With the group of boys that wouldn't leave us alone.
This trip has been somewhat surreal. I can't really explain why, it has just felt different from past travels. I came here with the aspiration to travel the north of the country, which wasn't possible until summertime. The cold Canadian winter kicked me out in JAnuary, so I came here early basically to pass time in the sun until the snow melted and the weather warmed up in the mountains. Having traveleld the south twice already, I ended up spending 2 months working and volunteering before spending the past month traveling, mostly to palaces Ive already been. Its always nice revisiting cities, seeing how they've changed, finding familiarity in an otherwise foreign place. But all of this has made the trip feel as though I am living here, repeating past experences. The familiairity of it is surreal because it doesn't feel like it's supposed to be a place that's so familiar to me! IT makse it feel more and more like home. I also encounter people that ask me for travel advice and follow me to hostels, knowing I am comfortable here and know my way around. If I didn't mind organized tours I think it would be farily easy to
Fried balls of onion served with green chillies....mmmmmm
lead tours around this country!
After the last blog, I think i was talking about heading north, where it would hopefuly not be as hot. I was wrong! it took me until last week (so another month) to get far north enough to escape the mid 30's. IT started with a 40 hour train ride up to Varanasi, which luckily I did with 2 travel companions. Alone would have been pretty boring! We entertained ourselves with the local boys around us, with the countless vendors and by getting off the train at every stop that lasted mor than 5 minutes. We even wandered into the AC compartment (we could only afford the lower class, non AC). Being white, we have the luxury of sneaking our way in to the more expensive compartment because people asusme we can afford it. We just wanted a break from the heat and noise of the open windows and other passengers blaring Hindi music from muffled speakers on their cell phones. We found some ncie young Indian boys to sit with for a couple hours. They never questioned why we just showed up and sat in their bunks and it never occurred
chai chai chai
They comes around with a huge pot of chai every hour at least. It's my favourite chai in the country.
to them to kick us out!
Varanasi is a strange palce. One of the incredible things about India is how different each city is from the next. Every time I get off a train, it really feels as though I am entering an entirely new country. The vibe, the people, the food, the souvenirs in the shops...they are all new and different from the last place. Varanasi is no different. It's the city Hindus prefer to die in, because it means the end of the cycle of rebirth. Their souls are free. So everyday tehre are funeral processions walking through the streets. They are joyful, with loud music. They are celebrations of life. The procession walks the body into the ganges, dips it in and then throws it on a fire. Fires burn 24 hours a day. It takes about 3 hours for each body to fully disintegrate. Family members watch the whole process. It's the only place in India where pictures are prohibited. The rest of the city is made up of narrow lanes, built thousands of years ago. They are lines with tiny shops, big enough for maybe one person to man. You can buy
Why walk when someone else can cycle and do the work for you?!! I just feel bad taking these, but without this job, what else would that man do?
anything from laundry detergent, to saris, to shawls, to jewelery, to fried food. Everything is at your fingertips. Temples line the alleys as well. Everyone burns incense, mulitple times a day, as offerings to their chosen God. So aside from the smell of cow shit, burning garbage and pee, you are also hit with the smells of incense as you walk passed the shops. IT's not easy to walk through the lanes either...you have to fight for room with cows, dogs, goats, motorbikes and thousands of other people. It's an overwhelming place to manouver and the dust and dirt makes it hard to breath, but the atmosphere just draws you in. Had I been able to breath a little easier I probably would have stayed longer than 3 days!
I had traveled to Varanasi with 2 other volunteers from Sadhana Forest. I continued on from there with 1, an American girl names Staci. Our next train took us to Khajuraho, the origins of the Kama Sutra. We spent only 2 days...long enough to visit the temples with the erotic carvings of several Kama Sutra positions. The temples were huge and very intricately carved, with not only sex positions, but
yummy, samosas and breads fried in huge woks. who ever said street food in India wold make you sick?!!
Hindu Gods and elephants as well! Had I not known what to look for (and spied on guided tours pointing them out) I might have missed them altogether!
We were bombarded with the endless amounts of boys in Khajuraho roaming the streets waiting to pounce on the foreigners. Most work for their "uncles" in shops and are meant to lure you in to buy pashminas, ali babas, books or one of the other many touristy items that are sold in every Indian town that attracts tourists. Sometimes they ignore their purpose and choose instead just to chat with the white girls. Most of the time I brush them off, knowing I will never be able to get rid of them. But once in a while if I'm in a good mood or have free time and get the sense from them that they will not attach themselves to me forever, I indulge them. Maybe ill sit with them for an hour and have light conversation. But more often than not I regret it! Without fail, they will always find me again later that day or the next and think we are now friends and that I owe
remember as a kid when Sunday was your day off for chores...laundry, homework, washing your cow?!!
it to them to spend all my free time with them. If they suggest going for a drink and I say maybe later, they will find me later and say "we drink now, you promised!" They are usually impossible to get rid!
From there we took another overnight train to Delhi but were late at getting tickets and ended up being given only one bunk for the 2 of us. We looked around and saw many Indians, often 2 men, sharing 1 bunk. It looked simple. But somehow our 2 bodies are not meant to bend in such a way as to getting any decent amount of sleep cramped together into a bed smaller than a twin. We stopped in Delhi just for the day and it was concidentally the night of the second sedar. So I brought my non-Jewish travel companion to Chabad and we celebrated passover with the young Rabbi and his wife and 3 kids. It was my Jewish connection for the 6 months!
From there my friend and I split up, because I had plans to go to an Ayurvedic Hospital. Ayurvedic treatments are supposed to be very healing so
the view from a boat on the Ganges
it seemed like a good thing for my body to experience. I spent 5 days at the hospital, eating their simple, vegan food and getting 2 treatments per day. They consisted of full body oil massages, time in a steam capsule, and a treatment where hot oil is dripped onto your forehead for an hour straight. It's all meant to be relaxing, rejuvenating and balancing for the body. After 5 days, I had gained weight, had healthy, shiny skin and felt great. I'm sure it all reversed itlsef once I entered back into real India, ate fried food and got covered in dust again! But it was a nice break for my body while it lasted!
I went from there to Rishikesh to meet up with Staci again and take a 10 day Iyengar yoga course. Rishikesh is another entirely differnt city. The Ganges flows through it, giving life to the whole city. We rafted down, swam in it and watched the Indian men splash around in it like children. They seem to never grow up here. I have no idea what it means for their families or their wives, but from my viewpoint, they seem to
Sunset boat tour
2 other volunteers from Sadhana Forest I traveled to Varanasi with
never lose their childlike giddiness. They are constantly joyful.
I spent my 30th birthday there with Staci and some people from my course. We hiked to a beautiful waterfall, away from the noise and dirt of the city. They got me a birthday brownie and gifts, but somehow it still doesnt feel like a new year has started. Maybe I have to celebrate my borthday in MOntreal for it to feel like Ive aged! I have yyet to meet someone who will guess my actual age. I usually get closer to 20! I also get told pretty regularly that I should eat more! Staci is a little bigger than me so they look at us and tell me I should eat and her that she is beautiful! Not quite the reactioon you would get form a north american! Although they would never just come ou tand make that coment to begin with! Indians don't hold back. They say what they think. And if their thoughts are related to your appearance, why hold back?!!
People here also tend to make it cler that we are thelucky ones. They have this image of America, that its free and peaceful and
the youngest shop owners in Varanasi!
that everyone is rich with fabulous lives. They meet tourists, who have free time and money. They are consumed with buying houses and feeding their families. Even if they have the money to travel they don't, because there is pressure from socity to buy things. We often try to explain to people how similar life is in america. That its not easy for everyone. That peole struggle theehre too. That not everyone takes 6 month vacations! It shocks them! It shows me though, that life as a foreigner in India will never be the saem as life as a local. No matter what, I have an advantage. I can always go back to Canada and make decent money. I can always take that money to travel to a cheaper country. India is the cheapest country to travel to. So wahtever money you can make here, might not get you out. Its a constant reminder of how lucky I am.
I am now in the himalayas...I spent the last week in beautiful Kashmir, but that will have to wait. I have run out of time! In 1 hour I start a 9 day silent meditation course. And i
Varanasi is lines with Ghats - steps leading to the Ganges
still have to pack my bag and walk the 2 km there!
I'll try not to wait another 2 months before writing the next blog!
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