Friday, November 12, 2010

Varanasi


So we're in Agra being shown the carpets that our guide's boss sells. You soon discover in India most people are trying to sell tourists everything. And guide's seem to have multiple bosses... ugh! We even had the driver come in and tell the guide off a couple of times as we were starting to run late. Thankfully he saved us as we were running late!

So we get taken to Agra station to wait for the train to Varanasi. It's reasonably late... so it's a night train. We're standing at Agra station waiting for the train and I'm seeing rats... I don't like rats. So I'm trying not to freak out. I think I did ok. So we get on the train - feeling a little bit conspicuous as we're both tall and we're both white... Train starts to move, I try to read not thinking I'd be getting much sleep. I was wrong... I fell asleep after about 10 minutes.

4am and the conductor taps my foot says Varanasi wanders off this freaked me out slightly. 10 minutes later he's back and it's the same thing. I have no idea really of what's going on... I wake Larry up as I'm guessing we're approaching Varanasi. Which we were. I left my jumper on the train too :( It was one of my favourites. Another one of my favourite jumpers Larry left in New York but I don't mention that anymore as I promised I wouldn't.

So we're wandering the streets of Varanasi trying to find our hotel - which proved remarkably easy... although the hotel wouldn't let us check in at 4:30am - understandably so. So we wandered down to the bank of the Ganges (the hotel wasn't that far from the river). It is always amazing how quiet pre-dawn is. Pretty much universally. So we get approached by one of the people that rows the boats on the Ganges asking us if we'd be interested in a dawn "cruise" I'd guess you'd call it. We had nothing else to do and we thought we had the money.

I will point at this stage that to most Westerners the reach of the Ganges we were at is completely and absolute toxic! Totally... this again of course slightly freaked me out.

I do have to say though watching sunrise on the Ganges was a truly marvellous experience. And that includes everything that goes with it. The holy men bathing in the Ganges. Watching the women wash saris in the rivers. The Gahts, the Gahts are a little creepy though! But having the opportunity to have all this explained to us was pretty cool.

We even got to send some prayer boats down the Ganges. I had some of my prayers answered! They are currently downstairs avoiding their nap... cheeky monkeys! I think we ended up on the river for about 3 hours or so. And of course that ended up being a lot more expensive than what we were originally quoted. So we said we'd return later with the money. So we checked into the hotel, had breakfast, got some cash and paid the guy.

We met our tour guide and we were shown around Varanasi. I don't really remember that much of the tour apart from meeting his boss that sold fabrics. We did buy something! We have a rather gorgeous cashmere blanket. We were shown some of the Gahts and had the significance explained to us. Ghandi was cremated in Varanasi. We also got to some cremations happening. Not exactly the sort of thing you want to see vacation necessarily...

It was explained to us by a monk at one of the poorhouses that if you were cremated at Varanasi you were closer to Nirvana and I'm not sure if I am remember this correctly but you may not have to be reincarnated. I expect I'm wrong on this one though. But there is a migration of people to Varanasi who are dieing.

In a lot of ways I found Varanasi quite spiritual but that's probably to be expected.

It was also a little bit of a poignant trip. We met a young gay guy. He took quite a shine to Larry (at this point to be honest I was pretty much over the whole India trip... I really was - I wanted to go home!) and he was so incredibly sweet to both of us. It also made me realise that in so many ways those of us who live in the West are so incredibly fortunate. Gay people in the bigger cities in India have it alright - it's still not as easy for them as it is for us. Those in the regional areas have it really quite tough. This guy was saying that he will still have to get married as his parents expect if of him (and it will be an arranged marriage). I really did feel for him. I can't imagine what that would be like.

Our guide had arranged for us to meet his Guru. Yes folks we got to spend time with a real indian Guru. This was an absolute scream. And it's a bit of a swindle when you really get down to it. But it was fun. I had my fortunate told by a Guru. That's pretty freaking cool.

The whole Guru thing to be honest was a bit of a laugh. I'm a little bit gullible and a little bit cynical. I paid the equivalent of US$200 to have someone pray once a year to help get rid of my karmic debt. Seems my relationship and my actions with my mother previously had caused a little of karmic issues... so *ahem* I paid to have them fixed. To only then about a year later completely wipe all that away. Ah well! Life has to be fun ;)

One other thing that I had to do in Varanasi was get an ayuervedic massage - one of the ones where they drip oil on your head. It's meant to be very good for you. The whole time I was laying there I was trying to not think about whether or not the oil was clean and how many times it had been used before etc... It wasn't really *that* relaxing. And due to the timing issues... I didn't have a chance for a shower before we returned to Delhi. So I basically hopped on the plane feeling like a giant oil slick.