Train to Darjeeling
We took a 17 hour train ride from Varanasi to Siliguri in West Bengal (just south of Darjeeling). This train was the most packed we’d experienced yet with nine people sleeping in our six person compartment. There are five classes in the Indian train system; 1 AC (a compartment to yourself with air conditioning), 2 AC (with two bunks, four beds and air conditioning), 3 AC (two bunks, six beds and air conditioning), sleeper (two bunks, six beds and open windows) and general (seated or standing room only, always packed with people). We have taken 3 AC which includes luxuries like a blanket, a pillow and a curtain you can close at night, but we generally opt for sleeper which is half the price and is the standard means of transportation for middle class Indians. In this train however, we were sharing our seats with no less than four people per side during the day and at night, two of the six narrow beds were shared by two people. We also had one person sleeping on the floor of our compartment. The beds were filthy and the two men from Nagaland across from me thought nothing of resting their dirty feet on my bed and talking noisily on their cell phones while I was reading. To use the bathroom, we had to step over a number of people sleeping on the floor of the corridor and between the sections of the train. We were also treated to a symphony of crying babies and loud ringtones all through the night (this is quite typical of the sleeper class, but we somehow always forget to bring earplugs). Adding to this were the chai-wallahs, food-wallahs, blanket, lock and jewelry sellers who would call out for customers at the top of their lungs ending at around midnight and starting up again at 5:00 AM sharp. Sleep was hard to come by but we eventually arrived in Siliguri (only three hours late) in one piece. Through foggy vision we bought some chai and sat down to drink it. Nat pointed out that, apparently, the way we were drinking our chai was really interesting because we managed to attract a small crowd who gave us their undivided attention and unapologetic stares.