Saturday, 4 March 2017

#3 A politically incorrect guide to the Ganges

When I woke up that morning on the train I had a quick panic that I was meant to get off at an earlier stop. Visions of  the little boy in the movie Lion flashed through my mind.

Not speaking Hindi has me in a constant state of uncertainty. I'm never sure if I've understood what's going on completely.

Any way it turned out I hadn't missed my stop and a lovely driver named Rajesh met me at the train station and took me into town. On the way he told me he was taking two other ladies around that day who were also from New Zealand.

He then tried to up sell a more expensive hotel to me but I declined and explained I was on a budget. He obliged but there was some problem with the checking in so he took me to the very upmarket hotel where the other New Zealanders were staying. I told him I was not paying any more as I had booked and paid for budget. He assured me this was fine.

The room was blinking amazing. King size bed, beautiful gold curtains with a blue sash, flat screen TV and a proper shower. After a good sleep, a hot shower and a solid breakfast of toast and omelet I was in a brilliant mood and thanked my lucky stars once again.

As soon as I hopped in the taxi with the two New Zealand women the one I will call Sheila #1 exclaimed, "You came to India in your own?! Are you fucking mad?"

The only people I've had tell me that travelling in India alone is a bad idea have been New Zealanders. We are a timid bunch it seems. Everyone else hasn't blinked an eye with one Indian man even congratulating me for travelling without a partner.

The women were classic middle aged, upper working class, white women. They smoked like chimneys, swore, gossiped and cackled like hyenas. Luckily the driver took all their very politically incorrect comments about his people and his country with a grain of salt.

They were finding the rubbish and noise a bit confronting which was understandable. I hardly noticed it any more and for some reason it never bothered me.

I kind of wish it did shock me. It should shock everyone. We share this planet and we need to look after it.

However there is a sense of hopelessness when you realise that your tiny country of four million people vigilantly washing out their two peanut butter jars a year is doing very little when millions of people in India are too busy struggling to survive to worry about anything else. It's not their fault. Change has to come from the top.

So the two cackling Sheila's and I were taken on a tour of Varanasi. It is a very religious city and has more of a rural vibe than Delhi. There is a slower pace of life and you can actually see the blue sky.

Our driver told us that his brother spent three months in prison for accidentally hitting a person with his car. Rajesh had to pay a large fine for him to get out or he would have been in there for up to five years.

That afternoon we visited the Mother of India temple where I spied a snake charmer outside. I was almost beside myself with excitement. Dad had asked for a snake charmer picture last time but I never saw any in the South.

My conscience completely desserted me and I happily took photos of these poor snakes and the monkeys on chains. The gentleman had put make-up on the monkeys faces and they looked incredibly strange. The snakes must have had a horrible time stuck in a bag all day and then provoked by their owner for tourists amusement.

I fell a little in love with the female monkey. I gave her some pats and she climbed up on my knee and didn't want to get off.

I told her she was beautiful and that eveything would be ok.

"Is she happy?" I asked the man.

He didn't answer me. I think he was insulted by my question.

Despite this I still gave him 100 rupee for letting me take photos. After all everyone is just trying to survive.

He told me he had been bitten many times by his snakes but he didn't die because he tied off the bites quickly before they entered his blood stream.

That evening Sheila #1, Sheila #2 and I went down to the Ganges for the evening 'festival' which happens every night.

Evening time on the Ganges. March 2, 2017

We hopped in a boat and I dropped a candle into the river as a blessing so the God of the Ganges would protect Mum during her operation back home.

Sheila #1 suggested I ask the gods to break up her son and his girlfriend. Charming.

The Ganges and surrounds were beautiful in a dirty, ugly, messy way. But that is life and in its entirety life is beautiful. I couldn't quite believe I was really there. I'd seen it on TV and read about it and now I could actually touch it and smell it. It was a surreal feeling.

By this stage I was getting a little tired of the Sheila's complaining. Sheila #1 was hungry and bored and didn't want to stay for the festival.

It was embarrasing the way she spoke about Indian people and their culture and frustrating that she was not willing to see any beauty at all. The fact she was a New Zealander made it even worse. We have a reputation to uphold!

When the festival was over we had dinner together and they cackled and smoked away until the resturant closed and I could escape to my room.

The next morning I met Rajesh at 5.30 am to go on another boat ride along the Ganges to see the sunrise. It was stunning and this time I was alone so could appreciate it better.

Sunrise on the Ganges, Varanasi. March 3, 2017
It was so peaceful watching people and animals on the ghats and not understanding most of what was happening. There were people chanting and washing laundry as well as people bathing in the river. Dogs ran around in packs and I even saw a dead cow floating down the river at one stage.

We had a brief look at the cremation area of the ghats where the bodies are burnt. We didn't get up close and although I was dying (pun unintended) to see the bodies it seemed quite disrespectful to go any closer.

I opted not to do any more sight seeing whilst in Varanasi and just soak up everyday life instead. Despite things being comparatively cheap EVERYTHING costs money, even using a public rest room, so you soon get through it.

Rajesh took me home and I spent the rest of the day happily writing about everything that had happened so far and cheekily hand-washing all my clothes in the bathroom. The amount of grime that came out of them was impressive! The inside of my nostrils were coated in Delhi grime as well and you don't want to know what the bottom of my feet looked like.

What are we doing to our beautiful planet? How do we stop it?

Trevor from Australia and I agreed on one thing. There needs to be a major shift in how we organise society. We can't keep this up forever.

Unfortunately he didn't have any answers and neither do I although he believed he should be in charge.

As leader of our singular global authoritarian government Trevor from Australia can fix all our problems. If only we'd take him seriously...

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