Our first sleeper train.

When we booked trains to varanasi there were no beds left on any of the trains, so we booked onto the waiting list for two, Friday and Saturday. This was before we realised you can only book 6 journeys a month!!

As I do, I had downloaded every train app I could find, as each had a different feature. One we could actually book trains on (it accepted our payments and passport numbers), one kept track of the waiting list, showing us where we were in the list and the likelihood of us getting a bed, one showed only available trains when you booked (saving a lot of time as there are a lot of cancelled and full trains.

The likelihood of our Friday train was 50%, the Saturday trains likelihood went from 70% to 5% over the course of a day. We sat in a cafe in Friday, bags packed, relatively certain we would not make it onto the trains, looking at flights, obscure journeys via Delhi and whether to just go somewhere else (but the train to Jaipur is booked from varanasi!!). We were 9th in line, likelihood still 50% when suddenly it jumped at 4pm to us having beds! Both of us freaked out a bit as we really hasn’t thought we’d got a place and immediately left the coffee shop to get snacks and an early dinner. We bumped into Magdala, our German friend who we shared a dorm with, as she was entering free spirit cafe (on our recommendation) so we said we’d join her in 20min.

We got a price for a tuk tuk to Haridwar, bought some bourbon biscuits and some bananas and headed to the cafe. Magdala was trying to shake a guy who has been quite manipulative in following her and guilting her to go on trips with him (she’s much younger) and we’d had a few heart to hearts over the past few days. There aren’t many women travellers around and it’s tough to find women locals too.

We ordered our Aloo jeera, chana masala and chipatti and sat down to eat when we noticed rain. The roof of the building was tin, so it was quite obvious. Then it was very obvious, then it was insane. It was a full blown thunder storm, lightning and thunder within a second of eachother. A great time to have a tin roof!! We sat watching in disbelief, the roads turning into tributaries to the Ganges. Eventually it stopped and we decided to get a taxi rather than a tuk tuk to the station. An hour in a potential storm in a tin can didn’t sound great.

Magdala was trying to shake this guy, telling him to leave as she was chatting to someone else. A lovely old man who we’d all met independently before, he was Norwegian who spoke very softly in English to us, then in Spanish to the waiter (who was practicing) then in German to Magdala. The guy just sat next to her and waited. We knew she wasn’t comfortable, watching him was uncomfortable, so we ordered banana pancakes and waited around, then let her know when we were leaving so she could tag along. We walked back together, she was so glad we’d waited and so were we. She’s an incredible woman, lovely and very thoughtful, the was she felt reminded me of my travels 10 years ago, and our response was exactly what people did for me. We were sad to leave her but we’re sure we’ll see eachother again! Then it was to the taxi to Haridwar station.

Getting onto the sleeper train was pretty easy, it started in Haridwar so we had a lot of time to work it out. On the train Gregor and I met two sisters on their way to a wedding in Lucknow, where we were also heading, and they helped is work out the sleeper system. We were in 2a coaches so blankets we’re provided, as was a light and curtains.

We slept pretty well, it took me a while to fall asleep, but it was fine really! The biggest issue was arriving into Lucknow. We got in at 8and had the next train to Varanasi at 12. What to do? Not a clue.

We found a breakfast place. Aloo parathas and coffee, got harassed by tuk tuk drivers, walked along a road and then sat on a surprisingly quiet benches watching the monkeys until our train.

This time we could not find our coach. Eventually we asked someone who said there were only unreserved seats, no AC coaches. This was confusing but we got on anyway. Some guys asked for selfies, I asked them about the coaches, it turns out they were just a bit further along. Off we got and walked all the way to the other end of the train. We were sat at opposite ends of the carriage which was a shame. But luckily, the man opposite realised this and told the man next to me to move!

We arrived into Varanasi tired and tried to get an uber to take us to our hotel. We’d booked into a double deluxe room as we guessed We’d need a bit of comfort.

Every uber driver cancelled the trip, we got into a tuk tuk, he drove a minute then told us he could not take us all the way to our destination, they said a 20 min walk afterwards. We were confused. We got out and rang the hotel. No answer. Not to any of their numbers. We felt the tuk tuk guys were being honest, but given they’d decided not to tell us this until we had set off we both agreed we’d rather not give them our money. We tried uber again. Success!

He dropped us off a 3 minute walk from the hostel. It turns out all the hotels and hostels are on tiny back alleys that only people, cows, dogs and motorbikes go down.

Our double deluxe room was awful. I was too tall for the bed, never mind Gregor! There was no sink, no window and you could see into the room from the terrace through a grill above the door. Not deluxe. We were sad.

We woke up annoyed with the hostel (not hotel like advertised!), They had clearly ticked yes to everything on booking.com when they had none of it. We headed for breakfast and it was pretty good, unlimited toast, coffee and an omelette and met a few other travelers. I think it’s probably a very good hostel. The dorm rooms have full length beds, just an awful deluxe hotel.

Time to explore.

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