India is not the country you go to for rest. The hustle and the bustle and the sounds and the honking. It is a lot to take in.
From Kolkata I took the bus to Siliguri. Everyone told me I had to take a jeep, aka shared taxi, to get to Darjeeling. That sort of assertions make me confused. Does it mean that the locals have to take a jeep too? Or do they take the local bus? Of course they do! If they do, I can. So I asked and 20 minutes later I was on the bus to Darjeeling. 3 and a half hours later we arrived and the temperature had dropped more than 20 degrees. It was freezing!!!
When humidity is 93% that means everything is a bit damp. Damp means cold. No heating, no hot water, inside is like outside. Cold. And rainy. My first day in Darjeeling was like my second one on Iceland. I went on a 8 hour tour by bus and the only thing I saw was the fog. I realised that Darjeeling is a very beautiful place but one has to plan the visit depending on what you want to do. And always use good guides if you’re going trekking.
Two, days, two nights and I got a cold. So I decided to descend 2000 meters back to Siliguri and take the train to Varanasi.
Buying a train ticket in India is not the easiest thing to do. I had to go to three different booths in three different building at New Jalpaiguri train station to get a ticket. And I still got it wrong. I’m used to buying one ticket and top that up with a seat reservation. Here you make a seat reservation and get a ticket. So I ended up having two tickets. One with a seat and one without. Happy days.
16 hours in a sleeper through rural India is wonderful and beautiful in daylight and a nightmare during night. At least if the fan can’t be turned off and the window can’t be shut. It was a very cold night.
At the station a tuck-tuck driver made my first encounter with Varanasi a very pleasant one. He told me about himself and his family and finally asked if I wanted to meet them. A beautiful family, nice simple house, good tea, an insight in their life. Those moments are tiny treasures to keep close to my heart.
I have had some amazing encounters with some people in Varanasi. Interesting conversations about life and this city. Someone told me this city is for the Gods, not for people. And I have to agree. Religion is very much present here. And so are men.
The same day I arrived to Varanasi, Holi celebration started. This festival is about forgiveness, lets forget our differences, colours being a symbol of understanding, the good and being united for the year to come.
What I witnessed was boys and young men taking the opportunity of drinking alcohol and behaving sometimes quite hostile while screaming Happy Holi. The hotel owner spent quite some time warning and advising me not to go out before 3 PM when Holi would officially be over. Even the locals were sometimes chalking their heads in a discontent way. The best way to enjoy Holi is probably by celebrating with a local family or in a small village. Perhaps I’ll try that another year.
The ones who really enjoyed Holi and made it a happy Holi was actually the tourists. Like these 3 Japanese guys.
For now I will enjoy Varanasi’s personality close to the Ganga river.