100 Days in India Project

A young cow standing on the station platform in Varanasi, India

38/ 100 The Marudhar Express Part 3 – Cows at the Station

So we arrived, finally, at Varanasi railway station, about to take our first of many train trips in India. After an eventful ride from our apartment we had hoped that the rest of the evening would be plain sailing.

The very first thing that struck us when we arrived was that it was less like a station and more like a giant encampment.  Sure, the physical structure of Varanasi Junction railway station was much like any other, but strange scenes inside were very different to what we expected. We discovered that the thousands of pilgrims who visit Varanasi each day don’t stay in hotels (because of the cost I assume). They arrive one day by train, walk the few miles to the river Ganges to perform their sacred rituals, walk back to the station and, basically, sleep on the floor until the train comes again the next day.

There were quite literally hundreds of people, all huddled together on the stone floor under blankets in large groups, preparing to spend the night at the station. Everyone had a blanket and sat in the chilly evening air drinking chai and eating the snacks they had procured. The lack of toilets wasn’t an issue as both men and women simply squatted over the edge of the platform and did whatever they needed to on the tracks. I doubt you’d get away with that at Glasgow Central station.

In amongst the pilgrims was the usual menagerie of animals, one of which was a very friendly calf (the one in the photograph, taken on a cheap phone btw). I quite liked its puppy dog behaviour at first. Rewarding its gentle nuzzling with a stroke under its chin or behind its ears. Then I realised that its main interest was a banana in Fiona’s rucksack (what is it with Fiona upsetting the balance of things with her food stash?). The calf was getting quite boisterous in the small area we had claimed on the platform so I formed a plan.

I got the banana and threw it right up to the other end of the platform where there were no people. Sure enough the calf trotted away to eat it and we breathed a sigh of relief. I say We because a bunch of Indian people had clearly decided that we were going to somehow get the train problem fixed and protect them from the marauding cattle. But, guess what? The calf came back, and now it wanted more bananas.

Its hefty nudges and pokes with its snotty nose were getting quite dangerous and we all sought sanctuary behind a couple of benches. A few other tourists and our Indian entourage had joined us in our bench fort and we were all shouting at it and pushing it away but it was relentless. It kept coming and would not stop.

Help arrived in the shape of one of the blanket-clad chaps who was watching our adventure unfold. His well-honed approach worked, but it was slightly controversial. He walked calmly up to the calf, poked it to make it turn around and then punched it square on the nose. Disgruntled, it mooched off to pester some other folk and we were able to sit, freezing cold, in the grim station waiting for our train. It was now about 2am.

Intended Train departure time: 5.30pm
Current delay: 9 hours

< Part 2       Part 4>