03.08.2007 - 06.08.2007 45 °C
Being alone on a night train, I had to take my back pack with me every time I went to the bathroom. Easier said than done in a small cupboard, but hey, this is India and unfortunately you can't trust anyone. As usual it was hot and steamy, the train made its way along the lush green plains 4 hours late. Finally we arrived and as I queued in the isle a man tapped me on the shoulder and said the two most annoying words in the world "Hey Mister".
"Yes" I replied rather shortly expecting some ploy for money only to find an older gentleman handing me a few months salary right there in the palm of his out stretched hand in the form of my Ipod that had fallen out of my pocket and onto the seat. No, the irony was not lost on me for a second.
Varansi, from the trafficked streets is no different to any city in India, it is just the usual seething mass, busy, dirty and frantic. Step into the heart of this holy Hindu city, in this maze of ally ways winding its way along the Ganga, from ghat to ghat, you are exposed to life in its rawest form. Once you have squeezed past the cows that meander around unbothered by anyone you are greeted by men dressed in bright orange on their pilgrimages to the river to bathe and collect the holy water, their smiles are bright and their welcomes friendly.
On the other extreme are the cremation ghats. Your eyes burn from the smoke from the dead. The families sit and watch as the attendant carries out the grizzly task of burning the bodies. Of the group of only men, the appropriate family member has their head shaved, apart from a little tuff at the back as a sign of their mourning. This is a men only affair as it is feared that if women attend they may cry, thus trapping the soul of the deceased in this world.
Even once they have past away, the dead still have to endure the lack of privacy, as they did during their life in India, the bodies are burnt side by side on the river’s edge in full view of those who care to watch. Of course how well you are cremated depends on how much wood your family can afford to buy, thus partially burnt bodies are set adrift into the Ganges as well as the very poor and the very young.
Then ofcourse life goes on along the banks of this dirty brown river, full of rubbish and weeds. There are holy men giving their blessings, the world’s poorest asking for a hand up, people bathing and drinking, washing their clothes and their dishes. There are holy ceremonies, temples, children playing and people just hanging out being social all along this great body of water, the Ganga. This would have to be one of the most amazing places that I have ever seen in my life.
Mats came back to the hotel, waking me up from my mid afternoon nap saying that a bus was leaving for Katmandu tomorrow. Mats and I had met on the train after I engaged him in conversation with my perfect Swedish; it went something like this..............
inaudible Kiwi/nowhere near Swedish mumble
"AH do you speak English?" with a quizzical look from Mats
Now we were off to the Kingdom Himalaya a lot sooner than I had planned. The bus turned out to be a Land Rover and they managed to fit thirteen backpackers in with their entire luggage on the roof, half covered by a tarp. I was having mixed emotions about leaving India. As frustrating as it was sometimes, I enjoyed the uniqueness of the country and challenges of traveling there. By no means did I reach spiritual enlightenment but then that was never the point of me traveling there, unlike so many people you meet along the way.
The Land Rover pulled into a corrugated iron covered shack, where we stopped for lunch. As we walked in the owner pulled the lid off a fry pan of food that was swarming with wasps.
"Ah you’re right mate, I'll just have that" pointing to a curry that the wasps were not so interested in
While we were sitting eating, the heavens opened and it poured down for 20mins. I watched as our back packs half covered by the token tarp got soaked.
I got up to pay and had to remind the guy that there was a menu on the wall behind him with the prices of the food on it. He apologized as if he had merely made an adding up error rather than bluntly ripping me off. Waiting outside I watch as a man looks in the back windows of the Land Rover seeing if he can get his hands on anything, two minutes later the same guy is walking around with a stick pretending to be blind and asking for money. The driver wants money from everyone before he continues the drive to the border.
We are surrounded by traffic like a log in a current as we enter the border town. I was joking with kids waiting for my back pack when I noticed it running down the road on a guys shoulder.
"Hey I'll carry that myself mate, thank you."
We fill out our visa applications by candle light and as walk out the gate of immigration control, a young guy looks up and says "Welcome to Nepal" with a huge beaming smile.
His grin is infectious and I find myself smiling back excited to finally be in the country I have been dreaming of visiting for years.