10.07: INDIA: Varanasi (day 4- Following Shiva)
Trip Start Oct 04, 2008
15Trip End Oct 12, 2008
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Today is my Rest day: It is my last day in Varanasi. NO "have to's - should see's or do's"...(I WILL NOT REGRET) ... NO pushing. I will let the Spirit of Varanasi guide me to where she wants and I humbly obey. Hopefully, she's a bit more seductive and a little less buffeting this time. First, I am led to lazing in my grand clean sheets of my ahhhhh AC palace to enjoy time off from the heat, the stink, the cows and the scams. I hang out to the cafe patio, have some Thali and spend time on the internet booking my hotel in Delhi. Finally, I "prepare" myself to go out & explore my satanic temptress- get lost in her winding streets, search her for burfis, jalebis and samosa snacks, shop her some and check out the life that hangs out on her ghats!
Due to the recent bomb scares around India & most recently around Delhi, Varanasi has been under high security this week to keep a watchful eye on the Durga Puja and Ramlila festivities. The Vishwanath Temple (aka the Golden Temple) is nearby to my guest house and is the only tourist attraction i'm curious about (churches & temples are my weakness). Its entrance has over a dozen policemen guarding it. NO cellphones, NO cameras, NO electronics...and NO shoes! I am an armed artillery factory as far as its concerned but its really the effort of dismantling my arms at the guest house AND the overpowering "NO Shoes rule" which kills it for me....so, NO Golden Temple.
BROWN is an easy color to be in India: The pollution, noise, poverty and dirt are UNAVOIDABLE in India and I can't UN-choose them. In L.A., it can take a week for a good layer of dust to cover your car enough to finger the words "Wash Me" on it. In India, it takes one day! There has not been a day gone by that my nails haven't looked like I've been doing hard manual labor in the fields and the color of my bra and underwear after a day or two of wearing changes drastic shades! The heat and humidity at this time of year, post-monsoon, is another factor. My weight-loss is mostly all water and despite my vigilant wearing of 30 + 50 proof sunscreens, within a day, the brown in my Pacific Islander genes is called to the surface & I get the "Hawaiian tan" (albeit via India) i've been avoiding all my life!
Priesthood- some go willingly, some...wailingly: Outside the Shiva temple, I see a group of young men looking on as their priest shaves one of their friends' heads. A little ways down, I see mothers holding their crying babies as a priest shaves their hair as well. I take this is one of the rituals going into priesthood. For some, this calling is an honor and it is a choice and then for others, I suppose they don't really get to have a say in matters...
Tikka type & a case of mistaken identity: A few steps later, I meet the entrance of the popular Shiva temple that i've seen on my first day from my boat. I purchase a garland of marigolds for offering and enter the temple (yes, I took my shoes off and walked with cupped feet) The temple is home to at least 3 or 4 different dieties of Shiva, each with its own altar. A priest resides at each altar to give you prassad and a corresponding tikka (or red dot on the forehead). Varanasi is a city devoted to the hindu Lord Shiva and while there are also temples devoted to others gods such as Durga or Hanuman, etc.. here in the city, the number of Shiva temples are the most prolific. But Shiva comes in many forms and thus, so do the tikkas! Much like code, here in Varanasi, you can tell a person's god by their dotted marking....and I paid homage to the wrong dot! Naively, I went and placed my flower offering on the first altar I saw only to discover several more around the corner with MY favorite Ganesh just a few steps away. The tikka I got was a huge round dot the size of a boil- not a cute tiny sliver or neat, tiny pimple like some of the others i had admired. I wiped it off. It was huge and i'm convinced, the same that I was given on my Underbelly Tour. Whatever my karma is with Shiva- I keep accidentally running into that personality which keeps chasing me to wear his huge round dots!