Landing on in our 2-tiered AC cabin because every other class was full, we were happy as we had previously decided to try every class in order to compare and find out what the differences were. Thus the relatively expensive Rs1950 (30 pounds for both) was a must and we didn’t feel bad. Feeling good about saving Rs700 on avoiding a hotel in Agra, we decided to treat ourselves to a spot of luxury when we reached Varanasi. Checking out a few Lonely Planet options we saw that there was a hotel called ‘Hotel Surya’, which had a good restaurant and pool for just Rs800 (12 pounds) for the room per night.
Both of these experiences fit into the upper middle class style that was also facing us on the train and so it all made sense… unfortunately for the train ride the people opposite us were the worst we have had to share a space with for over 8 hours. The middle classes in mid/north India are all so aloof and value themselves so much that they are rude and really selfish. They were ready to sleep at 9:30 and turned the only light off despite the fact they knew we were eating and reading. On the light goes…. you can already see what was bound to happen, but the tutting and childish game of turning the light off every 5 minutes was wearing especially considering the “two fat ladies” were just drinking coke and eating crisps and making the most (impressive in some circles) disgusting burping that made me feel ill. What was interesting though was that in sleeper class we have always been faced with a dominant male character who is very much the head of the household. The man in this situation just sat back and said nothing while sharp words were being exchanged and ignored literally everyone all night. I suspect this relates to other middle class people I have seen and met. The women are subservient to the man of the house, but not in the middle class.
I have to also emphasis what we suspected on previous train journeys. AC cabins disconnect you from the country and passing land. For us that is not ideal at all. It is sterile. You are given blankets and a towel for the shower, but really, where is the fun in all that!?
Being disconnected from the outside for 10 hours and eventually being woken up by vile scoffing noises we neared Varanasi. Having picked up on the fact that more expensive hotels in major cities will pick you up for free, we gave them a call to arrange in order to avoid the hectic onslaught of touts and rickshaw drivers. We were whisked away in a jeep in sweltering 46C heat sticking to your T-shirt within 5 minutes. When we arrived at Surya this was a moot point. A really good looking hotel, which would cost at least 75- 100 pounds per night, we realised we had made a good choice. First one in the pool was a loser and after that we ended up extending our stay by “just one more day” for 3 days. The good thing was that if we just stayed here in the pool and spent the cash on accommodation we were still within our 8 pound a day budget! Even more reason not to leave- sweet! To be honest we did well to avoid the spa treatments and get carried away. All we needed was a pool to jump in when the heat became too much and relax.
This was clearly disconnected from Varanasi. We were next to the Radission so the area was fairly posh (as it gets). Again we inadvertently ‘met’ a middle class family and I hate to say that it makes eating hard, but it does. They are very loud people and so ‘having a quiet meal’ is hard. Either way I had the first meat dish since Aurangabad- a mutton curry- which was good and was cooked through (I chose Mutton as it needs to be cooked for a long time and should therefore avoid the undercooked chicken issue experienced last time). The Indian gravy tastes so much better with a meat that needs slow cooking, the flavour develops. Laura craved some western food and so had moussaka. This panned out, but is a risky game in India- western food is generally terrible, and something I avoid generally as it is generally either bad quality or small in size. This was the only meal we had in the hotel restaurant due to cost. The remaining nights we ate street food. We found a great stall dishing out a mash up of all the food he had. Pani is a hollow crispy semolina shell, usually filled with spicy liquid (Puri) and coriander. Yet this guy mixed it with fried potato with tamarind and beans. It tasted so much like BBQ beans that considering the stuff this guy was using was quite different was really amazing. Culinary creativity on the streets!
We met another traveling couple who reconfirmed the benefits of working and traveling. Being a lumber jack in Canada or picking berries for 20USd per hour? Maybe a hostel worker in Australia? All seem doable to earn enough and carry on traveling. Forever maybe? Ah day dreaming in the sun, but definitely worth thinking about….