Guwahati Express – The Boarding and the Settling Down. 

Before, in discussions with my sister, she was particular about the Guwahati being a bad train. Her in laws had ‘suffered’ when they took it once, a few years ago. Like every couple, anything said to my sister inexorably travelled to my brother-in-law. It wasn’t until, through my sister, my brother-in-law’s opinion was conveyed that it has turned superfast since and is now a very nice train. What a relief!

The train was reasonably comfortable, that was pretty clear as soon as I entered it. I had upper berth. Which meant I am to spend most of my trip sleeping. There was a nice army man, hailing either from Karnataka itself or Andhra. He was going to Guwahati. The pretty girl who I do wished to be in my division was in the next division. The throng of indeterminate no. of people and indeterminate no. of children were in the same section as the pretty girl. There was an oriya hollering in the next division, then he was hollering in hindi and then in telegu. Mother tongue proficiency in all. 

I realised that I sucked at travelling. I didn’t have slippers. I didn’t have a fucking clue where all have I kept my stuff. I realised I need to get organised so much more. After fishing for a good amount of time, I was able to get my power bank. My charging brick followed. I was somehow able to get my wits about and started to set up my stuff. 

The indeterminate throng was in the next berth. They had 4 reservations. The pretty girl was in the next berth too. Someone pointed to the indeterminate throng that their ticket says B7 instead of B3 and they slowly moved out. More than a few people heaved a sigh of relief. I noticed the pretty girl talking to someone over phone and crying. 

I decided to turn in. But later that night, a group of three women came. A girl my age, and two middle aged ladies. The girl was very talkative, cute only as the talkative can be. She asked me, rather directed me with full moral conviction to ask the army guy to exchange seats with her mother who had the upper berth. I said I would help, tried. No good came of it. 

Her mother, calmly talked to a guy in the next section into exchanging berths. They were happy. Everything was settled. I was said goodnight to, by the talkative girl. I turned in for the night.  Later, I half noticed a couple entering and taking the two berths below me.

Guwahati Express – The Wait

I was supposed to take the train for BNC – Banglore Cantonment Railway Station. I was instead travelling to the Majestic. The grand central railway station at Bangalore. Somehow I noticed the discrepancy, mostly thanks to a SMS notification that I got from IRCTC and was able to alter my course to the right destination. 

The Bangalore Cantonment Station stank. It has a pathetic few shanties. It seemed that all the people were here for the Guwahati Express. The train was scheduled to depart at 11:40 Pm and everybody was here by 8.

I explored the platform, and the outside of the station. I noticed a big black rat with a silver neck. Reminded me of silverbacked gorillas. I noticed a very pretty girl sitting on the platform along with her baggage. I did a couple of rounds just to steal glances at her. She didn’t see me. 

On the outside, I found an age old cafe. There was a set menu, maybe 10 items at maximum, written in English and Kannada. The prices were upgraded by pasting a paper with the New rate over the earlier one. It was cheap. I got a coffee and a ‘masala dosa’. Nondescript. In Bangaluru, nondescript means great tasting when it comes to food. The dosa was nondescript ingly great, I was denied onions in it. The coffee… Well I burned my hand trying to manage it, and spilled some of it in counter. The staff were kind, and they cleaned it up and gave me an extra cup to handle it. God it tasted divine! But my opinion might be partly guilt ridden.  Bill – 30 Rupees. 

I enquired around where the enquiry were to be. I couldn’t find it. Then I spied two middle aged gentlemen with red ID straps. I guessed they were railway employees. I politely approached them and enquired about my train. To my surprise, they let me know that the train was already here. 

I made my way to the train. It was a long walk. And the train was long. It’s a long, long train. I got to, in due course, to my compartment, almost at the very end. And stood there in front of the gates, waiting for admission. 

There was a man with his teen daughter, who let me know upon inquiry that the train opens at 10 Pm. It was 9:30 PM. Probably a student with his backpack, a trolley and a packed cardboard case. A Buddhist monk, who I am quite sure was a woman. I didnt know there were female Buddhist monks. 

We were joined after some time by a throng of rather not so well to do men, women and an indeterminate number of children. All presumably a family. They had this habit of sitting rather than standing, anywhere. The children were loud and very coarse with their language.  To be very honest I couldn’t have imagined sharing my compartment with them for two days. 

It was quite past 10. Maybe 10:30 or More. When the train  showed signs if admitting. I espied a rather pretty girl boarding into my compartment. I was hoping that she and I share the same division. We were soon allowed to board in. 

Planning travel to Sikkim

I am in between jobs for almost a month, in May, 2017. This allowed me to plan travelling at leisure. After looking into my options, I decided to explore well-trodden paths to Sikkim and Darjeeling over a period of around three weeks. Since, I had to book tickets well in advance, I decided to do everything via trains and AirBnb, so that  I will be able to recover most of my money in case there is unforeseeable cancellation. So, in the end. My itinerary involves taking all modes of transport except waterways, a total of 5 days journeying by train. 4 major and two minor destinations and lots of exploration via AirBnb, Oyo, Couchsurfing etc.

I checked out a lot of tour packages, starting from the government sponsored ones to some of the hugely popular and lonely planet recommended offbeat itineraries provided by some. A combination of reasons around cost, destinations, experiences etc. predominately being cost, made me decide not to go for those. i found the flexibility of planning my own trip and the underlying uncertainty of it all exciting and rather appealing.

I have ended up with  plan that involves 4 days at Darjeeling, 3 days at Pelling, 5 days at Gangtok and more than a day at Kolkata. Things that I hope to do, at a high level –

  1. Mountain biking at Darjeeling
  2. Try out most of the local cuisine and popular joints
  3. Visit important monuments and monasteries.
  4. Explore a lot of woods, coutryside
  5. Drink locally brewed beer.

My total budget for this entire trip is around 40k. Although, I have had set aside a total of 50k including contingencies.

My total expenses so far –

  1. Travel from Bangalore to Siliguri – 2195
  2. Stay the night at Siliguri – 1050
  3. Book Stay at Darjeeling – 4000
  4. Book Stay at Pelling – 3500
  5. Book Stay at Gangtok – 7500
  6. Another Night at Siliguri – 1050
  7. Travel from Siliguri to Kolkata – 2900
  8. Night at Kolkata – 1200
  9. Travel from Kolkata to Pune – 6000

Total – 29,395