After the challenges of my evening train travel from Haridwar to Lucknow, I readied myself and prepared for whatever was to come with my next train adventure to Varanasi. I can gratefully say how pleasantly surprised I was — completely smooth sailing, er… riding.
The tuk-tuk I asked the guest house to order for me the night before not only arrived in time, but early! We still left at 6am for the train station which was only about 10 mins away. My train was at 7am. The most difficult part of the whole journey was figuring out which of the four keys worked on the locked iron gate letting me out from the guest house. Those padlocks are used for every door I’ve been behind, in guest house or ashram alike, but some are more fussy than others.
The Lucknow train station wasn’t nearly as packed as the Haridwar one was. There were many families sleeping or sitting on the ground again, but you could still walk around or by people much more easily. And I was amazed to see there was NO line to purchase tickets, even with just two windows open so early in the morning. I was expecting to have to purchase a general ticket because I was still wait listed #6 when I had checked my status the day before. Much better than being wait listed #19 like I hadn’t known I’d been for Lucknow til I got there! But when I showed my e-ticket print-out to the man at the window, he just told me what platform to go to, number 9.
Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me how to get there. And the person I asked for directions, gave me the wrong ones. I’d read in a guide book, one of the things to be weary of when asking Indian people questions is they would rather give you wrong information than admit that they don’t know. I think I was experiencing this unfortunate truth in the moment. Fortunately, I had enough time before the train to *finally* figure out how to get to the correct platform. There was less people in Lucknow but WAY more platforms than in Haridwar, so my search probably took about 20 minutes. I found the platform with about 15 mins to spare and the train was already waiting. Although I didn’t have a seat number, I’d been told by Manoj to just sit in the chair car since that’s what I paid for, and the train ticket man would direct me to my seat.
Fate would have it that I chose a window seat near the end of the car, that happened to be next to a very nice Indian man who pulled out a newspaper in English. Score! He could likely help me if need be. And it most certainly turned out that he did! I, of course, knew that I was very likely sitting in someone else’s seat, but was still hoping I’d be able to stay. I had already successfully hoisted my heavy backpack into the storage space above me and had settled in. After a few minutes though, someone was inquiring about my seat. I explained I was waitlisted to my seat mate and didn’t know where I should be sitting, so he offered to find out for me and put my PNR number associated when I bought my thicket into an app on his phone I will soon be downloading myself. There is a method to all this madness!
I was super happy to hear him say that my seat was #9 and that yes, it was at the front of the very car I was on. Yay! Not only was I no longer waitlisted and had an official seat, but I had found my way onto the correct car. My train luck was gratefully improving! He also offered to see if the gentleman whose seat I was in would be willing to switch with me. After a bit of reluctance according to my seat mate, he did agree. So I was good to go in my new seat, right under my bag and with a kind helpful English speaking seat mate. He eventually explained the situation to the train guy who only wished to see my ID and I was really and truly all set. Alrighty then, this train transportation thing isn’t so bad after all!
And sitting in that seat truly did prove to be my fate. At least that’s what my friendly spiritual seat mate eventually pronounced about me sitting in seat 66 and not seat 9 like I was supposed to. This, after we conversed off and on over at least two of the 6.5 hours of the journey. Only in India is it natural that two complete strangers might naturally converse about spirituallity, reincarnation and the like. We shared the titles of books we enjoyed with one another. In addition, I shared my “story” of becoming a yoga teacher and my life before it. He shared the sweet sorry of actually running away from home when he was a very young boy because he felt his love of God so strongly that he wanted to be a holy man or sadhu. But then for no real reason in his late teens, he eventually became an atheist for many years. It wasn’t until years later that a simple conversation with a stranger about spirituality which resonated quite deeply with him allowed him to change his ways. And now he is quite clear and confident about his love for God. And even feels that once his children of off to school, he would like to plan an early retirement enabling him to follow the spiritual path he is very much once again drawn towards.
I shared with him my two take aways from reading The Celestine Prophecy years ago that his story reminded me of, as well as the story we were creating right in the moment of our train ride together. One, that there is no such things as a coincidence. This I strongly believe. Two, that very often our encounters with one another are because we have messages for each other. Kind of like the saying that goes: We meet people for a reason, a season or a lifetime. That has always resonated with me as well. In fact, I absolutely live my life in part based on the signs I receive from the Universe and often take others perceptions, advice or words of wisdom to heart as pointers in the direction of my life — hearing exactly what I needed to hear at the perfect time. If I didn’t listen to what others shared, I’d be missing out on much of what can often be the best part of travel! AND yet, I also feel it’s super important to think for oneself and make sure to chart our own territory. It’s a fine balance. But important I feel, to keep our eyes and ears very open.
Messages and signs from the universe come in all forms. In fact, the perfect little one showed up when I found my sweet little home sweet guest home to be later in Varanasi that day. At the end of the relaxing train ride, full of stimulating conversation and a chai shared with my neighbor, interspersed with delving into Shantaram and music on my iPhone, we said our good-byes and that we’d be in touch since I’d told him my website and he’d given me his business card. I got a pre-paid tuk tuk that offered to bring me to both the guest house I’d requested, as well as one the driver noticed written down on my paper. I ended up grateful for the opportunity since it gave me a comparison look but had also been weary since I know the tuk-tuk drivers have connections with places and will receive a commission if they bring you there.
I ended up sticking with my original guest house (I’d found in Lonely Planet) for the first night, even though it was much more expensive because the first place was an absolute dump and filled with a handful of Indian men that were eye’ing me when I arrived with no one else in sight. I figured my only task of the day after eating lunch would be to look around the area and find a place I could hopefully stay in the next (almost) 3 weeks I’d be in Varanasi. The place I was staying had a room opening up but not until Dec 6 and it just didn’t feel like the right place for me.
I was happy to be light on my feet again after putting my bag and things down. And asked Spirit to lead me to my next room. I thought I’d try to find the original guest house because I’d noticed a cutely painted sign nearby that said Love on it… Love Guest House or Cafe… seemed like a good place to start. Now I just needed to find my way back to that place, called Om Home Guest House. Well, I never actually found it. But I did find Om Guest House. Notice the slight difference?? And that was another dump. So was one other place I looked. All dark. All drab. All semi-falling apart. All charging around 500 rupees with an attached bathroom (hole in the ground and bucket for shower). This would have been extremely disappointing and discouraging had I not been blessed by the 3rd place I looked… which was actually the very first place I found on my own once I left my current spot by simply meandering around the little stone streets, following painted signs on the walls for Ashish Cafe and Guest House. It had a cute little restaurant in the front with 3 tables all occupied. Good sign, right. At least I know the the food is likely good.
I asked if they had a room available and a young guy walked me upstairs. There was a little open roof and a man playing very beautiful music on his guitar. There was also an Indian woman practicing dance with someone in a room a bit further away. I already felt like this was the place for me! Musicians and dancers were staying here! But the little sign I got from the Universe came while I waited for the door to be unlocked. When I looked down at the plants on the rooftop, there was a little dragonfly hovering! I hadn’t seen any at all since I’d arrived. And the dragonfly is one of my first spirit animals. I smiled and thought, this has to be the place!
And it was. I peeked in the little room and it was small but adorable! Had a single bed with cute flower sheets but what I loved was the plentitude of built-in shelves painted on the ledges with hot pink that matched the color of the drapes hanging over every window and both doors. There were two doors because the second door opened onto the room’s own little balcony with a small but pretty view of the Ganga. I immediately thought that I could definitely be happy in that room. And was even happier when I found out it was just 300 rupees a night! That’s $4.60 and half as much as I’d spent a night at that first ashram in Rishikesh. The bathroom was right outside the room and also the kind without a western toilet but that didn’t bother me at all.
After looking at the other two places I’d mentioned (the dumps), I quickly walked back to Ashish to ask if I could pay for my first night ahead in order to hold the room. I knew I definitely did not want to risk the chance of losing it. Gratefully, they agreed.
After a very uneventful night and dinner in the restaurant of the guest house I’d already committed to that first night, I had a good night’s sleep. With the help of earplugs! I honestly do not know what I would do in India without them. Turned out that the much more expensive room with its own balcony and river view was WAY more noisy than my little much cheaper place I chose. That spot was noisy with the honk of scooters in addition to the music and bells of sunrise and sunset Aarti on the Ganga. I still hear that of course, but I also hear the lovely music they play in the restaurant below me and my fellow guest house tenant, the incredible guitar player… and NO scooters. A Godsend in and of itself! Thank you Spirit for leading me to home sweet home! Third time… yes, a definite charm!