20: The Worst Journey

According to G.K. Chesterton, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

Back in 2010, I made my first trip to India, wandering around the North for ten weeks. My Dad came to join me for the couple of weeks in the middle and we went to Varanasi, a city we found it difficult to get the measure of.

From Varanasi we planned to travel around 700 kilometres to Darjeeling. Dad had booked the tickets via Patna in Bihar. The state had a bad reputation and the advice to travellers was to avoid it. We had two hours there between trains there before taking an overnight trip to New Jalpaguri where we could rest overnight and I could buy some new clothes – all of mine were dirty. We could then get the toy train into the mountains.

The plans fell apart as soon as we reached Varanasi station to find out there were massive delays. The helpful tourist ticket office found us an alternative route by sleeper class, staying overnight in Patna. We waited hours in Varanasi, our train occasionally given a new platform then delayed again. It was several hours before boarded our train.

We arrived in Patna about 3am. The station was full of people sleeping in preparation for early trains. We wanted to find somewhere to stay until early afternoon, when we had our connection towards Darjeeling. I was sick and we were tired. We found a taxi and tried several hotels where the night-staff wouldn’t even rouse to see what we wanted. The only hotel we did find wanted £80 for the night which seemed a little steep. We stood on the street corner, dawn breaking, wondering what to do next, a small pack of cycle-rickshaw drivers waiting for us to make our decision.

I was nervous and more lost than I’ve ever been. But we made it to Darjeeling safely and, looking back, standing with my Dad on an early morning street corner is one of my favourite moments. The adventure happened at the limit of our plans, as they began to fall apart.

In Delhi, a few weeks later, I was watching the BBC world news in a hotel room. One of the reports was about six hour delays on the channel tunnel, interviews with furious tourists. And I wondered what made the difference between an adventure and an inconvenience. Surely problems back home could be resolved in the same way as the mysteries of train tables, currency exchange and cheap accommodations.

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