India at it's rawest!

Trip Start Nov 27, 2012
Trip End Feb 24, 2013

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Saturday, December 29, 2012

On Christmas evening as we enjoyed a great curry at Saffron Spice by the side of Powai Lake, Mumbai, we reflected on our wonderful Christmas Day.   I asked Diana what she felt her perfect Christmas Day would be and her response was that it was pretty much the day we were having.  No pressure around creating the perfect Christmas meal, or expectation about receiving the 'perfect' gift, infact nothing material at all. It was just a simple day with delightful people and a wonderful group of kids.     

Early on Boxing Day we flew to Varanasi.   How do I explain Varanasi? We were told that this was India at its rawest so had been warned.  If India is an attack on the senses then we have had all our senses well and truly beaten up!

So, start with your basic Indian city principles of general chaos and apply them to one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth (dating from 6th Century BC) with narrow winding streets and alleyways which is the centre of the Hindu faith. Add to that thousands of pilgrims travelling to Varanasi to bathe in the holy Ganges, a sprinkling of Western tourists, thousands of sacred cows roaming the narrow alleyways, stray dogs, monkeys and goats, thousands of auto and bicycle rickshaws and shake it all up rather vigorously.   There is constant noise from the street sellers shouting, dogs barking, horns blaring, bells ringing from the bicycle rickshaws and even louder bells ringing from the Hindu Temples and you may be beginning to get a sense of how mad this place is.   To our surprise the smells are not too offensive, even when travelling by boat on the river Ganges and alongside the burning ghat where Hindus burn the bodies of their relatives.  Before burning the bodies have been treated with sandalwood and other scents.  The male relative who lights the fire (usually a son) will shave their head and wear a simple cotton wrap around their body to perform the lighting and all male relatives will stay around while the body burns for 3 hours.  Ladies are not allowed in this area because if there is crying then it will affect the karma of the body passing on to the next life, and ladies are obviously more emotional.   It is a very sobering sight.

 After three nights here the amazing thing is that it all feels rather normal.  We have found a favourite chai shop close to the hotel (this is no Costa Coffee!) and got quite used to treading carefully around mounds of cow dung and stepping aside in the narrow alleys as the cows or motorbikes push past.   

The roof of our hotel is an amazing place of relative tranquillity.   In the middle of the day it actually gets quite warm as the sun burns through the mist and there are hundreds of monkeys running around.  However, the best time is mid to late afternoon as the boys and young men come up on the roof to fly kites.  If you have ever read "The Kit Runner" (if you haven’t you should) then this exactly how you imagined the scenes in the book.  The sight of hundreds of different coloured kites soaring above the roofs and occasionally trying to cut down other kites is mesmerising.    It is simply beautiful, especially as the sun is setting.

The cold has been a challenge for us here.  After one month trying to keep cool and sleeping with a fan or air conditioning unit on the first night was a real shock.  Daytime is around 24 C but at night the temperature plummets to around 7 C and the buildings here do not have central heating so trying to keep warm in your room is a challenge. After the first night there was some serious shopping to be done for warm jumpers and the obligatory blanket to wrap around your shoulders.   I was even eying up a balaclava.     We are beginning to realise how cold it will be when we travel further north and we have all now developed a cold.

Power cuts happen everywhere in India but in Varanasi were even more frequent.  Quite a challenge when you get back to your room after dinner and have to wrap up for the night and arrange the many blankets to keep you warm, and all in the dark.

What has made us laugh :  So many things here have amazed and amused us.   Terry has decided that this is a step too far for him but Diana and I have really fallen in love with the place.   Some of the goats and dogs that wander the streets and along the ghats are wearing jumpers or jackets which looks really funny.  Diana was desperate to get a picture of a goat we saw every day in a denim jacket, however, it was living with a group of beggars and so it was awkward to get a picture.  We decided to try again this morning before we left and found he was standing on his own in a striped pyjama jacket, a great photos was taken – sorry I can’t share it with you but it’s on Diana’s camera.   Oh, and we chuckled when we changed up money at our hotel with the guy still in his bed and us sitting on the end of the bed!

Why do we love India so much :    We have been meeting some very interesting people on our travels.  One Jordanian girl in Varanasi has spent lots of time in India and we were trying to pin point what it is about this country we love so much. I liked her explanation.   Amidst all the chaos there is this sense from people that everything will be okay. So a family of five squeezed on to a moped and tearing along some of the most dangerous roads in the world, are all looking quite relaxed, infact the children are often asleep!  Coming from the UK where people spend so much time complaining, this is all so refreshing.    There is no time to sit around feeling sorry for yourself, this will not feed you and your family.  You have to be inventive and be able to identify opportunities when they arise.   Diana was trying to buy some Henna from a market stall and the lady didn’t speak English.  Up pops a boy of around 10 years old who could speak some English, he jumped in to the conversation, helped with the translation and checked Diana’s change.   Definitely worth a 5 rupee coin (3p) for his time!
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Heather Ferreira on

Love reading what you write about my country Joanna. I lov it too. I am always amazed at how life goes on and also we can top it up with a smile

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