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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Monday, 10 January 2011

January 10th: Train to Benares

On January 10th 1979 I was on a train journey to Benares.

After Pune I was headed for Benares, where I planned to spend a few weeks.  I got my ticket as usual two or three days in advance; I was unsure of the route and the journey time seemed to be about 18 hours.  That would make it a reasonably fast journey, but the reality was that it was scheduled to be a day and 18 hours.  I recorded some of the sights at three points.  First at the start, in the carriage, waiting to leave:
Platform full of life after dull waiting-room, full of people with three trains in half an hour, even some Thai bhikkus (Buddhist monks) giving something different to look at.  My near neighbours are young single men which does not augur well, but I'm still full of excitement for the journey and the destination.
In the morning the train pulled into the junction of Bhusaval and the carriages were left deep in the marshalling yard, the doors locked if requested.
I didn't realise I was in for a whole day's wait here, and getting to Varanasi at 2pm tomorrow.  Still it's been interesting, as well as boring, to see the sort of small town I saw so often in 72/73.  The centre of small streets and no heavy traffic, so many strange looks, unused to foreigners.  Many Muslims here, two mosques seem the biggest buildings, but also temples, like one beside the market by the bridge where I stopped, and I've seen more sadhus here than in Pune.  Side streets full of goats as well as cows and pigs.  Guy on the bridge selling cuts from a huge root or palm-heart, as if from a cheese.  Overwhelming smell of ghee in the restaurant/sweetshop areas, but little attractive to eat.  I sit in a cane-juice shop near the railway, away from interesting sights, but the whole thing is worthwhile.  Bullock-carts passing, red or blue painted horns.  A stall selling posters.  Rickshaw drivers wait for business.  A grey and white calf eats paper.  Two donkeys carrying something, looks like waste leaves.  A sadhu passes with red shirt and locked hair in a red band.  People, people, people, someone is playing a harmonium.  A snake-charmer with two little green and white snakes and a ratty-looking mongoose.  A little boy and black stuffed doll.
Next day we were pulled through Uttar Pradesh north of the Ganges by an old steam engine that belched smoke and burning ashes through any open window.  We stopped at every little station, it seemed.
Steam Locomotive:  My picture, taken in 1982
Yet another little town on this desperately slow run from Allahabad to Benares.  Little towns with red brick walls and pale-coloured camels, little fields of sugar-cane, and some yellow crop like rape or mustard.  People carrying rolled-up new carpets at this station and the last.  A guy selling one newspaper.  Another carrying some strange stringed instrument.  A man with three women came on at the last, wearing his best clothes, white handloom dhoti, wool jacket in green and a brown wool waistcoat on top, a handloom white cloth around his neck as a scarf; he's getting his shoes polished, a greying crew-cut, he looks like some village headman; his women are reticent, but interested in me and the bhikku I've been talking to, all wear sandals, some little bits of gold, multi-coloured saris.  Here the vendors sell peanuts, chai in pots for 25 paise and channa, no fruit since Allahabad.  Beyond the earth platform there are big shade trees and little fields, some brick houses, lean-tos covered with straw or tiles or corrugated iron.  It seems very rural and slow, like the train has become, yet the platform still has quite a crowd of people; they can't all be seeing off friends, surely?
When I got to Benares, I took a rickshaw to a guest-house near Ghai Ghat.  When I went out on the terrace, there was a full moon and the stars were out, but the river was couched in mist and I could hardly make out the water.  I was tired after the journey but revived when I walked into the centre of the city through the maze of lanes, taking in all the sights and colours and smells.

Railway Platform:  My picture, taken in 1982

Railway Station:  My picture, taken in 1982

View Train to Benares in a larger map

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