Awaiting the Calcutta Express
20.11.2010 32 °C
At 5am. our auto-rickshaw roars through Varanasi’s near deserted streets, horn blaring at shadows, waking only the day.
A thousand somnolent souls seeking cold comfort on the station forecourt, like tightly shrouded corpses awaiting the pyres, barely stir. Yet the platforms are a heaving mass of humanity as trains come and go.
The 5.38am. Poorva Express to Kolkata, (Calcutta), is an hour late, we are told, and we watch the day break as we wait.
Sharp-eyed rats and barefoot urchins scramble for scraps in the leftovers of the night, while a dog with an infected tail tries to bite it off.
At 6.38am. a weighty bull, dribbling urine, wanders the platform in search of scraps, and a squad of monkeys arrive like a team of attacking commandos; racing across the roofs and shimmying down a myriad of stanchions to the platforms.
An apple seller is instantly surrounded by the marauding apes and frantically fights them off with his antiquated brass scales. The monkeys eye us up and we gather our bags tightly, then a legless beggar drags himself to our feet and pleads.
By 7.38 the warming sun enlivens the sleepers and the platform becomes a communal toilet before our eyes. Privacy here is only for the rich.
Our train has dropped off the arrivals board. ‘God knows when it will arrive’, we are told, though no one else seems to know.
It is 8.38 and our world is bustling with travelers, porters, beggars, scavengers, monkeys, rats, dogs, cows and chai-wallahs, but all we want is the 5.38 Express to Kolkata.
Nine o’clock arrives and with it comes our train - three and half hours behind schedule, but no one is concerned; only a fool or a foreigner expects a train to be on time in India
And now, time for another puzzler ...
Here's a picture we took in the heart of Varanasi City - what are these wall decorations?
The winner will receive enough wood for their own funeral pyre on the banks of the Ganges, (coffin and airfare not included).
Congratulations to all of you who correctly identified the mystery objects as cow dung. The patties are stuck on the wall so that they will dry in the sun. When they are fully dried they fall off and are ready to be used for cooking - fuel that is! Heaps of dried cow dung can be seen everywhere here, (along with plenty of the wet stuff).
There were so many winners that you can all charter a plane and have a mass funeral pyre if you like!!