March 23rd, 2009
Does it seem like I talk too much about money in my journal, and not enough about what’s happening? It kinda hit me as I was sitting in a boat floating on the Ganges in the dark watching and listening to the Shiva temple ceremonies on the ghats that maybe I’m too focussed on the cash I’m spending and not the time. The only time I’ve spent over 20 bucks on one thing was for the train to Delhi, the hotel in Delhi, the Ganesh sculpture, and what else? I think that’s about it. SO why am I so focussed on it? 50 rupees is a buck. And it’s a really good tip here. Most meals are under 5 bucks. I can travel most of the day in an autorickshaw for less than five bucks. India is kinda like a Pizaa Hut Commercial: 5 bucks. 5bucks. 5 bucks. Someone once said, don’t sweat the small stuff…
Varanasi was, and, although I’m headed for bodh Gaya tomorrow and the visit’s not over, a very pleasant and enjoyable experience. The LPG says watch out for pickpockets and a lot of people talk about theft, but so far, so good! I took that weird looking three wheeler that looks as though it must have been some kind of Stalinist Volkswagen. I couldn’t see any brand names on them, and the spedometer in the one I took from Bereghat to Jalabpur was in regular numbers, and looked almost English. It just seems to be a Cold War Communist type vehicle to me. That’s why the picture of it was black and white. They’re sort of a weird mustard (grey poupon) yellow. Ochre I guess. I turned down about forty autorickshaws just for a chance to flag one down. Turns out he only took me as far as the Bohpal-Jalapur highway, and I just barely managed to flag down a bus to Jalapur, but the bus was pretty good and not crowded. I retreated into the bus station as soon as I hit Jalapur to read the LPG and get my bearings, and then re-emerged only to be swarmed by autorickshaw drivers. I settled on a bicycle rickshaw, and the guy quoted me 3 rupees (maybe he said thirty, I don’tknow) anyway, I gave him a hundred cause he took a quiet route to the train station and it was very calming to ride a bicycle rickshaw instead of one of the autorickshaws.
The major consensus of the ticket people was there wasn’t an available berth on a train to Varanasi, but I asked about the tourist Quota and all of a sudden I had a more expensive ticket on the next train out. 841 Rupees. As I said, not even 20 bucks. USD I mean. Canadian its 20 bucks. Anyway, not bad for a 900 kim train ride. Again the system here drove me crazy, but I must be getting used to it. The train didn’t show up at the set time, and then the 1093 just disappeared off the arrival/departure board. But to compensate for that, the Jalabpur station has a platform system that not only has the incoming train number displayed, but each sign is a carriage apart and shows the carriage number once the train is in.
A guru came and sat beside me while I was waiting, and he had an entourage. About 15 people who carried bags, got hin water, bought him food and generally fawned all over him. It struck me that if he wasn’t dressed like a wise man, you wouldn’t be able to tell that’s what he was. He sat in a lotus postionon all the time, and I realized that his status required him to do that, and he was kinda trapped in his role as a holy man. More than I was in my role of confused tourista. Anyway, turns out I was already standing right where carriage B1 (which is the usual carriage number I’ve been on) stopped.
So this woman gets on the train, and she has about 15 bags and she fills out compartment with her luggage. Not only that, she actually has a ticket for the next compartment over. The three other guys in the compartment and I are complete gentlemen and accommodate her. She was quite attractive and was the kind of woman who used her cuteness to get her way, and we accomodated her. Anyway, she spoke quite good English and we chatted. She shared the food made for her by her mother, and insisted I TRY IT ALL. Her mother was a great cook. Her name was Needa and she was 50 though she didn’t seem a day over 33. I think she must dye her hair.
She kept me entertained by going through all of her bags rearranging the stuff in them, and then locking them all to the bedposts. I was quite enamoured of her. She was on her way to visit her guru in Benares (Varanasi), but then it turns out she’ s married already. Still she was very nice, and she made my waking hours on the train quite enjoyable. I slept quite well, and barely woke up in time to get out at Varanasi. I was cornered by an autorickshaw driver, but he quoted a good price for the ride to the hotel, although I ended up at a different one that I asked for (again). He first tried to get me to go to the YMCA, but it’s not one of my first choices, and not knowing the city, I settled for the Buddha Hotel. I really shoulda gone closer to the gats but this is a pretty nice hotel, and the food is great!
So I booked in and took a walk to the ghats at the Ganges. It was a fairly long walk, but it was pretty neat. I bought some Krishna beads, some Shiva beqds and some Durga beads and the woman selling them gave me a Shiva/Parvati bracelet. Took a buncha pictures, came clsoe to beginning to think I was lost but I got back to the hotel in time to go out on the Ganges boat ride tour from the hotel. Rode an autorickshaw there. It was fantastic, and the boat guy started to teach me some Hindi. That was fun. And the actual boat ride was very peaceful and calming. We stopped at the Mankamika Ghat, the main ghat where they burn the bodies, and stopped for a chai at the same spot I had stopped earlier during my afternoon walk. Turns out I had only paid for the hour tour and we went on a two hour (almost three) hour tour. SO the owner of the boat said I could just tip the boat guy. All I had was 50 rupees, but he seemed pretty happy with that. It’s a big tip here.
So that was really neat. The temple singing and bells and incense show was quite impressive. They do it every night apparently. I don’t have any pictures of burning dead people cause they asked not to take pictures. So I didn’t.
Had a great dinner of Kashmiri Rice and Mughal Chicken and watched Secret Window with Johnny Depp in it. And you know what? The power went out with three minutes left till the ending. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand what a cruel irony not seeing the end of the film truly was. It was OK, cause I was booked for the 5AM boat ride on the Ganges.
Same rickshaw driver. A Spanish mother and son went on the same boat ride, but different rickshaw. He was called Giorgi. Nice young fella (twenty-something). Just as we pushed off, I heard someone calling my name. Carmen from Kerala! Or should I say Calgary? He was staying at the Yogi Hotel. But I was booked on this tour for the morning and planned on taking it easy in the afternoon. Took some pictures, then we were whisked off to Benares University to the Shiva Templw there, and I visited the Saraswati (Goddess of Wisdom) shrine there. Nice, but relatively modren and the culpture was not ideally rendered. She looked like one of those China Dolls you can buy every month from a Housekeeping magazine (not quite that cute, though). Ate Rotis and drank Chai with the Spanish people. I skipped a couple of places on the tour and just visited the Durga Temple. I git the rickshaw guy to stop at an ATM. First two didn’t connect. Got some cash and then went to the Post Office to send Greety the money I owed her for sending my parcel to Canada. A muslim guy helped me get through finding and envelope and then got me behind the wicket at the Post Office ahead of the line to send my registered letter. He wanted me to visit his factory, but I was still on the tour (I told him) and thankfully my rickshaw guy came up at that point to get me going. Went back to the hotel, tipped the rickshaw guy 100 Rs. and had a great lunch of fruit salad and a banana pancake, and came up to my room and caught the end of Secret Window. I’m watching “Bringing Out The Dead” right now. I’ve seen it a million times, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ending (I fall asleep usually, I guess)
I napped in the afternoon and watched Ruthless People, and updated my Journal. Which I’m still doing. Not watching Ruthless People, updating this journal. I had a great dinner of Kashmiri Rice and Butter Chicken Masala. Nice pot of tea, and I’ve discovered this:
I don’t like papaya. I don’t hate it. I just don’t like it.