Last Morning in Nepal, A Boat Ride in Varanasi
May 18, 2008
Jul 20, 2008
Though we were exhausted, we barely slept last night. Probably because we were sad to be leaving Nepal today. We watched the beginning of "Be Kind, Rewind" and half of "Into the Wild" on our rented DVD player. We had breakfast on the balcony again, which consisted of delicious fruit pancakes (mango and banana mixed into the batter), fried eggs, fried potatoes, and coffee. I cut another fresh mango up with my pocketknife for dessert. After casually packing up our things while the school kids outside did their morning games and chanted the Nepali pledge (we think), we went out around 10 to get some last-minute shopping done and exchange some of the crappy DVDs we bought for better ones. We had bought DVDs from a shop close to our hotel, called "Roadhouse," for 150 rs (about $2.50) each, and found that the ones that were still in theaters, like the new Indiana Jones movie were recorded in a theater. The older movies were real DVDs, but a little bit scratched. The nice shop owner let us exchange whatever we wanted. I bought a prayer wheel, and a few things that were more difficult to find in India, then met back up at the Hotel to check out. I hastled with the desk a little bit to give us a better exchange rate for our Indian rupees and a free ride to the airport. Leaving Nepal was not quite as relaxed as comming, and there was a 1356 nepali rupee charge to leave. We were frisked and had our baggage scanned 3 different times (even once on the runway just before boarding our airplane). I forgot to put my mango-peeling pocketknife in my checked bag, and the security was very glad to keep it for themselves :( . The flight was only 40 minutes to Varanasi. The Varansi airport is really small and reminded me of the one on The Darjeeling Limited. It's also quite a ways outside of the city, so the taxi to our hotel was not cheap (500 rs/ about $12.50). The cab drivers weren't as competitive with eachother as we had seen everywhere else, so we got an impression that this was a more peaceful city than other Indian cities we've been to. The cab driver started off by welcoming us to the city as ancient as the soul, and telling us that it's a peaceful religous capital for Hindus. When we got in the car, I joked with him that I would drive, and he said no problem. Neither I nor the girls really wanted me to drive, but I was suprised by the driver's reaction. About halfway to the city, he stopped to get some "pan," which is a blend of chewing tobacco and spices. He offered to get me some as well, but I had already experienced the burn of Indian chewing tobacco in Jaipur and didn't feel the need to try it again. He answered a phone call talking funnily with a mouthful of tobacco, and told us that a friend had spotted a cobra and wanted him to contact a cobra-catcher for him. Apparently, cobra-catcher is a common profession, and they pay people about 500 rs to call them when they see one. During his phone calls, he couldn't shift his car. Being in the front left seat with the stick to my right, I naturally offered to shift, and weakly satisfied my adrenaline rush to drive the crazy streets of India. It really wouldn't have been too bad to drive in the rural area between the airport and city. I would just have to remember to use the horn every time we pass people or see anyone on the road. Our hotel, Sahi River View Guesthouse, is accessible only by small cow-poop-filled alleys, but it's a nice and affordable place. We opted for the non-AC double room for 550 rs (about $13), and shared the bed between the 3 of us. Right outside our door is a nice lounge area with a great view of the Ganges. It feels a bit like a beach with the humid climate and wide river. After settling in, we went down to the river and hired a boat to take us to the main ghat for the nightly ceremony (100-150rs each way). With the soft sunset light comming through the clouds and ancient-looking buildings lining the shore, the trip down the river seemed a little dreamlike, and was exactly how I had seen it in pictures. The place has the same majestic and surreal feeling that the Taj Mahal has. Even though I'd seen hundreds of pictures of both places, they didn't seem like they were really on the same planet as what I've experienced. The ceremony was worth the trip, but a little bit commercialized (probably because it's the same one they show every night). The way back upstream took longer (about an hour), and we felt kind of sorry for the boatman who rowed us home. It really was a tough job (I tried to do it for a couple minutes), and he got paid only a cut (after the boat owner gets his) out of the relatively small amount that we paid. At the hotel, we ordered some biriyani (rice w/ veggies), chapati (tortilla-like flatbread), some fried potatoes, and noodles. After washing a 3" parasite-looking worm from the bathroom floor to the drain, I had a nice shower and hit the hay hard.