Monday, March 06, 2006

The highest highs

Someone once told me that Varanasi would be a place where I experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. I thought I knew what they meant, but now I realize that I had no idea. There was never a second where I thought it would be possible to be both completely content and utterly miserable at the same time. I didn't know someone could be having the best day of their life and simultaneously be completely depressed. I didn't know that both ends of the spectrum could be achieved in a matter of seconds. I felt like a pendelum swinging quickly from side to side...tick tock tick tock... I can't describe how this place plays with you. It someone completely engulfs you and within a matter of seconds spits you out a completely different person. The cycle continues day by day, minute by minute until finally you have a brief moment to sit back and look at what has happened. By that point you are too completely floored by the whole thing to even have coherent thoughts regarding them-- so you just sit and let yourself be content with whatever comes your way.

This entry is my attempt to spit back what was thrown to me...let's see how it works.

First thought: I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME!!!
We walk outside of the train station...its six am and already there is a slew of people there to great us. Immediately we are surrounded by screaming men who promise to take us where we want to go. I want to run back into the comfort of the waiting room. I want to scream. I want to do anything but be surrounded by all these people who refuse to listen to me when I sternly turn them down. Finally we make it to the hotel, ditch our belongings and go explore. The city is waking up now. "BOAT?! BOAT?! BOAT?!" Another mob of excited men. Some are old, some are young, but all promise us the time of our lives for just fifty rupees. Whether it is a boat ride, a silk scarf, postcards, food, or beads, it seems like everyone in this city has something to sell you...and if they don't have it, their brother or sister or mother or cousin does. I say "no" for the fifth time as we pass an eager boat man but he doesn't seem to like that answer. Nevermind the beggars that are tugging at my arms or the hot sun that is beating down on me. No time to think about that. Survival of the fittest...must get away from the docks. Whew! No more boats...but don't worry, every other inch of the city is covered with undercover silk merchants who are willing to buy you chai if you promise to pay 500 rupees extra for their fake silk. no No NO NOOOOO...I can't say no enough. I don't want that dirty old postcard for 10 rupees. I told you that five minutes ago and my answer still hasn't changed. If you follow me long enough I might get pissed off enough to actually push you out of my way...who knows...10 minutes later...No I still don't want the postcard. By the end of the day I am more tired from saying no to people then I am from the actual walk. What a crazy place. The people speak English but only when you tell them what they want to hear. I don't think no is in their vocabulary.

We woke up around five am to see the sunrise over the Ganga. We actually said yes to a boatride this was fun saying yes for once. When we returned to dry land the banks of the holy river were covered with Sadhu's and devote Hindu's waiting their turn to bathe, clean, and drink of the precious water. Nobody seems to mind that I look on with eager eyes. Just like they don't mind that one hundred yards upstream there are bodies being burned in the same river that they are bathing in. For the first time since we've been here I am outside and nobody seems to notice me. It is a refreshing feeling-- finally being the watcher instead of the watched. Everyone enters the moving stream for their own reason. Some leave quickly while others take their time in the waters. The colors are a wonderful mix of pinks and yellows and greens and blues. The smells are out of this world, and the feeling is one of complete untiy with God and nature and humans. I wish that I could someone understand the majesty of this river. I wish I could believe what they believe so that bathing in it could heal whatever problems I am facing. The connection that this city has with it's landscape is amazing. I know that I am not a part of it, so I am content with sitting on the bank watching eagerly. I only wish that time would pass slower so that I didn't have to rise and actually start my day.

Thought #3: When five really means fifty
Five more minutes. That's what he said ten minutes ago. The walk along the ghats in the midday sun seems never ending but our trusty little guide friend doesn't seem bothered. Maybe it's because I haven't slept in two days but this walk seems longer then I thought it would be. We pass ghat after ghat, boat after boat until finally we reach the end. Still no Benares Hindi University...damn... "Don't worry, just five more minutes." My body just keeps walking because we don't have a choice but to reach it eventually- I just hope its sooner rather then later. A couple random alleys and busy streets later we are finally standing that the gates. This place is massive! It reminds me of stanford with buildings that are all built to look alike a roofs of blazing red. At least now we know we are close. I think our guide is going to leave us, but he keeps on walking. He promises to help us find the man we are looking for and we have no choice but to follow. He's been trustworthy so far I think to myself. We pass the main administration building and he stops to ask for directions. Fingers point left and then right and before I know it we are on out way again. Right. Left. Right. Left. I have to tell myself to keep walking because these five minutes have now turned into an hour. I look left. There is a sheet covering a dead body with fresh blood seeping through. I should be scared but I am too tired to even process it. We pick up the pace. When we are at a safe distance our friend tells us that there has been a murder. "You can read about it in the paper tomorrow" he says. All I can do is nod. This would have never happened in the US. The authorities would have that place sectioned off in no time. They would never leave a body laying on the ground barely covered and watch us walk through the crime site less then ten minutes after the incident. Welcome to India I remind myself again...where five minutes means fifty and people just keep walking.

Thought 4: Puking is Puking
Sunday morning I wake up early to go puke in the toilet. Pleasant I think to myself. I'm here for four days and I have to spend one of them puking. The thought doesn't continue for too long though because the dizziness sets in and I have to return to bed. I lay there for literally 24 hours because I couldn't stand up wtihout falling over. My only adventures were to the bathroom where I at least had a real toilet to puke in. Too bad the bottled water is all gone and I can't drink from the tap. I'm too tired to even walk downstairs to buy some more. Too bad I don't have a phone to call my friends and ask them to bring me some. I'm too tired to find a phone. Inside I wish that I was home in the comfort of my own bed, so at least I could swallow the water after I brush my teeth. This sucks.

Thought 5: Ain't no party like a Shivaratri party...
Scindia ghat, the home of our hotel and the peaceful morning scene that I witnessed, is capable of transformation. Varanasi India, the most religious city in this world, is capable of transformation. Shivaratri is a Hindu festival that out does any festival that I have ever heard of. It is a 100 km barefoot walk that men do in one day to help cleanse their karma. There is no food taken during the walk-- only water, weed and bhang lassis. Midnight before the walk starts everyone assembles at scindia ghat and parties until the clock strikes 12. No right? Yeah, that's what I thought until I was caught in a mob of high young men making there way through the narrow crowed alleys to scindia ghat. We held hands in order to stay with one another but there was no way to ward off all the hoots, hollers, and hands that found their way to us. And just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, the entire city loses power-- so now we're not only surrounded by high young boys who think that they have a right to grab us, but it is literally pitch black so we can't see them at all. Hands are flying. I am swatting constantly in order to keep them off of me. I turn around and push some of the boys behind me. No use. I catch one hand as it makes its way away from my ass--twist twist twist. The man winces and I can't do anything but smile. That'll teach him. The next guy to touch me recieves a hard slap in the face. For the first time in my life I hit someone with no remorse. How could these men who are making their way to a holy festival do this to us. It is so degrading. A couple punches, slaps, and pushes later we finally make it to the hotel. My clothes are dirty from being spit on so many times, my body feels violated and I'm in shock. The party continues below us as we make our way up into my room. I can't believe that just happened. I can't believe the craziness. From above the scene looks just as scary as it did from below. I thank god that I am out of it and one more time tell myself..."welcome to India!"

There are so many more thoughts but I've written enough. Time to go watch a movie and forget about life....whew


Blogger rita said...

in regards to "Puking"
What was the matter? It sounds like a fever and a stomach flu. How long did you feel so crummy? and this is the reason why your mother should be with you! What I really mean is I wish I could have been there to bring you water and put a cool washcloth on your forehead. I hope the sickness did not last too long. Is there anything you can do to make yourself less susceptible? Wishing you all the cool water you will ever need.

4:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home