After 3 months in India, we had had enough.
India is vibrant, chaotic and totally unpredictable. And after those 3 months, we still hadn’t realised just how much so.
Our last main stop before going crossing the border to Nepal was Varanasi – if ever there was a place to define India, Varanasi is it. Much and more can be said about Varanasi – every bit as intense as the rest of India. Sometimes there is no shame in admitting you weren’t having the best time of it.
It took us about 2 days to source a train ticket from Varanasi to the border town, Gorakhpur, because it was a holy festival and almost all ticket shops were shut, or sold out. We eventually found a ticket shop that was open and had to wait for the owner for half an hour, because he ‘doesn’t like rain’ and refused to leave his house until the rain stopped. When he arrived, the tickets had sold out. He waggled his head at us pleasantly while telling us of our unfortunate situation.
We ended up buying a pair of tickets on the black market – who knew the black market even sold train tickets? Travelling under the guise of Rajav Mehra and Virat Gupta, we were excited to be leaving. We hailed down a rickshaw and argued in plenty of Hindi to get a fair price. A policeman came over because we were haggling for so long as the driver was trying to rip us off. He asked where we were from:
“Oh England, very rich! You pay a high price! A good price”
Eventually we agreed on a fair-ish price to be taken to Varanasi Lohta station, making a point that we didn’t want to go to Varanasi Junction, the more common station. Do as the black market tickets say.
The rickshaw took off, with the policeman in tow, which was a bit strange but we were weren’t going to ask. He kept hitting random people in the street with his baton whilst we rode past them.
Soon enough, the rickshaw driver arrived at Varanasi Junction.
The policeman had swanned off to presumably beat other innocent people. We pointed out that we were at Varanasi Junction, not Lohta, and asked if we could kindly be taken to the actual destination. We refused to be duped by the rickshaw driver’s claims that “Varanasi is Varanasi”. We explained why we needed to be at Lohta – our train wasn’t stopping at Varanasi Junction – and refused to pay the 110 rupees we originally agreed, seeing as we weren’t actually at Varanasi Lohta. The rickshaw driver couldn’t comprehend this logic. As this continued, a gathering of other rickshaw drivers started to form and everyone started shouting and making everything worse and just making things that bit more chaotic.
After about half an hour of this farce, our train departure time fast approaching, he finally caved in, after we made it clear we wouldn’t pay him an extra 200 rupees because he fucked it in the first place. But he was far from happy, telling us how he’d starve that night because of what we’d done.
Eventually, we all got moving again (hurrah!), but he was still exceptionally angry and was shouting at us that we were bad people. So we shouted back over the engine noise as we cruised along, telling him he was in fact the bad person. This is when it went a bit more wrong than usual.
Swerving onto the other side of the road at full speed and starting to gun it down the middle of the road, when it was pitch black outside, we originally thought the rickshaw driver had had a stroke. Other cars and rickshaws were swerving out the way and beeping as the carnage ensued. Panicked, we started shouting incomprehensibly as we hurtled along.
We didn’t really have anywhere to bail, so we held on for our lives and swore at him as loud as we could as he swore at us as loud as he could and drove on the pavements and generally tried to tip the rickshaw over.
Which he did.
As I realised we were falling over – we were on one wheel for a few seconds – I grabbed my backpack hoping it would break my fall. When the rickshaw tipped over, the bag broke my fall while I broke my mate’s – I’d like to think karma was on our side for a moment. The driver was just lying side on, curled up and moaning something in Hindi.
We checked to see if he was in pain and when he seemed to be doing OK, we decided to get as far away from him as possible. So we ran around until another rickshaw arrived and we started shouting something about Varanasi Lohta, but the driver got the gist of it and zipped off at a pace. We were still shouting as apparently we hadn’t calmed down. I realised Dave was bleeding from his head but didn’t tell him – we were alive, that would do for now.
We got to the station and paid 300 rupees, which was about 5 times the cost what it should have been but we didn’t care and didn’t give a shit about negotiating a price beforehand – we were safe and that was awesome. Picked up some bottles of water and cleaned ourselves up, rinsed the blood and dirt away, ranted at each other before calming down. We made the train by about 10 minutes and didn’t speak much for the next few hours, just collecting our thoughts before falling asleep. When the train pulled in the next morning at Gorakhpur we felt a grim determination to leave this ridiculous country and got the first bus we out. We also began to wonder what happened to the rickshaw driver. At least there was no ticket inspector.
At the border on the way out, Dave got caught between a rickshaw and a cow. While trying to avoid them both, the cow headbutted him into the rickshaw, meaning he missed neither. We limped to the passport office to get our exit stamp and when we pulled the passports out, the immigration officer beamed and said:
“Ah England! Very rich!”
Time to go.