Saturday, 18 December 2010

Wednesday 8th December - Varanasi/train

We had breakfast in the hotel and learned from one of the waiters about the bomb in the town. We went back to the room and put on the news and realised that we were lucky we had chosen to go on the evening boat trip the night we did.  An 18 month old girl was killed and about 25 other people were injured.  It was a small home made device but still big enough to cause damage.

As far as we are aware no-one has claimed responsibility.  Two men were arrested in Delhi for sending an e-mail claiming responsibility.  It seems strange that here in India they are more tolerant of other religions than anywhere else in the world.  Hindus and Muslims live side by side in harmony, never mind the Christians and Bhuddists too.  It makes you ask why.  Why would anyone want to harm innocent people?  I guess it is in the name of god.  If God wants you to go round killing and injuring people I am glad I am an atheist.

Our pick up was due at 7pm.  We asked repeatedly if it would be possible to extend our room but were told it was not possible.  We were kicked out of the room at 11am.  Only 8 hours to kill.

We went for a walk, the roads were much quieter and people were a little subdued.  A rickshaw driver latched on to us and was telling us that the area of the bomb was closed off and it was a bad area.  He chatted as we walked and kept trying to get us to hire him, very cheap 20 rupees for one hour, 10 rupees each, much cheaper than motor scooter.  I thought it was funny that he was following us everywhere we went.  Will was getting a little peeved.  We tried several evasive moves to lose him, just as we were congratulating ourselves he would turn up again.

Eagle eyed Will noticed a sign saying Bar so of course we had to investigate.  Rickshaw driver advised us good for beer, so off we went.  The bar was almost in total darkness in stark contrast to the bright daylight outside.  We chatted to the bar owner for a while and he put the English channel on the TV for us to watch.  Someone managed to film the actual blast from the previous night and it was repeated every 5 mins.  Eventually we all got bored of it and a music channel was put on, much more cheerful.

We were on our second drink when I noticed the menu.  We ordered some nibbles, veg pakora and paneer spring roll.  Wow! The pakora were the best we had ever tasted and the spring roll was lovely too.  At one point Will was staring at something behind me and told me not to look round.  I thought it was some sort of creepy crawly but apparently it was a mouse who was sitting in the breath freshener bowl.  When the owner brought us the bill in the breath freshener bowl Will didn’t even take it out to look, just threw some money in it.  We still think they were the best pakoras we have ever tasted and there were no nasty after affects.

We were in the bar about an hour and a half, rickshaw driver was waiting outside with his usual line of patter only 20 rupees for one hour etc.  He gave up on this tack and tried to engage us on a political level.  “Osama Bin Laden is a bad man, I don’t like him and George Bush is a good man”.  Thankfully we spotted a veg restaurant we had earlier mistaken for a pizza place and made a dash for it to escape the highbrow conversation.  Richshaw driver said that it was very expensive in there and offered to take us to the Indian market to buy pashminas, only 20 rupees etc.  I did wonder if he expected us to eat pashminas.

We had a couple of veg thalis that were very nice.  An hour or so later we came out of the restaurant and yes, you have guessed it, rickshaw driver was still waiting for us.   10 out of 10 for persistence and 8/10 for amusement value.  He followed us back to the hotel and seemed pleased that we said we would look for him the next day.  We fully expected him to follow us to Calcutta.

Only three hours to kill back in the hotel.  We bought 30 mins internet time and set about sending emails and facebook updates informing people that we were nowhere near the bomb blast.

We sat at a table and got out the cards.  We had been playing our game for about 30 mins when one of the girls came over to tell us that we were not allowed to play cards in the lobby.  We asked why, we were not gambling.  We were advised that the manager said that it was not permitted.  I think he was just cheesed off that we weren’t buying drinks at extortionate prices.  We were so pleased when the cab came to collect us.  We couldn’t wait to leave that hotel.

The guide told us that the station was 18km away and it would take us 45 mins.  We thought it was the traffic that would make the journey so slow.  Initially there was a bit of traffic but the real problem was unmade roads.  We bounced along for just over 30 mins.

We were told that the train was 20 minutes delayed and that we were not booked on the same carriage.  The guide went and swapped our tickets whilst we waited in the air conditioned car right opposite a purpose built urinal that remained largely unused as men much prefer to pee up the wall next to it.

After a while we grabbed our bags and ran the gauntlet of porters, beggars and fighting dogs between the car park and the station. We hefted our cases up and over to our platform and stood waiting.  The delay was now extended to 30 mins, then 50 mins and finally one hour.  We got chatting to a chap from Calcutta who had left his bag about a foot or two behind him and the rats had chewed their way through it.  The rats were daring devils running round and jumping on anything that was dropped that could have been food.  We were even entertained by rats fighting for a while.

Eventually we got on the train.  I was shocked to see that we were sharing a carriage with two other people, I don’t think they were that pleased either to see a female.  Will obviously elected me to have the top bunk and I pulled off some amazing monkey like climbing to actually get up there.  It seemed in less that 5 mins Will was asleep and snoring.  The old fella in the top bunk opposite me was coughing and grunting so I read for a while. 

I think the train eventually left Varanasi just over an hour and a half late.   Our rat bagged friend from the platform had advised us that it didn’t matter if the train left late it would still arrive on time, he was wrong we arrived an hour and half or so late.

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