Date: 7 May
Location: floating down the Ganges on a dinky sailboat filled with carpets and pillows, blasting The Lumineers on Babysitters' Club's bluetooth speakers, somewhere between Allahbad and Varanssi.
Notable sightings: the mighty Mother Ganges in all her disgusting glory; a corpse floating by. I am dead serious. Ok, that was an unintentional pun.
Being rowed down this peaceful river is the perfect balm for a score of frayed tempers, budding tantrums and wits perilously close to their end. It's been a long, hot night.
Yesterday ten sleepy souls took auto rickshaws an hour from Orchha to Jhansi to board the midnight train to Allahbad. The wait at the steamy station was excruciating, boarding the carriages an ordeal. The layout of the 3 AC carriages is cramped: on one side of a narrow aisle, two hard bunks stick out of the wall, on the other, the feet of three-tiered bunks stick out like bookshelves. Allegedly, there's air conditioning but empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Clambering into a middle bunk requires a svelte Asian figure, acrobatic skills worthy of Cirque du Soliel contortionist and no meagre measure of courage. Predawn toilet trips are ill advised. The company is mixed: Indian families sleeping three to a tiny bunk, loud clusters of Indian men to whom the concept of 'quiet time' is foreign and ten weary westerners. Snuggled like a cranky caterpillar into my inner sheet I was soon letting the gentle rocking motion of the train coax me to sleep. And when I say 'gentle rocking motion of the train', I mean 'one pretty little pearly white sleeping pill'.
At 7am Ravi woke us; at 7.05am our chariot jolted to a halt for only 5 minutes; we jumped off like it was a fire evacuation.
A bumpy three hour bus ride awaited us. And the mercury was climbing quickly. Thankfully, it's voting day here and the streets almost empty.
Finally, we were ushered onto a troupe of tiny, shaded boats for a long meandering river trip to Varanssi, about 6 hours today and 6 tomorrow. An ice cold Kingfisher is all that's wanted to perfect this experience, but alcohol and meat are strictly forbidden on this holy river. Perhaps that's for the best as there are, obviously, no bathrooms. Or, as our guide optimistically puts it, there are bathrooms “everywhere! The whole world is a bathroom”. India strikes again.