a different group to a different place, threw us out and told me to take a bus. Looking at the morning traffic jam in Varanasi I already understood that I should have listened to the good folks in Foreign Tourists Hall, and I was starting to get nervous about catching the train. I hopped on the nearby bus which was going there, and unsurprisingly, the bus didn’t move for next 20 minutes, because just like the shared rickshaw, it was waiting for getting packed. And when it finally moved, it kept on stopping literally every 100m to try to find some more travelers, and in 30 minutes, we moved maybe 1,5km. Ever since I boarded the bus and understood the rules of its game, I kept on trying to ask any of the 3 bus workers, whose job was to scream the destination name and get the customers and collect the tickets, if I should stay in the bus or catch a private rickshaw, because my train leaves at 10:35, but all I got was the Indian head shaking (in India, common answer to any question is shaking your head from side to side, but not turning the head like “No” in the west, and this shaking of the head can mean “Yes”, “No”, or “maybe” – very useful answer indeed!) and pointing of the hand that I should get back to the bus. Of course, that I understood that they don’t speak a word English, and that was OK, but come on, everybody must understand when I point at my watches, show them particular time and say “Bus? Tuk-tuk?”. Well, all these guys were interested in was getting there 20 rupees for the bus ride and kept on shaking head and pointing to the bus, without any attempt to give me some answer or trying to understand me. When we finally left Varanasi the bus started to go a bit faster, but it was obvious that I was not going to make it, and when we got into another deadly traffic jam, just 3kms from the train station as it turned out, and didn’t move for 5 minutes and it was 10:25, I just jumped off the bus and started to walk, trying to pass the source of the traffic jam and catch some rickshaw there, hoping that the train would be late. My extempore in the bus, was surely not one the big lessons in Love, I admit it. When I put my backpacks on my back, I walked to the “main bus worker”, screamed: “THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR MAKING ME MISS MY TRAIN YOU FUCKING IDIOT! BECAUSE ALL YOU CAN DO IS AAHHHHH EHHH BLAAAAH!!!!” and I made some unarticulated retarded sounds with retarded look on my face (that felt quite natural to me), to mimic his previous “words” to me, and they I added some monkey moves to mimic his pointing of the hand into the bus and I left with one big “FUCK YOU!” for him. The only response was Indian shaking of head. He didn’t get even this! Well, no, this was definitely NOT in line with spreading love attitude (although “fuck” surely is particular way of spreading love…), so I will have hard time cleaning my karma for this.

I walked a bit, caught a rickshaw (with 6 passengers already) and go the train station exactly 10 minutes late. Luckily, as it turned out at the end, the train got there 150 minutes late, so I did not miss it. Trying to find a ticket office or information at that train station was another mission impossible (although there seemed to be at least 10 ticket offices there, because every Indian I asked was pointing in completely other directions as the previous ones) , but fortunately I found a French traveler, who was waiting for the same train and told me that it was delayed, and all trains are delayed because of Maha Kumbh Mela (yes, it’s still running).

When I got to the train, I first had to fight for my reserved seat with two Indian guys. One of them said: “Sir, I travel only 100km, only 1 hour. I request that you let me sit here for that 1 hour and they you can sit” (by the way in Indian English “I request” means something like “could you please”, it sounds horribly rude for us, but they don’t mean it in our understanding of “I request”). Well, I “requested him” to free up my seat (I suggested sharing it but he gave it up anyway). And guess what, 3 and 1/2 hours later, when I was getting off the train, the guy was still in the train. So I asked him “Hey, didn’t you say that you would travel only for 1 hour?” and he replied, laughing: “Yes, 1 hour, but Indian hour!”. I wanted to tell him something like “In rest of the world we call people like you liars!” but I felt that my karma for that day was pretty damaged already, so I just smiled instead and got out of there. As arrived 3 hours later than I expected and one of the French travelers whom I met said that Bodhgaya was nice, I decided to prolong my stay in Bodhgaya from 2 night to 4 night, so I spend one more hour at the railway station changing my onward ticket to Darjeeling, got rickshaw to Bodhgaya and I finally arrived (but of course that the rickshaw driver again dropped me of completely elsewhere as I wanted to and I had to walk back there). You know, I chose that train, because it was supposed to take only 3,5 hours (compared to 5-7 hours in the bus), but all in all, it took 11 hours to pass circa 160kms. So these are the particularities of traveling in India. Sometimes you think that it’s going to kill you, but at the end of the day, it’s always fun - it’s simply part of the trip in India.

Oh shit, this post is even longer than the journey itself.
This is surely not the enlightenement post which you expected, right? Hold on, I just arrived :-)

Click for photo gallery

     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak