Order in chaos: First impressions of India

Varanasi Travel Blog

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  I have not written sooner because any description that I write about India and my current surroundings will be inaccurate.  Nonetheless, I feel obligated to attempt to write so that you may get a feeling of the place.  I have included small excerps from things I wrote in my journal to try to give an overall impression.

First stop:  Mumbai Day 1:  The difference here is unbelievable. On the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel cars, taxis, tuck-tucks, motercycles and people crowded the streets.  The air, hot and musty, hit my face as we swerved through traffic.  I glimpsed a scene of what I would imagine a recently bombed city would look like:  boys lifting lumber on the side of the street, houses half constructed, stray dogs in search of food, and piles of rubble and dirt. People, mostly men, were everywhere: walking hand-in-hand, squatting over cooking pots, slumped in the seats of tuck-tucks, and talking in the late night.  We passed what looked like piles of clothes on the street but these masses were people sleeping in hovels. 

Mumbai Last Day:  My stroke of luck started today when I happened on an Indian couple and an Indian woman eating in a cafe close to my hotel.  The woman, Amrither, is a Reiki master and the couple is engaged and soon to be married.  After my soup Amrither invited me to attend a Hindu chant closeby.  With her hand on my arm, we wound through back alleyways.  We ended at a building where older men, women in colorful saris, and children sat cross-legged on burlap sacks chanting and clapping to a picture of a saint displayed amid Christmas lights in the front of the room.  The sound surrounded and permeated me, causing me to truly cotemplate the sayings on the walls:  HELP EVER. HURT NEVER., WORK IS WORSHIP. DUTY IS GOD., and SPENDING 60 SECONDS IN ANGER IS WASTING ONE MINUTE OF HAPPINESS.  After many minutes, the chanting ended and someone came to rub white pigment on my forehead. 

Varanasi First Day:  Varanasi is a city by the Ganges, a holy river for Hindus.  The Shanti Guesthouse, where I stay, is close to the cremation Ghat (steps by the water).  I am so close that when I have already seen a body, carried on a makeshift gurny, go by as I walk the nearby streets.  Those who are pregnant, young children, and holy are not burned but simply put into the river where they will end the rebirth cycle and start an eternity in Nirvana. Those of lower castes are burned with one of the lesser woods and sometimes only half-cremated if they can only afford half of the wood necessary.  Those of higher castes are burned with more refined woods like sandalwood.  At night we can see the fires continuing to burn.

Varanasi Today:  Today, walking with a Dutch couple I have met, Gudrith and Walter, I was lucky enough to finally meet a group of children that was not trying to sell me something and with whom I could speak and joke.  First I met Ramu, an eleven-year-old child who knows how to dance and whose English is very good and Ramu's friend who calls himself Pablo Picasso because he is a good painter.   Later I met a group of street boys from 3 or 4 years to 10 years old who were surprised when, rather than stand by their soccer game, I wanted to join.  At first they were hesitant and said no, because I am a girl, but I finally convinced them by taking their makeshift soccer ball (straw with plastic tied around it) and kicking it.  They were very impressed that women, too, posessed the ability to kick.
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Varanasi
photo by: rotorhead85