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India was never on my radar for this whole RTW trip up until very recently, but this land of spirituality (?) was always somewhere on my mind, mostly because all the people who had been there before told me some of the funniest and most fascinating stories. It simply made me feel that I had to go there sooner than later not in search of enlightenment but purely out of curiosity.

My travel-diary of India begins now;


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I flew to Chennai, the capital of Tamilnadu in southern India, by Sri Lankan Airlines today.
The ticket was LKR11,000 one way (about USD85.00): it was cheaper than all other airlines in this region, plus they didn't charge me for my surfboard.


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I took a local train from a station called Tirusulam located just outside of Chennai's international airport, and I wanted to go to a station called Chepauk in town. The fare was only INR8.00 (about USD0.15) then.
The train that I caught was so rusty and old and full of passengers; mostly men. I just hopped on it with my bulky luggage regardless. Many people in the train stared at me as I was carrying a bulky coffin-like surfboard bag which many of them had probably never seen before.
The train had no doors and I stood by the entry part of a carriage. I was looking outside and could not believe my eyes how messy and dirty it was out there as shown in the photo below.

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When I got off the train at Chepauk, a tuk-tuk driver outside the station approached me: "Where you go...? Where you go...?". I told him the name of the hotel that I wanted to go to - Broadlands Hotel. Then a negotiation with yes-no-yes-no began between him and me. Seemingly forever....
We eventually agreed on INR50.00 (about USD0.95) with my surfboard loaded on the roof of his tuk-tuk and headed to Broadlands Hotel. Huh....

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Broadlands Hotel was run-down and it even looked slightly haunted to me. It was "only INR300" (about USD5.80) for a prison-like single room with a dirty shared bathroom. I would definitely not stay here if I were travelling with my girlfriend. I chose it only because receptionists were nice enough to me and I didn't wanna drag my luggage around on those rugged streets of Chennai.

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As soon as I checked in at Broadlands Hotel, I dropped my luggage in my prison-cell and went out for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
I walked into a decent-looking one where I ordered "chicken fried rice". Then I became quite worried that they might make my fried rice very spicy. So I asked my waiter not to put any chilli in it by repeatedly saying to him: "No Chilli. No Chilli. Okay?". And what I got in the end was fried rice without chicken....

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Later in the day I strolled around the city. It was so exhausting with tons of rubbish, cars, motorbikes, cows, dogs and millions of people. Even after travelling through Latin America and a few countries of Africa, Chennai has already overwhelmed me in many ways, though this city is only India's sixth largest city and it's only my first day here.

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Hot, sticky, dusty, smelly and chaotic. That's my first impression on Chennai.
So far India appears to be very alienating to me. I actually wanna get the hell out of Chennai as soon as possible!

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Today's Chennai is as hot and dusty and noisy and hectic as yesterday.

After taking three different tuk-tuks, for each one of which I had to negotiate the fare with a constantly head-shaking driver, I managed to buy a train ticket for tomorrow from Chennai Egmore to Varanasi, one of the most sacred cities located in north India.

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Buying a train ticket in Chennai wasn't quite straightforward partly because I was a foreigner and no credit card payment was accepted for some reason. There was even a separate counter inside the station dedicated just for foreigners to purchase tickets only in cash.

My train ticket cost INR2635.00 (about USD50), plus a few extra dollars were spent for those tuk-tuks. Even considering the distance from Chennai to Varanasi, the ticket was certainly not cheap at all by Indian standards.

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In fact, my ticket was for a 2A class seat, while the cheapest ticket available was a Sleeper class seat for IND560. I bought it simply because tomorrow's train ride will be almost 40 hours in total, and strangely enough, there was no 1st class for this train.
I am absolutely aware that this is India, but I'm still seeking minimum comfort for the longest journey on a single train I've ever done in my life before.
To be honest with you, I'm a bit nervous about tomorrow's journey now.

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!!!!! Note !!!!!
Although it took me a little while to figure out how to manipulate the following website, I found it super useful to find out the time-table for each train, and to look for any available seats as well as their fares (As of October 2012):
http://www.erail.in/

The following might also be useful to look at how thoroughly extensive the Indian Railway network is and to know how far your train goes (The file can be quite large):
http://wikitravel.org/upload/shared//c/c8/India_railway_schematic_map.png




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As of October 2012, there was a train running every Thursday from Chennai Egmore station all the way to Varanasi.
I was lucky enough to purchase the last remaining seat in the 2A class carriage yesterday, but now I'm not sure how lucky it was of me to travel for 40 hours on this train.

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The 2A class was the top class (no 1st class) on this occasion. However, it was neither upmarket nor luxurious. Perhaps, the only luxury inside the 2A compartment was that it was fully air-conditioned; 2A's "A" probably stands for Air-conditioned; Just kidding.
It was quite dark inside the carriage because the windows and curtains were all shut, apparently, in order to keep the room temperature low. Stupid!

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Another downside of the 2A carriage was that it was not as spacious as I thought it would be. My seat/bed number was 42 and upper-bed. I could not sit or keep lying down there all day long because it was an upper one and not enough room between my bed and the ceiling. Therefore, during the day I had to share the lower seat/bed (the number 41 designated for somebody else) with a very old Indian man....
The photo below shows the number 41 seat folded and transformed into two seats while the top bed (the number 42) remained flat.

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The photo below shows my upper bed. A blanket and a tiny pillow as well as clean sheets were provided. Yet, there was no window for this upper bed, only a small reading light attached on the wall, which became really really hot after keeping it on for less than an hour.

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Train conductors weren't very friendly and one of them often disturbed my reading by trying to close the curtain every time I opened it. I just wanted to get some natural light through the window, but he wanted to keep it closed at all times in order to maintain the room temperature.... Annoying!

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Although I stocked up on food for this 40hr train-ride, I was curious about what on-board food was like; I know I shouldn't be too experimental when it comes to food in India, but I gave it a try twice on this train.

The first one was Egg Briyani as shown in the photo below. It was, of course, a little spicy hot, but no meat in it and I quite enjoyed it.

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My second try was vegetable curry as shown in the photo below. I couldn't tell a difference between these three types of curry. All of them were certainly spicy, and I actually found them quite salty too. Mediocre.

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Later in the day I had a look at the Sleeper class, and it actually looked somehow nicer and brighter than the 2A class. It was probably because there were no curtains and no air-cons. It was FULLY open-air and breezy. This Sleeper class was the cheapest option, but the least spacious and it must've been quite hot, especially during the day and when the train wasn't moving.
I would've travelled in this Sleeper class only if I had been with small luggage without my surfboard.

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As mentioned in the previous article, the fare was INR2,635 (about USD50) for my 2A class seat, food and beverage were not included.
I remember travelling by train in Sri Lanka in August 2010. And I must say that overnight train from Batticaloa to Colombo was better and cheaper with a little more privacy than this 40-hour train. Consequently, this train-ride from Chennai to Varanasi was not really enjoyable but tolerable.

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Anyway, the train is supposed to arrive in Varanasi around 5am in the morning of Saturday. I'm only hoping that nothing bad will happen throughout this longest train-journey.




No problem and no drama except a few hassles with a grumpy conductor during my 40-hour train journey and I arrived in Varanasi around 6am.
The photo below shows a platform of Varanasi station. Don't ask me why there is a cow (maybe a goat?) in this photo.

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A funny thing happened to me on my way from Varanasi station to a guesthouse located near the Ganges River:
As I wanted to catch a tuk-tuk (aka auto-rickshaw) from the station, I started looking for a driver around. Then I ran into an old guy in his 50s and asked him to take me to one of the famous Ghats near the river simply because to my eyes he appeared to be a tuk-tuk driver. He yelled at me: " 100 Rupies! ". I responded: " 70 Rupies! "
Shortly after I settled the fare with him for INR80 (about USD1.50), he grabbed my surfboard bag and I carried the rest of my luggage to a nearby car park. But there were no tuk-tuks in the car park. Instead, a line of cycle-rickshaws were in sight.... Then my instant thought was: "Nah. No Waaaaay! This old man cannot take me with my big luggage all the way to the river!" But he insisted that he could.
Very uncertain about his ability on his retro cycle-rickshaw, I hopped on it regardless by placing my heavy backpack behind my seat and putting my board-bag next to me upright.

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As we left the station, everybody stared at me. The reason was most likely to be my surfboard bag, half of which was actually sticking out of the roof of the cycle-rickshaw. Some people might even have thought that I was carrying a canoe, so that I could row along the Ganges maybe. Whatever was on their minds, they kept staring at me anyway. I was so embarrassed and I regretted bringing my own surfboard in this country with me for the very first time.

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The road from the station to the Ghat which I told him to take me to was longer than expected.
When the sweating rickshaw guy finally dropped me off near the Ghat, I actually paid him 100 Rupees: it was not for making me as a stupid tourist on public display, but for his great efforts in taking me all the way to the river. This old man really did a good job.

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I was somehow expecting Varanasi to be a little oasis of north India as it was said to be a sacred place for Hindus, but I was shocked. Varanasi was extremely hectic: the density of people, bikes, cars, etc. seemed so much higher here than that of Chennai to me.

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The photos below prove how hectic Varanasi can be. These sequential photos were taken within 30 ~ 40 seconds on a small road this afternoon.

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Like what happened to me on my first day in Chennai, Varanasi already made me suffocate quite a bit. So I dodged the crazy traffic and stumbled into a small street where a few cows were causing traffic then.

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Oh...., Varanasi....

Is this really a sacred place???

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I haven't seen rain since I came to India.... And it's been sticky hot and very dusty. Additionally, Indian curry is hot, spicy-hot! The combination of high temperature and humidity in combination with spicy curry only keeps me sweating a lot.

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The photo below shows vegetable curry that I had for lunch at a local restaurant today. It was only INR35.00 (about USD0.70). Of course, it was super spicy and I was only able to finish it with some help of Maaza; incredibly sweet Mango nectar.
Funnily enough, two local boys who sat next to me were also sweating quite a bit while they were having the same vegetable curry.

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Basically, most Indian people eat curry every single day, but I don't (I don't want to).
Thanks to all international travellers and ex-pats who have been to Varanasi in the past, this sacred place is actually cosmopolitanized enough in terms of food as there are quite a few Western-style restaurants, cafes and bakeries here; I even found one Japanese restaurant with Ramen in the menu.
Having said that, I haven't tried any of these places. I usually go out to a local restaurant for lunch. And for dinner I just go to a local market and buy an "on-time cooked meal" from a street vendor.
The photo below is one example to show my dinner: this is not curry but more like Chinese noodles. It was very cheap and quite good!

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There are also a couple of shops selling sweets in Varanasi. Eating curry at all times could turn me off, but sweets don't.
The photo below shows some sweets that I bought the other day without knowing exactly what they were made of (probably made of tons of sugar and starch). I quite enjoyed them and they actually reminded me of Lokum, aka Turkish Delight.

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By the way, I stepped onto "something" on my way back to my guest-house after dinner one night. I couldn't really tell what it was because it was dark then, but I felt it in a funny way; something very soft and a bit slimy, Then I had a close look and it turned out to be a dead rat on the street. Yuck!
Needless to say, I've already accidentally stepped onto cow's poo a few times ever since I came to Varanasi.

Oh well, this is India....






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