Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Varanasi, The City of Light



I realize that my thoughts on this city could go on for a long time, so i decided to condense to make it more reader friendly and to take out parts that would scare my mother...

The 45 Hour Train Ride
On Tuesday, the 17th of July, I arrived in Mughal Sarai, after a 45 hours train journey across India. It is not like it was a miserable train ride, it wasn't. The people I sat next to and across from were nice and we had a really great time playing cards with them all day long. And I realize that I was paying 25 dollars to go across the sub-continent and that was pretty amazing. And I realize that I wasn't seeing the sugar coated India I would have seen had I decided to travel via a/c. I did live in a village for the past two months, I know how to 'rough it.' This train itself was dirty. I am so thankful for the clorox wipes my mother sent me. The first thing I did was disinfect my bed, which was also the seat we used doing the daytime. I have been in India for about two and a half months, so I understand how instensely dirty India could be. But before I could control my space. I had the remarkable ability hold my bathroom breaks for nice bathrooms (my definition for 'nice' is used rather loosely here), sometimes I could go all day. I had no choice but to use the train's bathroom. Meanwhile, the baby across the way would just pee and then his parents would wipe it up, over and over again. Sometimes it would take a while for them to realize that their son had peed on the floor. I would watch as the stream on urine got closer and closer to my bag of stuff. Luckily, they caught it every time. Oh, and it was so hot. We went through Chennai during the middle of the day. AHHH! I did see the country side of India change ride before my eyes. I also had a lot of time to think. When we arrived in Varanasi I smelled like urine and felt like crap. An awesome preamble to a crazy city

This segment is called ... India is dirty

One evening I was attending a ceremony on the main ghat (the steps where the ritual bathing occurs). A man next to me was selling camper and flowers in a small cardboard bowl. He told me I could send it out onto the river. It seemed so romantic, so I tried it. While doing this I got a bit of the Mother Ganga on my toes and my hand. With the help of Rebekah and Natalie, I quickly washed and sanitized the affected areas. Oh, the Mother Ganga, said to be the holiest water in the world. The Mother Ganga can cure you, you go into the her with impurities and you will come out clean. Maybe the fact that there are "1.5 million fecal coliform bacteria per 100mL of water," doesn't bother ritual bathers. From my balcony I watch as hindus undress and dip themselves several times Often they will wash their body with the mud found at the bottom of the river. The same river that houses dead bodies in it, thousands of dead bodies, maybe even millions! The bathing appears to be a sacred experience but all i see is foul water infested with body limbs, heavy metal, trash and sewage. Perhaps the Ganga represents a cultural difference that I am not able to embrace. It is like the train ride here, the filthiness made the trip almost unbearable. The heat was ok, the close proximity was no problem, even the persistent starring could be combated with a scowl but no matter how many clorox wipes I used, the train was still dirty and my febreeze spray could not get rid of overpowering smell of urine. How do I live and let live? Different strokes for different folks, right?

Burning Bodies

As we were walking home we got lost. Lost might be the wrong word because this happens every time we walk home. Yes, we don't know where we are but there is no way we can eventually known where we are. The whole way home we depend on other people's finger pointing in the right direction. Our guest house is right next to the burning ghat, the place where they burn bodies after dipping them into the river. We didn't know where we were going and a guy told us to come this way, up here. We walked up a staircase. It was dark and there were a lot of men. No women, in fact. He told us to come stand here. We went over. I look at where I was standing and saw a dead body about six inches from my feet It was a body getting ready to be cremated. We watched as below they dipped the body in the ganga and then brought it up to the burning area. It was so eerie to be caught between this strange man telling me about burning bodies and a body on the ground about to be burned. It was this out of body experience, perhaps. I kept thinking, 'is this really happening?' It was too impersonal, it was too close, it was too informal. From my view I can see at least six different bodies burning. And of course this man wanted us to givehim a tip for showing us these burning bodies. We walked home in a haze, literally smelling like death. Burned into my memory was the looks of those men and the darkness of that area, even the light from the fires couldn't seem to lift the darkness, as we stood, confused by the close proximity of death, watching the tinsel covered bodies being ushered to their fire. The next few days when we would pass this area to go to our hotel there never ceased to be a man asking us to 'come this way to see the burning bodies.' Why was it publicized?

3 stamps of approval:

Natausha said...

Wow, what an experience. Thanks for the idea to bring clorox wipes... I wouldn't have thought of that one. I bet your first hot shower back in the states is going to be the best day of your life.

Stacie said...

I am so amazed by you Sydney. Traveling through India like that I'm sure was a life changing experience! I am so proud of you for riding in that smelly train with out puking, now that is an acomplishment! i laughed at the urinating little boy, I would have been like, "that is not okay"! ON a separate note, I have to say that you write beautifully. The way you described the places you had been, I could imagine myself along there with you in the protest as well as in the train and in that body burning building. I love how you write sydney! I miss having your spunky personality around, but i'm glad other people get to experience how wonderful you are!

Stacie said...

I am so amazed by you Sydney. Traveling through India like that I'm sure was a life changing experience! I am so proud of you for riding in that smelly train with out puking, now that is an acomplishment! i laughed at the urinating little boy, I would have been like, "that is not okay"! ON a separate note, I have to say that you write beautifully. The way you described the places you had been, I could imagine myself along there with you in the protest as well as in the train and in that body burning building. I love how you write sydney! I miss having your spunky personality around, but i'm glad other people get to experience how wonderful you are!