Sunday, 12 April 2009
Our journey onwards from Varanasi began in confusion. Finding the correct platform and then making sure that the train would take us to Daltonganj was no mean feat! Eventually we were underway, across the Ganga, and able to enjoy once more the spectacular views of the Indian countryside. Travelling in Second Sleeper Class needs patience, tolerance and a liking for dust. Virtually no foreigners ever travel to Jharkhand, and so we felt very out-of-place on this crowded train. Our destination is one of the poorest and most lawless parts of India: this was clearly reflected by our fellow-passengers. As darkness fell, the stations became gradually more intimidating. The atmosphere at Garwha Junction was typical: crowds of people milling around but moving slowly, clad in dirty and basic garments both western and Indian-style; the vendors selling simple vegetables with their portable stalls lit by basic candles; a feeling somewhere in the pit of our stomachs that we shouldn’t really be here. As we approached Daltonganj, the feeling of apprehension grew. Once off the train and onto the platform we found ourselves in a sea of sleeping families, camped out on the tiles of the station floor. The railway police tried to get us back into the safety of a station waiting room. Was this REALLY so threatening? All these people, with their slow, zombie-like manner, were far more helpless than threatening. It was then that we met the Kumar brothers with their smiles, good-natured wit and healthy curiosity. We managed to pass about half and hour with nods, jokes and simple sentences based around ‘What country are you?’ and other usual Indian ice-breakers. The Kumars’ friend asked us one astonishing question: “What caste are you?” This alone demonstrates how the majority of Hindus see the rest of the world, and how they relate to it! We tried to explain our “castelessness”, but he then asked about our religion. “What is your god then?” Simon risked the answer: ‘Jesus’. After a few minutes, Jon had gone off to find our lift to the wildlife sanctuary. Simon was musing on the fact that we must be the ONLY foreigners in the entire state. The Jharkhani guy then said something rather unexpected: “So you are Pentecostal then? We are!” And as Simon spun around, he saw Jon talking to a tall Australian gentleman. Simon’s understanding of protestant missionaries was suddenly enhanced. Here was a single, ageing bourgeois westerner (even if only antipodean…) taking it upon himself to tell the members of one of the most ancient, complicated and richly diverse world-religions that they had been doing it ALL WRONG. Way to go, progressive west! As our jeep pulled out of Daltonganj, the smell of open cooking fires and the rancid garbage by the food vendors filled the air. We sped towards Betla and the Palamau National Park scanning the darkness for bandits!