We took a 12 hour sleeper train to Varanasi,riding in 1st class air conditioned splendour (compared to the hellish journeys we were yet to endure).
It took us almost an hour of wandering through the narrow crowded streets of Varanasi in 40 degree heat to find our hostel. There were lots of groups of police men with rifles scattered throughout the streets which are teaming with life. Varanasi is a very religious city where hindus can be cremated at the Ghats that line the Gangies here so that they can escape the cycle of rebirth. Our hostel is just down the road from the main crematorium. We passed one body being burnt as we headed out on our travels after lunch at the hostel.
There are about 20 Ghats along the Gangies which we strolled passed. As with Delhi we didn’t have to walk far before someone starts trying to sell us something, give us a massage, take us on a boat ride etc… The sun was really beating down so we escaped to the back streets and proceeded to lose ourselves for a couple of hours. Encountering Bulls, packs of dogs and monkeys along with a multitude of the great unwashed Indian public.
The next morning we took an early morning boat ride (5am) past the Ghats along the Gangees in Varanasi. A wonderful sight to behold to be sure. After being advised that it was unsafe to walk the streets near our hostel after dark we decided to leave a little earlier than 12am as planned and treat ourselves to a chilled afternoon besided the pool of a decent hotel before making our onward journey. We headed out in the taxi at 12am headed for the Train station. The roads along the way were cobbled and our one eyed driver prefered to stradle the middle of the road stopping to get a small chain of flowers for safe passage from the god of the road. He asked us if we did the same in England, so we explained that we relied on Seatbelts and headlights rather than faith to help us survive!
When we arrived at the station there was a sea of people laid out accross the station floor. We looked at the information and realized that a lot of the trains were at least 6 hours late. We had arrived at 1am and our train was meant to depart at 2.30am so we braced ourselves for a long wait. We found the 1st class air conditioned waiting room and blagged our way in, only having 3rd class tickets. So we spent 2 hours in the lap of luxury before an inspector came and checked our tickets. Then it was down to the dirty platform to wait with everyone else.
The train arrived at about 4.30am in the end so we settled into our tiny bunks sharing the same space with 9 people that Darrell and I had to ourselves in our 1st class carridge on the way down. We eventually arrived in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal at 5pm and had a quiet meal on the rooftop terrace of our hostel looking out accross to the Taj. The following day we awoke early and headed to the Taj which was every bit is good as I was expecting, a truely awe inspiring site. After that we ran around the other atractions, of which there are many. And well documented in my photos.
We got a 4 hour sleeper train from Agra to Jaipur that evening. After falling asleep we were awoken 11 hours later to be told the train had been canceled and we were back in Agra. There is a tribe of people called the Gujjas who had blocked the trains and roads with their guns and pulled up the tracks so we could not get through. After checking the news we decided to give Jaipur a miss as it was uncertain if we could get there or out again with the uprising going on so we attempted to get a 1st class air con bus to Delhi. They were canceled so we eneded up on the locals bus with an open window instead of aircon. It was a hot sweaty 6 hours before we got to Delhi we headed straight to the airport and attempted to secure a flight to Bombay but had to wait until the following morning. The flight was delayed by a couple of hours but we got there eventually.
Bombay or Mumbai as it is now known, is a lot cleaner than Delhi. Which is really not that hard. If you imagine a cesspit combined with a landfill site populated by beggars and hawkers then you will be on your way to imaging the charming streets of India’s Capital.
Mumbai was a nice excursion, although it was no easy ride we did manage to take a boat to Elephanta Island and saw some amazing carved caves surrounded by hundreds of monkeys. We also went to a National park where we saw (cadged) Tigers as well as a Lion Roaming free. There was also a lot of great old buildings left over from the British rule.