I don’t know where to begin but with NOW. It is very hard for me to get to an internet place (I won’t call them internet cafes because that is NOT what they are). There is the issue of time as our schedule is packed with activities, eating, and required rest. Then there is the issue of finding a place where there is a computer for me to use. Dharamsala was the only place where I readily found internet cafes because there are so many tourists. However, there are very few Westerners here in Varanasi and even fewer internet services. Then there is the question of connection. WiFi is slow and the monsoon has hit and there are frequent power outages which means that at ANY moment I can lose all I write (trust me, this has happened way too many times and my patience is wearing thin). I must hit “save draft” every so often and even that takes time away from writing..and these places are sweltering. In this particular place, the owner is sitting right behind me, his eyes, for some reason, drilling a hole into the back of my head. And he is cracking his knuckles. It is hard to write when one is irritated!
I will have to post my photos when I get back. Too bad because the photos tell a million stories. Words will have to do for now.
I can’t say enough how incredible this group is. Everyone is so great. This experience is so intense and, at times, not so easy. We seem to suport one another from one experience to another. Many have had a short bout of “Delhi Belly”, some have had 24 hour fever or nausea, but thankfully nothing serious. Somehow, I have stayed very healthy and I actually feel great most of the time. Sometimes I feel wiped out from the heat and the fullness of what I am experiencing and learning and doing, but most of the time, I feel strong.
I spent all my free time yesterday blogging and then lost what I wrote…then I tried to send some photos to myself using Karin’s i pad only to find out that I was off line the whole time. Very unproductive and frustrating. India requires PATIENCE and stamina.
Being in Varanasi is like traveling into the guts of India. It is known as the City of Light, however, there is often NO electricity. The power constantly goes off. City of Light refers to spiritual light and it is definitley a very powerful spiritual center for Hindus.
The Ganges (Mother Ganga) is 2535 km long and there are sacred sites all along the river, but Varanasi (also known as Benaras or Kashi) is the TOP SACRED site.
We learned from our guide book that twice as many tourists come to Hawaii as compared to the whole of India. In other words, there are relatively few tourists in India.
We woke up before sunrise to take a morning boat ride on the Ganges. We met in the lobby at 5 am and took our sweet air conditioned bus to the edge of the oldest part of town. We walked then through the labrynth of the old town. Mark Twain lived here for 6 months and spoke of the filth, but also of the beauty of this ancient 5000 + year old city, the oldest longest continuously dwelled in city in the world. Here we are in the heart of Hinduism. The paradox of this place is that in spite of the filth, this is the place where one comes to be purified!
Te feel the intensity of this place is to cry, scream internally, roar like a lion in yoga class!!!, to live, die, and be reborn again. It takes time to integrate and absorb and digest what I am seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing, learning, experiencing.
Sunrise on the Ganga: old maharaja palaces in decay painted in fading hues of blue, pink, red line the West Bank of the river. The west bank symbolizes the material world. But look to the east bank and you will see nothing! Sand, a few cows, no buildings. The East Bank of the river symbolizes the spiritual world. The contrast is mind boggling. The Ghats (the Ganges riverfront including platforms and steps) line the banks. Bathers, worshippers, pilgrims, saddhus, and vendors already up at dawn are what I see. Cremation fires burning, Brahmin priests perform rituals, women offer up water to the mother river. Cows, buffalo, dogs howling like coyotes, dung piles, heaps of garbage, discarded pallets that look like ladders made of bamboo for carrying the corpses to the fires are rinsed out in the river and set in to join the heap of garbage that animals rummage through. Banana leaves formed in a bowl, packed with flowers and lit with ghee caldne wax are offered as prasad to the Ganga and float by. We see all this as we are being rowed along the Ganga. It is raining. The monsoon is here. We are hot. We are wet. We are mud splashed from our walk to the boat. We are stunned at this ancient place where one loses oneself and merges with the chaos and order. Ritual rules here from womb to tomb, the tomb being where the ashes are laid, the river, the earth.
Don takes a dip in the river. He DIVES off the boat and I find myself more than a little nervous for him. The water is not clean and I am being very nice in my description when I write this sentence! You can not imagine what is dumped into this poor river. I will spare you the details. Arvind chants a mantra the whole time Don is in the water. He comes out, renewed and Arvind explains how this holy water is so pure that it can only purify. I feel so sad for Mother Ganga.
Once again, I am running out of time. We have a musical performance, classical Indian music concert in a 15 minutes and I have to dash out into the monsoon rains to get back to the hotel, all the while fighting the wave of vendors and rishshaw wallahs who are extremely persistent here! NO has no meaning here. Yesterday, I spelled out a gigantic N and O in the air with my index finger to the vendor who was pestering me…the guy smiled but did not move…then I spelled out a gigantic G and an O and he laughed loudly and said, “You just like Indian lady!!”
Later, we buy tea, spices, opium oil, patchouli oil, etc. The vendors attach themselves to us as we try to walk quickly following Arvind. From time to time Arvind turns around and takes a head count, careful not to lose us in the wild maze of streets. The vendors also attached themselves earlier to our boats and tried desperately to sell us some of their wares. They are so persistent.