I am have been here a week and having the time of my life. I am now in Varanisi, the holiest of India's cities. Old Varanasi is something to be seen to be believed. The Ghats line the Ganges, and look so ancient and impressive. I have been on 2 boat rides, one at dawn this morning and one yesterday afternoon. Dawn on the Ganges is spectacular, the orange sun huge, casting golden light on the hundereds of people down to bathe and say their prayers. Yesterday the boatman, Raman, took me down to one of the burning Ghats, and although I will not put the detail here, out of respect, all I can say, it was one experience I will certainly remember!
I have been to Rajisthan and Agra so far, as well as crazy Delhi. Rajisthan is amazing, very hot and dry, and the capital Jaipur is surrounded by a small mountain range, atop which sits a fort and palace. The view from here is out of this world, and I sat up there and watched the sun set over the pink city with a beer. Perfect. The journey from Delhi to Jaipur is through the rural areas. Women were working in the fields in their gorgeous saris, bright like flowers agains the dry and dusty landscape.
Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, is like other Indain cities, congested and very busy, but worth it for that huge white building. No photos do justice to the Taj, not unlike Uluru. I got there just before dawn and walked through the fort like gates, and was just stunned. I sat and watched for 1/2 an hour as the sun rose on it. At first it sat, very still, white and ghostlike in the early morning mist. As the sun rose it began to change to an soft ivory. When the sun was fully up it was in reality a mixture of white, cream, ivory and grey marble. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens with exotic trees full of chattering green parrots. Seeing this amazing monuement to grief and love is something amazing, it looks like it has been dropped out of the sky. After the chaos, dirt and madness of Indian city streets, it was like a cool drink for my eyes. All I can say, is do this before you die folks, having seen it with my own eyes it is easy to understand the hype.
From Agra I jumped on a train to Varansi. It was an overnight trip, about a 12 hour journey. Before I got on the train I sat in the ladies waiting room for many hours. It was well worth is as I had some great exchanges with Indian women. Indian train travel is hilarous! People packed in like sardines in the cheapest class, then in the middle price braket there are bunks three tiers high. I slept in one of these to the accompianment of old Indian men snoring and farting throughout the night. At 5.00am the conductor came and told me that the train was not stopping in Varanisi, but the station before and I had to get off there. I am still unclear as to why this was. Spat out somewhere stange in the darkness, was a little unnerving, made more so but the auto rickshaw driver who spoke no English, (so I had to use my sketch Hindi), and was unsure how to get to my hotel in Varanisi, and had to stop 5 times to ask directions. However, things worked out alright, as they always do in India, and I made it in one peice.
In India, the spiritual way is the everyday. From waking in the morning to eating, the mundane is infused with ritual. I think this is maybe why the Indians are such a friendly and happy culture. There is a little alter on every street, and in Varanisi there are so many insanely beautiful temples. Yesterday I went to about 8 of them. You buy some flowers before you go in (about 30 cents) and then make an offering. Somehow you do not need to understand much to feel the sacredness of it. I went to the monkey temple, which has a whole colony of monkeys living in the grounds. They are very funny and many of them had babies, which were extemly cute. They are very tame and just wander about and take food out of your hands. I also went to a Tibetian Buddist temple, which was really beautiful. I intend to return there tomorrow for a spot of meditation.
In a couple of days I am going to get a train to Kolkata (Calcutta) in the hopes of spending a little bit of time volunteering at the Mother Teresa mission house for the poor. They take volunteers for any period of time, and I would like to give something back to India, she has given me so much already in such a short time.
I am missing Jonas terribly, but it is exciting to travel on ones own, it promts a lot of converstations I otherwise may not have had. Indian women are amazed and appalled in equal measure that I am not travelling with my 'husband'!
The traffic in Indian cities has to be seen to be believed, it is insane. People, never, ever complain about peak hour in Australia again!!! The traffic is a mix of bicycles, cars (all small), lorries, auto rickshaws (3 wheeler motorcycles with a canopy), pedestrians, donkeys, very small horses with carts with huge loads, stray dogs and cows. The cows rule the roads! In Jaipur Elephants and camels were added to the mix. The way to drive in India is apparantly with your hand constantly on the horn. I go to sleep and wake each morning to the sound of beeping. Unlike Australia, it is not at all rude to beep, but rather the normal mode of negotiating traffic. In a country of over a billion people, it is the only way to safely chart a path through the streets. It did take me a while to get used to the beeping and understand that this is the norm.
India is the most fascinating, beautiful, heartbreaking and uplifting place. It is so many different things rolled into one. I have only been here a week, but it feels like so much longer. It is such a full on place, and around every corner is something intruiging. I love this country, and its beautiful, friendly and incredibly generous people.
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