Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cracking Indian Transportation

With three hours of sleep under our belts, Liza and I wake up at 5.30am to start our adventure. Our goal: to get to Varanasi as cheaply and quickly as possible in order to surprise my Mum, Dad, and sister. Our first step is to go to the airport, check all the airlines, and buy the cheapest ticket possible. When ticket prices to Varanasi proved exorbitant, we settle on a one-way to Dehli. A few hours later we arrive and go straight to the train station where, after at least an hour wait, we are curtly informed that there are no tickets to Varanasi that night. The night before we had been advised that if we couldn’t get tickets we should get on the train anyways and pay whatever necessary to stay on. With this thought in mind we wander the streets of Dehli for the day. Fortunately, over a mutton dinner next door to the Jama Masjid, we meet a man who warns us that if we are caught on the train without a ticket we will be charged 3 ½ times the most expensive ticket price. Hm . . . Plan B?

This nice man takes us to a nearby travel agent who, after much cajoling and many “No Madames, not possible” (noticing a theme, anyone?), walks us through the ticket booking process step by step. Train charts close four hours before the train and only one train to Varanasi is still open. This train, however, has only Foreign Tourist Quota tickets available. These tickets can only be bought at the station in the Foreign Tourist Bureau. The Bureau closes at 6:30pm. It is now 7:00pm. Time for Plan C…

Pick a station between Delhi and Varanasi that is night’s travel away: Lucknow. Make friends with the travel agents and pay extra to get two waitlist tickets confirmed. Book waitlist tickets from Lucknow to Varanasi for the following morning. Leave a healthy layover period to allow for the assured tardiness of Indian Rail. As the trip will take only four hours, take a chance and don’t pay to confirm the tickets. Share one berth for seven hours. Success! Fourty-eight hours, one taxi, one bus, one bicycle rickshaw, six auto rickshaws, one plane, and two trains later, we have completed the journey from Matendla Rural School to the oldest living city in the world, Varanasi.

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