I want to continue with my travel stories from when I first visited India. And when I finish with these, there will be other travel stories from my journeys. I have so many. And I do want to read them again later in life. Hope one day my kids will read them too. So let’s go back to my first visit of India. After that long and exhausting bus journey I arrived to McLeod Ganj. I had the best little room in McLeod (I think less than 4 square meters for a bit more than 1€ per night) that I really enjoyed and there are so many things to do there. Now that was India I could really love, I thought. It was. So many nice paths to walk on, so much nature everywhere around, cozy little cafes and restaurants with long menus of tasty food choices. I could have lingered around in McLeod for a very long time. There were yoga and other classes too to keep people occupied and opportunities to do some volunteer work. Who wouldn’t love it? Well, I was one of them, I loved McLeod.
McLeod Ganj is Dalai Lama’s home in exile
Another reason to love McLeod Ganj is that Dalai Lama lives there. And many other Tibetan refugees too. I was keen about meeting the Dalai Lama, the wonderful person that I always adored. He knows how to be happy and I just love his smile. I went to the monastery next to his residence so many times. It’s such a peaceful place. One can just sit and stare there, enjoy the moment. I imagined one day Dalai Lama would pass by me and say hi. Well that didn’t happen, but I did see him very close by. He was in a car that drove by me on the road. He had his contagious smile on his lips, of course! Because McLeod Ganj is a place where many Tibetan refugees live, you can find Tibetan handicrafts in shops and Tibetan food in restaurants. I was addicted to momos. Momos are traditional Tibetan dumplings that come on plate in different ways. Momo soup was my favorite and I couldn’t get enough. I loved my days in McLeod. There were some very nice people staying in my guest house. We had a lot of fun together. So when one of them, Jacklyn from the UK, told me she is going to Amritsar the next day, I told her I’m coming too!
There are no trains going to Amritsar from McLeod Ganj
Well of course! I already came with a bus. By then I was already convinced that train travel in India is much more pleasant than bus travel. But I had some company fort his bus journey to Amritsar so it went by quickly! When we arrived we found a room and went to see the Golden temple of Amritsar. That’s one really amazing place. I also loved Sikh religion once I learned about it. But I didn’t like the city that much and decided I would move on the next day. My friend Jacklyn was going to Rajastan and I was going to Varanasi. We exchanged emails and decided to keep in touch! We did and we also met again later during our trips! I spent my evening studying Lonely planet India. I always did that. Those were the days before wifi. So my Lonely planet India was my everything and I trusted it completely. I decided I should take a train from Amritsar to Varanasi. Packed my bags and took a bicycle rickshaw to Amritsar train station after one night in the city of the Golden temple. That’s the day I learned you must buy all your train tickets with Indian railways in advance (specially for long trips).
The train from Amritsar to Varanasi was full
Who would have thought? They told me I could take a train a few weeks later. What?! That wasn’t according to my travel plans! There were some friendly travellers at Amritsar train station and one of them asked me where I’m headed. I told him about the train that’s full. He was totally relaxed about it and told me he was going to Agra, to see the Taj. And then by another train to Varanasi. He had a regular sleeper class ticket to Agra. Why don’t you join me, he said. Well, why not. I made a decision in a moment, which is something I never did before in my life. I went to buy a regular ticket for the train to Agra and the train arrived shortly after. Michael (the American that asked me to join him on the journey to Agra) told me to just stay on the seat next to his and »we’ll do something« when the conductor comes. I had the ticket fort he ordinary seat on the same train. That was a no-go. The coach with ordinary class seats was totally packed, there were people seating on the floor too. And the journey was more than 12 hours to Agra. So what do you do in a situation like this?
Always buy train tickets in advance!
For a few hours the train from Amritsar to Agra was almost empty. But at each station where we stopped, more people boarded the train. The compartment where me and Michael were seating was suddenly full. But other passengers didn’t care if I was there too. They all said we’ll just squeeze and it’ll be ok. We did just that. When the night came we made beds and somehow everyone could lie down. In the middle of the night the conductor came and Michael spoke to him. He somehow convinced him to let me stay where I was till we reached Agra. No matter my ticket wasn’t right for the sleeper class. So we all slept, even us, »blind passengers«. It was a fun ride. Michael was a great company, I enjoyed listening his travel stories and he was so much fun. We laughed a lot. No matter the good outcome, I never boarded the train in India without the right ticket again. Well, almost never.
My next train journey from Agra to Varanasi was without ticket as well…
But that’s a long story that I’m saving for the next time. I actually wanted to go straight to Varanasi from Agra as my Lonely Planet wrote that Agra is not that pleasant! But again the trains were full and I was even more convinced by what Michael said: »You’re in Agra and you won’t go and see the Taj?«. He was right. So we made a plan. We rented a tuk-tuk (motorized threewheeler) with a driver for the day and went to see Agra’s sights. Our luggage was locked at the train station and we knew when we had to be back at the station to catch the train. Yes, that completely full train. We decided we would just board that train (as the timings were perfect) and see what happens! So Ahmed, our tuk-tuk driver, drove us around Agra and showed us all the beautiful sights. Including the Majestic Taj Mahal. I didn’t regret my decision to see it even for a second. Thank you, Mike.
What about that next train ride without tickets? That’s another story that continues next time!