“I had been having a good time at Darjeeling ever since we arrived, but one thing made me feel quite sad. It had been misty and hazy every day and I had not yet seen Kanchenjunga… At last, one day, while we were staying at Elgin Villa, my mother woke me very early in the morning. I ran and stood at the window… I gaped open-mouthed, and watched the faint pink glow turn to golden, and from golden to a shimmering silver. Later in life, I got the chance to watch many beautiful sights both in my own country and abroad; but I do not think anything can match the beauty of Kanchenjunga during sunrise and sunset.” –Satyajit Ray, Childhood Days: A Memoir.
And so blessed with a pale, parting glimpse of the Himalayas in the rearview mirror, it’s back down down down the mountain to the New Jalpaiguri Railway Station for the next leg of the journey. There’s a cow sharing the platform with some disgruntled about-to-strike railway workers and we almost miss the train trying to find our car in all the confusion but once settled, the Rajdhani Express is fast, clean, comfortable and we are constantly plied with free, tasty food (mutter paneer, roti, daal, spicy potato chips, chai, pista barfi, ice-cream… more ice-cream…). Outside the window, life is happening in villages and towns. Everywhere you look there is something to see and someone doing something: I’m herding my goats! I’m drinking some tea! I’m brushing my teeth! I’m planting rice! I’m kicking a ball! I’m washing some clothes! I’m tending a fire! I’m watching my cow! I’m getting a haircut! I’m riding a bike! There is a constant energizing hum to life here that I’ve never felt anywhere else. The jovial mood is broken briefly when our mischievous little cabin-mate pulls the emergency stop handle. Just so you know, when you pull the emergency stop handle on a train, the train stops. And a bunch of guys with machine guns show up. Immediately.
At 1 am, we arrive at our destination: Mugahl Sarai station on the outskirts of Varanasi. Thunder rolls, lightning flashes and a torrential rainstorm pours down… Welcome to the next adventure!