So when I was told we would be travelling by train from Varanasi to Darjeeling I suppose the agent decided the old fart doesn't need to be given all the details however what he omitted was quite important like the starting point isn't actually Varanasi but a one and a half hour taxi ride (950 Rupee) away in Mughal Sarah Junction and actually goes to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) 75 kms to Darjeeling by taxi (2500 Rupee) at the other end. And so began the journey.
The train that should have left at 6.30 pm was expected to depart at 7.30 pm and so we arrived at 6 pm to a waiting room chock a block with expectant passengers with not a single white face in sight. From the moment we entered the waiting room we were the center of attention and it never ceases to surprise me how Indian people have no qualms about just staring at you even when you look back at them staring at you. At first I took no notice but as crowds of young men in their late teens started to gather round staring and laughing the Alpha male came out in me and my stare and question " Do you find some thing funny,son" didn't do much to ease the tension, however, there was a very nice young man who spoke an acceptable level of English and was able to explain that where we were, very few white people were seen and we were a bit of a curiosity. As the evening rolled on and the expected time of arrival of our train got later and later the conversation with the Indian gentleman started to encompass more and more of the young Indian youths who were becoming more confident and wanted to try out their limited English. It turned out that there was a government scheme where out of work young men were eligible to take an exam to get a job which is what all of these were doing. The train taking them to their destination would take three hours when it eventually turned up and was delayed even more than mine but they were all keen to get a job and stuck it out. By the time my train was due to arrive the lads had left but they all said goodbye and I wished them all good luck with their hopes of a job. On the way to the platform we came across another white face belonging to Andrea, a girl on her own from Canada heading for NJP as well and so we took her under our wing, not that she needed it, and we all boarded our train together five and a half hours late at just after midnight.
In our four sleeper A/C compartment was a young man in his 20's on the top bunk and underneath in the lower bunk an Indian lady who were both asleep until the Indian guard pushed into the compartment hit all the lights and gave us sheets and pillows before heading off down the train. The lady didn't stir a bit but Ravinder, as it turned out the mans name was, spoke excellent English and helped settle us in with the luggage after which we both slept the sleep of the dead until late morning.
It is amazing how friendly people can be, it turned out Ravinder had just received his commission to lieutenant in the army and was off to his first posting and the lady was a successful business woman who was returning to her home and her hubby was in Saudi Arabia. Throughout our journey Ravinder kept us up to date with an app on his phone as to when we would arrive in NJP and the lady peeled a pomegranate and insisted I ate some. Later when we were joined by Andrea we all got on great sharing stories until Indian lady had to leave but wanted to take me with her to feed me !
We rolled into the station at Seven at night, eleven hours late and not expecting our taxi driver to be waiting but our friend Ravinder took over the situation and phoned the hotel, got the drivers number and phoned him and after a short delay the driver who had been waiting since 8 am for us to turn up presented himself. I didn't get Ravinder phone number or email but I hope I do get it for I would like to thank him as he made a nightmare journey bearable and I know he will do well in his chosen profession.
After seeing Andrea to her local hotel we set off and after a short food stop we turned up at our hotel in Kilimpong three hours later at 11 pm where we had to wake the owners to show us to our rooms which we will now enjoy and recall the lovely people we met when travelling on trains and determine that from now on, after 11 and 12 hour delays, in future, we will take the plane when possible.