Stirring awake, I check the time. 9:00. I have plenty of time left. I rolled over and went back to sleep. The train I was on was supposed to arrive at 15:00 but it was late.

The day before, I arrived at the train station in New Delhi as night fell. I was bracing myself for the longest train journey I had ever taken, a journey that ran for 19:30 hours. Being in New Delhi by myself had been fine so far but now I was stepping into the unknown.

As I checked the departure board, I questioned whether I have been had. I asked the hostel I was staying at to take care of the tickets and while they hadn’t let me down before during my trip to the Taj Mahal, I was still skeptical. I saw my train number but that train was leaving at 23:30 not 19:30 as it said on my ticket. None of the other trains had the same number. Soon it dawned on me that it was the right train. It was only 4 hours late.

Seeing all the people sleeping on the benches, I decided that would be a good idea for me as well. I started roaming the station only to find that everyone else had the same idea. There was someone sleeping on every bench. Eventually I did find a bench and questioning why this particular bench was empty out of all the rest, I made it my space for the next few hours. After reading for a bit, I fell asleep with my bag as the pillow amidst the noise of the station.

When booking my tickets before, I insisted on getting a bunk on the top row on the side of the train. I had never been in a sleeper train before but judging from the pictures I found online, it looked like this option would give me some space to myself. After finally getting on the train, I found this to be true. On the main side of the train, the middle bunk out of the three mounted on the wall was folded down and formed the back of the seat for three people to sit down. Having the top bunk, I climbed on it, set out the sheets and the pillowcase and went to sleep.

I have slept enough I thought as I stirred awake again. With the light coming into from the widow, I could now see the compartment and my neighbors much better than last night. I figured I should brush my teeth so I climbed down from my bunk and set off looking for the washroom which I found at the end of the carriage next to the door which was wide open. I looked out to see miles of green and yellow countryside as the train slowly moved on.

At the start of the year my mom visited Bodhgaya, the site where Lord Buddha was enlightened. It is a pilgrimage undertaken by devoted Buddhists in Sri Lanka and after a lifetime of yearning, my mom finally made it with one of my aunts. After her trip she declared that it is a place that you must visit at least once in your life and that was what I was doing.

One of the downside of having the top bunk is that you don’t have a window. But I came prepared. Even though my mom was a devoted Buddhist, I wasn’t very religious. I am a Buddhist and it wasn’t that I didn’t believe in it, I just didn’t practice much. Moreover, I felt that I knew less about my religion that I should and that bothered me. So on this trip, I felt that it was fitting to fix that and loaded a couple of eBooks about Buddhism into my nook which I continued reading as the train ambled on towards the birthplace of Buddhism.

15:00 came and according to Google maps, I was still nowhere close to my stop. Soon it was 17:00 and there was still more to go. I was started to get worried. My train would only get me to Gaya and my hotel was in Bodhgaya which was around 15KM away. It is well known tourist tip to avoid travelling at night since that is when shady things tended to happen. I wanted to avoid it but with the train delay it didn’t look like I would be able to.

Sunset over train tracks
Sun setting whilst on train to Bodhgaya

Indeed, it was dark as the train finally arrived at 18:00. I need to find a tuk tuk and I avoided getting one at the station knowing that they would try to overcharge me. Instead I set off towards where I thought the town was with only offline google maps to guide me. My phone had failed to start roaming and I couldn’t get online or make calls with it. As I moved away from the station, I started seeing crowds of people on the street ahead and many statues of gods lit up on the side of the road. It looked like some religious event was happening in the town that day and finding a tuk tuk turned out to be much harder than I expected. I had been searching for over half an hour now and I still couldn’t find a driver willing to take my offer. Things were not going as planned.

Prabashwara Seneviratne

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Prabashwara Seneviratne