Sunday, February 15, 2009

Onward bound...heading west

February 15 – Onward Bound

Penny and I managed to finally drop our KashiVashi status and leave Varanasi. I was definitely ready to go as I was starting to feel that I was just spinning my wheels over the last few days. We all were sick with various ailments, and had spent many hours just relaxing in our hotel room. We had a lovely last evening in Varanasi 2 nights ago. Penny and I were lunching on our old hotel terrace watching the city and the Ganga when we heard vibrant Indian Music below us. Upon inspection we found that there was an impromptu concert happening on one of the Ghats and that there were also some cheeky men dancing. We high-tailed it downstairs after eating, and enjoyed the bhang-ed up performance. It was a beautiful sight set against the lapping waters of the Ganga with the sun beginning to set and turning that water a dusky rose colour. An ailing Martin managed to join Penny and I at the Ganga where we got accosted by cheeky jhotis (little girls) selling banana leaf boats that contained a crude diya (a candle like item) set upon roses and marigolds that would be laid on the Ganga at the evening Aarti. I found myself with piles of these in my lap as once I bought 1 from one jhoti another one would come forward with pleading eyes and sassy demeanor “Why madame you like this? You are my first customer of the day! Please madame!” So I ended up buying 3 and Penny got 4 (and a package of free matches). We set them alight with a wish and a prayer and watched them float up the river. Martin secured a last boat trip for us that reflected our first night in Benaras. I felt really sad about leaving but ready for a new adventure. Being in the holy city of Benaras has affected me in many ways, and opened my eyes to Indian culture in every aspect. I have so many vibrant memories from spending so much time there. In the end I was able to find a sense of calm and escape the frenetic dark energy of the city. I witnessed every state of human life in Benaras; from the heavily kajal eyed babies squirming in their mothers arms; being hustled by elementary school aged children; watching heavily decorated demure brides greet their husbands for the first time upon the banks of the Ganges; watching the wedding procession of nay- like flutes and tabla drums march the couple down Dasaswamedh Ghat Road followed by men wearing chandeliers and fluorescent lights on their heads; desperate lepers reaching out for baksheesh with cracked hands and melted fingers; elderly orange robed sadhus spending their days meditating on the ghats; to the final procession of life marching down the stairs of Manikarnika to be bathed in the holy waters of Ganga before being laid on a burning pyre that will fast track their journey to Nirvana.
Penny and I were planning on going straight to Agra and from there working our way around the Rajasthan but once we realized that the train we were booked on was going to Jodhpur, we decided to make the long journey and start this next leg of our trip in the West. We boarded our train at 5:20 pm on Saturday, and then sat at the station till half 6. Our journey to Jodhpur will take us about 24 hours as the train has been quite late along the way.
The change in scenery has been amazing to watch. The arid desert landscape started to appear after going through Agra. The railways stations are full of men in multicoloured turbans, beautiful women with large nose rings and veils over their faces, and impish children running up the carriage to have a look at the strange white woman observing the scene. Sadly Penny and I were not prepared for our journey- our last day in Benaras was filled of last minute things and a last look at the Ganges and Mahikarnika- so all we had in ways of provisions were 1 bottle of water and a package of biscuits each. I have been unwell for the last few days and have not been eating much, if at all, so I wasn’t really worried about getting hungry. I also thought that there would be an ample supply of food available on the train that we could buy when needed. We ate some veggie cutlets, and luckily ordered a veg thali at the last minute which was a saving grace as there was no other food available!! Today has been a long journey, mainly spent eating the nibbles we purchased in the morning and lying about on our top bunks. The food service stopped after breakfast as did the water service and unluckily for me I started to get hungry. So to date for today I have eaten nothing but endless biscuits, a hard candy, ½ a package of crisps with Penny, 2 cups of chai, and some apples which a nice man in our carriage gave to us of which I quickly devoured 3. We are going to get to Jodhpur sometime after 7pm…2 hours past schedule and more than 24 hours on the train. We are booked to stay at the foot of the fort in Jodhpur at a rest house called Yogi’s Rest House, which sounds nice. The owner is very friendly and is quite worried about us getting ripped off by the rickshaw men. Penny and I are going to have to be very tough and firm here in Rajasthan. We had Martin taking excellent care of us in Benaras so both us of got quite comfortable, but now that we are 2 ladies on our own we are going to have to be a bit thicker skinned for now.

Hope you are all well, and I’ll write more when I arrive in the majestic Blue City.

1 comment:

usha said...

Ashley: reading your last few days of life in Benares has also affected me! You write with so much feeling, you observe life in minute detail; I know you will love the arid Rajasthan which also has has a large slice of the heart of the Indian.