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I survived my first sleeper train!

sunny 37 °C

[NB: Sorry, posted late, this is from last week]

So it's 2.20am on Sunday morning and here I am on the Jwh Supafast express train from Jaipur to Kanpur - my first Indian train experience. Everyone says you haven't seen proper India until you've gotten an Indian train - and a sleeper class at that. Sleeper class is the one below third class, with no air conditioning, so naturally I was apprehensive, but at the time of booking there were so many waiting lists we were lucky to even get this. However it's really not that bad. It's quite crowded and I haven't seen any other foreigners yet, but besides the distinct and potent smell of urine it's really quite fun. 

We're on our way to Kanpur, which seems to be a pretty boring city tourist-wise, as it's more a large industrial hub, but we wanted to break up our journey to Varanasi, as the journey to Kanpur is 9 hours as it is and another 7 to our final destination. 

This week has been really quite a good one, though not too eventful and full of goodbyes. On Tuesday after I last wrote I went to school, and afterwards Elena and I decided to go to Anokhi - a western style clothing shop and cafe that many of the girls at the house rave about - for good reason. The shop was nice, though expensive, and Elena fell in love with a dress that she ended up buying. We then went to the cafe, which is the real winner, and got our first proper salad in ages - amazing! I got a feta, olive, fig and onion tapenade and crostini salad which was awesome, and we finished off with cheesecake and chocolate cake. Sooo good. Needless today we ended up going three times in the last five days. 

On our way out we hung out in the bookshop downstairs and then got a rickshaw to Hypercity, where I bought a mud mask and coconut oil for my hair, completing our 'Western day' and feeling quite pampered. At Hypercity I fell in love with an SLR camera which was cheap by Australian standards, but turns out there's no international insurance so I don't think I want to commit to the risk. 

The rest of the week rolled by, with a special event at school on Thursday - a magic show! The French volunteer, Coreo, is a magician by trade, so after class he set up a big show (in the tiny room) with music and juggling and even got Rahul to do an acrobatic stunt! The kids absolutely loved it (as did I).

After I got home, Elena and I visited Anokhi again for dinner, though afterwards we met a very strange rickshaw driver who pulled out an iPhone and expensive camera, saying they were 'gifts' from friends, and he also tried to convince us to hire a taxi instead of train to Varanasi and go to Orchha to visit the Karma Sutra tree. We ended up finding another way home...

On Friday Elena woke up really sick which sucked, and didn't get to go her last day at the orphanage unfortunately. However, it was a very sad day for me too - my last day at school. I'd gotten a little teary cuddling Manisha the day before, and Asha, the teacher at the school, had given Sasha and I friendship bracelets. When we arrived on Friday I gave Asha a letter I'd written her, and to my surprise she gave one to Sasha and I too, saying in broken English that she considered us her best friends and misses us deeply. I really hadn't realised how much I'd effected Asha just by being kind to her, as I think it's difficult for married women here to have friends. But her note really touched me and I burst into tears, making it even harder than I'd thought to leave the school. Due to a kind of bittersweet luck, only four students turned up - Manisha, Sangeeta, Rahul (not the one that looks like Bruno Mars) and Mukesh came and went as he'd hit his head falling off a tree. As much as I would've loved to say bye, I'm glad that the last time I saw them was at the magic show, as I know I'd bawl my eyes out if I'd known I wouldn't see all of them again the next day. I've thought about them so many times already and I guess I hope to come back some day, but kids change so quickly and I doubt I'll be back soon enough. Regardless, I'm glad for the time I got to spend with those beautiful children and I miss and love them with all my heart. I already fear for the many times I'm going to think of them in the future, even Asha and Purni and Zakir - as I am really really unlikely to ever know where they are or what they will be doing. I can't just Facebook stalk them. We really are worlds apart. And that was one of the things I really hadn't properly considered about all the volunteer trips I've planned to do, as I don't think I'll ever stop wondering. 

I don't think much else to report happened, and this morning (Saturday) we had our last day at the house, mainly just packing/watching movies etc as it has become SO FREAKING HOT. Many people had already left that week and others were on weekend trips, so it was nice not to have to do the big emotional goodbyes. Elena, Becca and I went to Anokhi for a farewell dinner which was delightful as usual and then had a nap before finishing off our packing and saying our goodbyes to Becca, Megan, Lian and of course Purnima.

As we were driving off it really hadn't sunk in yet that we wouldn't be back (and it still hasn't), maybe because we'd left the house every weekend to do trips. It was a sad time to leave - a week ago I thought I was ready to go but after spending a full week with the kids and just relaxing at home not doing 'touristy' stuff, I had really felt comfortable in my routine there and wanted to stay. They say it takes three weeks to form a habit so I guess I had come to know the place as my home, but I'm sure in the next day or two I'll be happy to be on the road again.

We arrived at Jaipur Train station at a bit before 1.30am - which is a sight in itself. The road out the front is literally covered with sleeping people - initially I'd thought they were all waiting for trains but I now think it may be were they sleep, as the station is relatively safe compared to the streets, has toilets/water etc. Inside the station it was generally as you might imagine an Indian train station - quite dirty and smelly, and people just sitting around everywhere waiting for trains. Luckily my standards of hygiene have changed dramatically in Sydney otherwise I might have vomited.

And here we are - at around 2 our train arrived and we found our seats with relative ease; my apprehension for the sleeper class quelled very easily, especially now that my bags are all locked up. Not the most comfortable way to sleep but it's fun - though I wish my bed had a window to look out as I'm desperate to see what's gliding past me outside. Hopefully I can get some sleep or read a bit, as we don't arrive to Kanpur until 11am, but I really don't feel like sleeping.

My thoughts keep turning to the past four weeks and the people I've met. They say it takes three weeks to form a habit, and having just reached that point I had begun to feel really comfortable in the house. I don't really feel ready to leave but it's inevitable, and I'm sure it'll be nice to be back on the road again, especially with Elena, Sasha and Elsbeth. I've realised that as I'm rolling away from Jaipur my identity as a foreigner shifts from volunteer/temporary resident to traveller/tourist, as it shall continue to do for the remainder of the year; I'm yet to decide which one I like better. I would definitely recommend volunteering to anyone as it is a really unique way to see a country (particularly India; I'm glad I got grounded here before being unleashed on Varanasi, which I've heard can be incredibly intense).

Anyway, in the time that I have been writing this, I have come to wreak of someone elses piss (I'm not sure how clean these vinyl beds are), so I'm going to wipe some lipbalm under my nostrils and try to get some sleep. Next update will be from Varanasi!


Posted by georgiaellen 23:30 Archived in India

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