Monday, January 28, 2013

End of the train journey, Bodh Gaya - letter 3

Day 4, Fri 18th
The end of the train journey, reaching Bodh Gaya

By now I have managed to secure us a bunk on the ground level in the top of the T facing the two bunks. This had involved an 'argument' with one of the guards who had said this one was for them to bed down in as it's near the cook's carriage. I emphasise our age, or ailments etc and then pretend not to understand further arguments. They give up and we both sit and curl up on opposite ends of this bunk. We can look out the window, go to the loo, sit upright without bending our necks etc. Perhaps what happens next is revenge although I'm inclined to think it was just a stupid mistake.

I am now asking every time we stop, how many stops to our disembarkation point, Bodh Gaya. I say Gaya each time, he understands and says Gaya back to me, until he comes to tell us, by sign language that Gaya is the next stop.
It is c 5 a.m and pitch dark outside. The train stops again in the middle of darkness for ages and we doze off – only to be woken abruptly by him – we are here, its Gaya, we must get off quickly, the train will not stop for long. We throw off sleep as he drags our bags and we grab our bits and suddenly we are on the platform and the train is pulling off.  

It is then we realise that we are standing in pitch dark next to our pile of bags and there is no one about, we are totally alone. Near us at the end of the platform is a wrought iron steep staircase leading to a bridge over the track and on the other side there seems to be a low square building (station?) and a few figures, dark shapes. Julia goes into panic mode again, 'OMG this is dangerous, we're on our own, we're going to be raped etc... I shout at her to shut up and stop being overdramatic. What we must do, I say, is call (on our expensive UK phone chips) Mani our so-called tour operator. I wake him up, he says isn't Anu there to meet us, we look around – no one is there. He says not to panic Anu is there somewhere, he will find us. Meanwhile a man with a rifle appears. He indicates that we must move over to the platform opposite – we explain we can't carry our heavy bags up the stairs. Eventually he and another guy help hump them across the rail tracks over to the other side. He deposits us in a kind of large concrete, bleak 'rest room'. Several men are rolled up in blankets on the floor. After a further back and forth with Manidharma about Anu looking for us, something dawns on me and I call the guard over again 'Is this station Gaya', No it isn't that's the next station along. I call M back and give him the good news. He freaks and tells us the station we are at is extremely dangerous, bandit country, we must get ourselves in to the station master at once. I say nothing to Julia or she will faint with horror. I merely gather our bags and tell her we're going to the station masters office, we have to find out how to get the next train. We are both sleep walking with exhaustion by now.
The station master turns out to be a neat man in his late 40s, his black hair is oiled and carefully parted and swept back at the sides. He has a neat clipped moustache. His clothes look ironed. He is a complete gentleman, he phones various stations back along the route and finds that a train is due in 20 mins which should take us to Bodh Gaya. We sit on a side bench in his office and he comes over to talk to us - first about the English cricket team, here in India – a TV is on low, high up on the wall, England are playing. He tells us about his children, that they are at college and that he has managed this station for many years and a little about the history of the railway line.
He keeps reassuring us that he will know when the train is coming and he will call a 'coolie' (his word) to carry our bags back across to the other side a few minutes in advance. He will ensure we get on the train. Julia keeps checking with him. I feel complete confidence in him, he is totally British raj. He asks to explain how we got off on his station platform in detail and shakes his head. He is convinced the guy must have made a mistake as that train rarely stops at his station. He asks for a description of the guy who put us off.
 
After a while we hear the hoot of a train in the distance and suddenly there is a flurry of activity. The 'coolie' appears and our bags are carried on his head across the track. We too jump down onto the track and scramble up onto the platform on the other side and the station master follows us. The station master ensures we get on the train, opening the door, explaining our situation to the guard who appears and depositing us on a bench inside the door. A man is shaving at a sink in his vest, another emerges from the toilet. We sit down on the bench with our bags underneath. After shaking hands all round with our saviour, the door is shut, the train moves off. I see there is a toilet labeled 'Western style' and get excited until I go in, then emerge quickly telling Jules it's full of shit. I text Mani that we'll be at Gaya in 45 mins. We will arrive almost exactly 24 hours from when we'd first got on at Delhi.
 
Bodh Gaya station is totally what I had been expecting – lots of people busily moving about on the platform. A porter in red appears and soon he and another guy have our large bags on their heads and we are trotting behind. Mani tells us to meet Anu at the main entrance. As we emerge from the station it quickly becomes clear we cannot wait there – it is manic and the touts descend on us like flies on rotting fruit. We retreat back inside and in a large hall we see a fresh faced boy walking towards us – it is Anu. He is about 5' 4” , has short neat hair and looks to me about age 12 (but is in fact 25). He is very relieved to find us, he says, Manidharma was very worried, he thought we'd get robbed or murdered. There's a taxi outside and he will drive us to our lodgings. As we emerge again from the station, a noise and cacophony greats us of traffic and car horns and more touts again, that our guide bats off. We keep our eyes lowered and follow him closely.
 
So this is Bodh Gaya – where the Buddha gained enlightenment, we look out at traffic and people around, it's 7.30 in the morning. We get to the 'hotel' and hump our bags up some stairs and down a long corridor – the room seems to overlook a building site, it is cold, the sheets are cold and slightly damp but we are exhausted and fall on the beds. I fall into a deep sleep and according to Jules, snore (rubbish)! We have arranged to meet up with Anu in the foyer at 1 pm for some site seeing.




 











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