I know very few people that would do their laundry in a toilet; those that would consist of PCV's, RPCV's and... probably my Dad. That said, surely they would insure that the toilet was clean and unoccupied before they began. Thus is came as a great shock to watch hundreds - thousands over the last three days - not only washing clothes but bathing, brushing teeth and drinking the water while squatters did their business 15 to 20 feet away. Minutes later, boats with pumps and fire-hoses drifted up, and kids rinsed the filth away... literally flushing the largest toilet I've ever seen into the the holiest river in India - the mighty Ganges (pronounced: "Gonga"or "Gonguh" NOT "Gan-geez").
Welcome to Varanasi, the CDC's worst nightmare!
I arrived here on the 26th, and have spent the many hours since elapsed exploring the tangled alleys of the Old City, exploring the river-side Ghats (bathing, clothes-washing, drinking, poo'ing zones) and eating delicious food/drinking insanely delicious lassi (yogurt fruit smoothies). The old city, unlike any other place I've been produces live memories... the narrow "streets" (read: alleys big enough for one oversized cow and a thin human), like tetris pieces, fit together logically only for locals. For the rest of us, they dance, spin and realign with every passing, laughing as we - the tourists - circle, round and round past the same street-food vendors, flower shops and temples with confused, half smiles pasted on our faces.
I love it. I love, love, love it. God what a unique city... covered in poo - I cannot emphasize this enough - but surely one of the more amazing places I've been. The spirtuality, something I am not usually keen on, is palpable.
I arrived here after a 12 hour train ride from Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, which on my arrival there I was still not convinced I wanted to spent 15 dollars to see. "Ït's only a building," I'd said. "Couldn't he have shown his wife that he loved here by stopping at THIRTEEN children (the 14th killed her...)?!" "15 dollars... that's like 1.5 days in the mountains!" etc... but I finally caved.
Spectacular. A mirage. Impossibly perfect. Strikingly symmetrical. The most beautiful building I've ever seen (and I've seen them all). I had planned on being one of the first into the enormous compound where nearly 10,000 people per day visit, but I was screwed by a thousand tourists in groups that had pre-purchased their tickets. Whatever. Human beings disappear in the presence of infinity. And the building just gets more beautiful as you get closer... the intricacies multiply time and again into the unimaginable.
It is a sight to behold. I'll leave it at that.
Before Agra, I spent a day - far too long - in Delhi while I squared away my tickets. I'd arrived there at around 6am, hallucinating after 24 hours of straight travel out of the Chitkul valley in Himachel Pradesh.
I now know why babies scream when they leave the womb. That mountains had been my sanctuary. The people: happy, honest, friendly, helpful! The air: crisp, thin, clean. The views: EPIC. The peaks: inspiring. And SLAM, I was hit with a cricket paddle in the face with the filth of the cities, the reek of the smoggy air, the incessant calls of street-men trying to make a few rupees off you. The traffic. The... the... the... Agh! I made the transition quickly, like pulling off a bandaid. RIP! But GOD did it ever keep on hurting.
Until Agra. Until Varanasi. ANd wouldn't you know it? I'm headed back into the hills! I leave in about 15 minutes to catch a train to Gorakhpor where I will bum it in a train station until tomorrow when I catch a bus to the Nepal border and continue on to Kathmandu where I will meet my Dad for some more TREKKING!!! in 2 days time.
Surreal! LIFE! YES!
God... the stories I have yet to tell! For instance: I was pick-pocketed! Yep! Got my wallet and all the money it it! But then - thinking quickly - I found the guy that did it (he was getting the crap kicked out of him by other people who wanted the wallet... or were mad that he had stolen it? Whatever... I got it back, money and picture of Michelle and all :)). And more about Varanasi! God... I've not even mentured the cremation ghats. The processions of people carrying wrapped bodies through the streets to the river where they are burned into the next world on great piles of sandalwood ("Hey, that's not a log... that's a LEG! And a head!"). Oh, the odd sound of crackling flames on flesh...
But onword I run.
Thanks for reading!
I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)