Are you gonna wait forever?

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
NDLS Train Station

Flag of India  ,
Monday, May 10, 2010

Unfortunately our flight from Shanghai to Delhi was on time! It would have been nice if this flight had been delayed as the gate had good speed, free WIFI and for other reasons that will become clearer later on. The flight was uneventful in itself other than we had what was probably the best airplane meal so far on this trip – veggie curry, rather like malai kofta, a favourite of ours.

We arrived tired and groggy in Delhi at about 2:30am, cleared immigration and collected our bags. On exiting the secure area we found ourselves in a very small arrivals area with few chairs, a couple of eateries, an ATM and not much else. Following the warnings from the Canadian government about the increased terror risk in New Delhi city, our plan was to hang out at the airport for a while before going to the train station to catch our overnight train to Varanasi i.e. get out of Dodge (Delhi) as soon as possible. With the arrivals area a bit of a blow out, we decided to head for departures, and left through a small door, beyond which was a sign advising us that it would cost 80 rupees each to go back into the area that we had just left. However, it wasn't better at departures since we couldn’t get in there either without an outbound flight ticket and that our only option for staying at the airport was a different small lounge area that cost 30 rupees each to enter. We entered, only to discover that it was worse than the first area, and with no WIFI to be found in the airport (unless you have a cellphone) we were at a bit of a loss as to what we should do in Delhi at 4am. Oh why did we not buy that Lonely Planet?

After much discussion we decided to take a taxi to the train station – surely it couldn’t be worse than the airport and if it was then there must be a half decent hotel nearby where we could book a room for the day – right? It turns out that most of Delhi is relatively quiet at 4am with traffic like Edmonton on a Saturday afternoon so the taxi ride was ok. New Deli train station was a different matter though – the place was heaving with people; some hurrying around looking for tickets and departing trains, others arriving looking for taxis and hundreds more sleeping on the concrete floors. Clearly we have arrived in a third world country. The smell in the air was foul; a mixture of stale bodies, urine, feces, etc and the heat was already beginning to build. We did manage to find the "refreshment room", a small, relatively clean café serving cheap food and drinks, no A/C, but lots of fans. We set up camp between two fans at the back of the room and Sarah and the kids settled in while Derek set out to find a hotel and an internet connection.

Derek returned in due course with news that after touring the area with a tout he had found a hotel, but it wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t exactly clean….hmmm, maybe this café was beginning to look better and better. A half decent breakfast of omelette, toast and coffee for about $1 sealed the deal and we settled in to wait the expected 12 hours for our 8pm train.

The time passed surprisingly quickly and it turned out that our spot was a pretty good one for people watching. There was plenty of turnover in the café, with the odd group staying for an hour or two at a time, but none had the stamina of the Moody family, so in an ironic twist we almost became the locals! The food was good though, as proved by the lunchtime rush when there was a permanent line of about twenty people and it seemed that every employee in the building, the police, as well as a good number of passengers indulged in the lunchtime fare of either veg or non-veg thalis. The thali (mixed curry place) was excellent and we probably ate about six of them over the course of the day between the four of us; each thali consisting of three different veggie curries, pickle, roti bread and yoghurt, not bad for about 50 cents! It was also an opportunity to make some cultural observations and the kids were fascinated to watch the locals scooping rice and curry into their mouths using only their fingers.

There were of course downsides to our choice of lodging for the day; the “deluxe toilets” were outside of the train station which meant picking your way amongst the bodies strewn across the station floor, trudging through the garbage and construction waste outside and paying to enter a bathroom that was anything but deluxe by western standards or by the standards of any country that we have traveled through this year. Fortunately we were all healthy (no Delhi Belly) and were sweating out most of the liquids being consumed so the trips were thankfully few and far between.

It will come as no surprise to learn that our train was delayed and we ended up spending about seventeen hours in the “refreshment room”. There were many times when it felt like we were going to have to wait forever. So, when the time came to finally find our platform it was with great relief that our pain was finally over and we packed up our stuff and said goodbye, anything but ”refreshed” by this stage.

The relief was short-lived as we descended on to the platform which was literally packed with people, bags and cargo. Indian people are quite amazing in their ability to sleep absolutely anywhere, and there were strewn bodies everywhere. Once on the platform, we couldn’t find any indication of where we our carriage would come in, so waited somewhere near centre hoping that it was a safe bet. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of trains in India, packed solid with people hanging out of the windows. So have we, but we had booked first class AC as recommended and were sure that we would be spared that experience. We were a little less sure when the train finally pulled into the station…..every single carriage was looking rather old and battered, including ours. Once the train arrived it was pandemonium as everybody started moving in different directions to find their carriage. We shuffled our way through the thongs and made it on to the carriage and were a little taken aback by what we found. It probably was a beautiful cabin back in the fifties when it was built, but had lost a bit of the sheen. Still, they provided fresh clean linens, still warm (isn’t everything when it’s 40+C outside) and towels and the carriage had more than one western style toilet….good enough when you’re as tired as we were. We’ve been carrying silk (protective) sleeping sheets ever since we left home and I’m sure they are going to pay for themselves in India! See you in Varanasi!
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