On the Other Side of the Ganga

Varanasi, IndiaThis post will probably be a bit shorter than usual, but there isn’t too terribly much to report, I don’t suppose. Got another ravaging of bug bites, grrr, and feeling a little run down, but overall, no complaints.

Of course after writing the last blog I thought of things I forgot to mention, like that I took a bike rickshaw ride with one of my leaders the other day, which is a lot rougher than the auto rickshaw, but cool to experience. I also wanted to say there is almost no waste system here whatsoever. I mean there is garbage all over the streets, and it gets swept up every day, and I am not even sure where it goes after that, pretty sure everything goes into the Ganga, I know the sewage does. Also, the power goes out a few times a day, like clockwork, it’s scheduled, I think if I understood correctly, it has to do with the city not being able to pay for full electricity, something like that. So it goes off for a few hours in midday, and a few hours in the evening, and there might be another time too.

Also, as Storyteller mentioned in a comment, Varanasi (also called Banaras) is the place of the funeral pyres and the dead. They say it’s the city of Shiva, and apparently it’s really holy to die here, you get immediate release from the cycles of life and death and rebirth. And awhile down the ghats, that is where they cremate the bodies.

So, classes are going well. I feel like I’m rocking Hindi class, though this morning I was sooo tired. I had my last singing and dance classes, and got to learn one full composition of kattak dance (though I’m still pretty rusty at it) and it feels good to have a full, sort of complex thing as dance that I can do. I also got to do lots of singing exercises and then learned a full song, a prayer to Saraswati, the goddess of music. It’s all in Sanskrit, so I don’t really exactly know what it means, but Goba, my singing teacher, gave the gist.

Yesterday morning, we took a boat ride on the Ganga at sunrise, which was awesome. We learned a bit about the history of the city, and about some of the places and temples along the ghats. We also went into a mosque and a Hindi temple before going back on the boat. Riding back, I was in a sort of meditative trance almost, really overwhelmed, in a good way, like, wow, I’m in Asia, in India, it feels so surreal sometimes. I also started thinking about what first made me want to go to India, many years ago, and it’s slightly embarrassing I guess, but it was Christopher Pike’s Last Vampire series, which was great. I read the six book series twice as a teenager, and each time it felt like going on a spiritual journey of sorts. There is a lot of Hindu mythology in the books, and that’s what first got me thinking about India, Indian philosophy and art and culture and history. That was like, fifteen years ago or something. And I remember in my freshman year of college, I was thinking about trying to do this winter break trip to India the next year, and talked w/some friends about it. Remembering that makes me really miss my friend Ted who I only knew a short while, who was very dear to my heart and such a great friend, who I miss a lot. He was helping me thinking up ideas on how to fund raise. But then I decided to transfer and so it never happened. I also thought about how in my senior year of high school I wrote my term paper on Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha (which was ten years ago at this point, and I really wish I still had that paper somehow, to at least read and reflect on ten years later) and how our next stop is Bodhgaya, which is the supposed place where SIddhartha Ghutama became enlightened. So I was just sort of overcome, thinking about, in a way, how freakin’ long in the making this has been for me. And it’s just amazing that I am actually here in India, i mean it’s hard to wrap my mind around.

Varanasi, IndiaToday we had another boat ride after Hindi class, to the other side of the river, where we had a picnic, (and where they informed us that all the dogs over on that side are rabid). Our food was prepared for us in the traditional way, aka, cooked on a cow dung fire. The food was really great, and we ate it out of clay pots (that were not fully baked) and leaf plates and ate with our hands. While we waited for the food, we mostly hung out and chilled and listened to iPods. Only a few in our group have them in India (I left mine in SF) and so a lot of times we’ll share, one person with one earbud, and one person with another. Today I got to hear some songs that made me think of older times, and in some cases, way older times. It’s kind of nice to have that every now and then, the familiar music. I would say I miss that more than anything, non-person-related that is. I miss music. And last night I got to hear some TOOL briefly, the “watch the weather change” song.

It’s to the point where I do really feel like I”m getting used to it here, where I can tell that when I return to America, it’s going to feel really weird to me, and probably so quiet it’s uncomfortable. It will be weird to not see animals everywhere, people everywhere, color everywhere. Roads with rules will seem strange, but I think most of all, Americans will seem strange (no offense!) Here I feel like I see people from all over the world all the time, and the Indian people are very welcoming, in a way that is really different from the states.

Of course there are the ones that are too welcoming. Most of the girls in our group have had at least one unusual and unwanted encounter with the local dudes, nothing major or anything, but still, it’s noticeable. We had a women’s safety pow-wow last night. One of our group members has a lot of training in that area and is also going to share her skills. Sometimes it feels like every night is a slumber party.

Varanasi, IndiaAt this point in Varanasi there are some definite favorite places to eat. One is this organic cafe, called the Aum Cafe, with awesome herbal tea mixes and just excellent food. Sometimes I go there by myself and write and listen to conversations and try to understand Hindi, and just enjoy the vibe. Another place is this Mediterranean restaurant which is just so cool. I will have to get some pictures. The benches are almost like beds, they’re semi low to the ground, and actually one day we went there really early hoping for breakfast and all the people who work there were sleeping on the seats/beds. They have chessboards there and great food. The owner is this really cool guy who was a bodybuilder and was Mr. Jordan (as in the country) seven times! He told us he used to eat 35 eggs everyday! That place also has a great vibe and they make this amazing eggplant dish that I order almost every time. I heart eggplant.

Everything is really cheap here compared to in America. The exchange rate for rupees is good right now, and things are just really inexpensive. Basically we all eat on about $7 a day, which is included in the price of the trip, I have barely spent any money at all, which is good, but also does definitely make you think about poverty, and the relativity of money. Oh, another interesting fact, the ATM machines here spit out counterfeit rupee notes. We had a little lesson in how to tell the difference last night, and we looked at our per diems and many of them were counterfeits, but no one seems to notice or care, I mean we have probably been paying with a mix of real and counterfeit the whole time. And people are really laid back. This morning for breakfast, I went to pay with a bill that was too big for the guy to break and he said, just pay tomorrow. A lot of places are like that. There are no receipts or at least I haven’t gotten one, and it seems a lot is done by hand.

Anyway, we have a few more days here in Varanasi, and then on Tuesday morning I think, we leave for Bodhgaya, the birthplace of Buddhism. And after that, Calcutta, which I have to say is the part of the trip that makes me the most nervous, hands down, but ya know, I feel like once I get through that, it’ll be golden, and in some ways easier. This really is a constant learning and growing experience.

It’s funny how certain issues will surface. Like yesterday in Hindi class, the teacher gave me a compliment or two, and I felt like I was doing well, and then I felt really guilty about it, like to the point of wanting to pretend not to know stuff, or just not answering b/c I felt bad and just so didn’t want to stand out. Well part of me totally did, but it was like there was this whole undercurrent that didn’t. And all this stuff came up for me, like it triggered a lot of stuff from the past, like sorts of things I didn’t even have any awareness of until that point, about issues I had around being smart, or standing out in class, I mean there was SO much there under the surface on that topic, and it was rich territory to explore, and something I feel is worth trying to work through before going back to school, so I can just be ON academically and not battling some old inner demons. It’s funny b/c I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the topic of why when I was younger I didn’t really push myself academically nearly as much as I could have, and some of it was laziness, but I also realized there was way more going on under the surface of that. So, good to have some clarity. I mean I just took the experience, went to the Aum Cafe and journalled for awhile, and I felt like I really saw how certain older experiences and patterns had shaped my life, in a subconscious but powerful way, and created patterns that I do not want to continue while in school, like feeling guilty that school comes super easily to me – that is NOT something I want to be operating under when I return to college. No way in hell. So I’m glad I could see it and I’m sure there’s more there. I feel this is a bit vague, and I could go into it more later, but I’m about to go.

So yeah, the learning never stops, and I’m glad. That’s part of why I’m here, to further develop as a person, to grow, to challenge myself, to have courage. We each had to pick a sticker of a deity our second day here, sort of tarot card style, like they were all facedown, and I closed my eyes while picking, and used my left hand, and I picked Durga (Hey Tam, I hope I’m not dopplegangering your namesake here) and we had to research our deities, and I feel like mine is the perfect one I could have gotten for this trip, and I will say more on that later too.

I also realized that there is a bit of a spiritual journey that I am on, not to find clarity or anything like that, I feel like I’m not seeking answers, I’m seeking a process of letting go, which sounds way more new agey than I mean it. I don’t really want to say more b/c it’s super personal, but it’s sort of similar to something I did several years ago, that involved water. Or it did the first time, and might not this time.

Okay, gotta go.

Song in head:
A song by Dido, I actually don’t know the name, though I think it’s “Hunter.” I hadn’t heard it in ages, but my girl Willa Rose had it on her iPod when we were sharing earlier today. I’ve always loved it. I wasn’t huge into Dido, but I always really loved this song. And it sort of fits this trip in a way too.

With one light on
In one room
I know you’re up
When I get home
With one small step
Upon the stair
I know your look
When I get there

If you were a king
Up there on your throne
Would you be wise enough to let me go
For this queen you think you own

Wants to be a hunter again
I want to see the world alone again
To take a chance on life again
So let me go…

The unread book
And painful look
The TV’s on
The sound is down
With one long pause
Then you begin
Oh look what
The cat’s brought in

If you were a king
Up there on your throne
Would you be wise enough to let me go
For this queen you think you own

Wants to be a hunter again
I want to see the world alone again
To take a chance on life again
So let me go
Let me leave

For the crown you’ve placed upon my head
Feels too heavy now
And I don’t know what to say to you
But I’ll smile anyhow
And all the time I’m thinking
Thinking…

I want to be a hunter again
I want to see the world alone again
To take a chance on life again
So let me go

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One thought on “On the Other Side of the Ganga

  1. I love Dido. I’ve done that song in karaoke a couple times. It’s awesome — and I loved it before they played it on the radio all the time. (But we’ve probably had this convo.)

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