In Varanasi. Full of chai. Dangerous combination.
We made it to the land of utter havoc and chaos (a.k.a Varanasi) in 1 piece on Sunday afternoon after a long 2 days of travel. Our night bus from Goa to Bombay was a very rough, uncomfortable and cringeworthy trip consisting of trecherous and sharp hairpin turns, forcing me, Martin, and our luggage to crash into each other, dirty condensation from the filthy ceiling to drop on my head and the utterly enjoyable feeling that we were "sleeping" on jackhammers- every possible bump on the road or shutter of the long gone brakes we felt to our very core. If I had had false teeth, they would have been good and rattled! Alas we didn't sleep a wink but it all makes for an amusing memory and a laugh!
We rolled into Bombay and went directly to the train station Lokmanya Tilek to try our luck to see if we could get on the 12 noon train to Varanasi. Maybe it was because life in Goa was truly shanti and things were relatively easy, but Bombay felt like an assault on all my senses. The air is thick with smog and dirt, the streets are screaming full of honking horns, people eye you with a glint of curiosity and potential schemes, men having a wee at every possible wall and some even pulling down their pants to defacate on the shoulder of the road not caring who is getting a real good look at their nether regions. Getting to Lokmanya wasn't too hard, but once we got there people tried to convince us that we couldn't get tourist quota tickets there (an obvious ploy to get us into their taxi and take us to CST). The waiting room was jam packed full of people sitting with their extended families, sleeping on cardboard and tatty blankets while the mosquitoes and flies circled their heads. We were the only westerners in the whole terminal and so we got watched every move we made. The terminal was the dirtiest place I had experienced since coming to India. The bathrooms were gag worthy and completely rancid (with women actually sleeping on the floor), dirt everwhere and people spitting paan or shooting snot out of their nostrils. I was horrified, and tried to sit as still as possible, trying not to touch anything. We ended up waiting at Lokmanya for 4 hours, while we tried to get a reserved seat on the train to Varanasi. In the end, we scored 2 tickets in 2A/C (!!) and off we went. The train journey was really pleasant actually and the train was quite clean, especially after sitting in th etrain terminus for 4 hours. Martin and I ended up in a quiet carriage, me on the upper bunk, and we watched movies on our laptop, slept, I did some school work and we ate and drank loads of food and chai. I slept the best that night since arriving in India and the journey passed off without a glitch. The scenery was amazing - we saw gorgeous jagged finger-like hills pointing up toward the skies, and many many rivers and dusty villages. Passing through Allahabad was quite dismal and depressing, and brought me to the understanding that we had indeed entered Northern India. Piles and piles and piles of broken plastic bags, empty water bottles, and misc. trash piled up everywhere with kids aimlessly kicking it, women cooking in it and changing babies, dogs scavenging and cows eating it all. One poignant picture was of a man sitting in a bright red plastic chair reading the newspaper in a stream of sunlight, behind him a massive garbage heap and in front of him a rotting away home. Very dismal indeed.
We rolled into Varanasi 28 hrs later, and arrived through a thick brown haze of smoke. The second we exited the train, a fight broke out between 2 men who both tried to talk to us and get us into their taxi. The winner of the fight then joined Martin and I and tried to convince Martin that we should let him take us to his place. Martin told him off and we fought our way to a cycle rickshaw further down the road to the station. We are in Varanasi, fully primed and on constant alert.
We've been here now for 4 days, and I am slowly adjusting. I have forgotten how hard this city is on the body, and how much energy it takes out of me. North India is very poor so the people are aggressively hungry, pestering you every second and trying to take you off to their shop, their uncle's shop, their sisters' husbands' son's brother's shop. There is cow poo everwhere, and my left foot has had the unfortunate opportunity to continuously slide right through it. The streets are full of paan juice and spit, garbage, goats, puppies, food, motorcycles, barefoot pilgrims, tourists, touts. If you have ever been to Varanasi, you will know how tiny the streets are just off the ghats. I'm not sure if it is because I am older, or if it's because I am here with Martin or if its because I remember this all before, but I have lost my luster in trying to deal with people as everyone just wants something (money really) from me and I don't have the energy to bargain or even attempt to engage with most people. I'm just sticking to dealing with people I know (like Prem & his wife) and not relly getting involved with anyone else. It may sound like I am not happy to be here, I am indeed, its just that this place takes so much out of you...you need an adjustment time once the magic of being here has started to wear off. Varanasi is a very dark place, I mean after all its the place where Hindus come to die! I just need a bit of rebalancing thats all.
Speaking of which, Premu told me about a yoga college close to his place in Mahmoorganj that I went to yesterday to check out. Its a proper school, which is a relief after all the crazy fake yoga tourist traps! The school is called Brahmavarchas International Yoga Academy and is run by a man named Yogi Vikas. The school offers 6 classes a day, and is open to men, women of all ages. It was really refreshing to see who comes to the classes- its a mix of young and old, able bodies and disabled. the best part is that for 6 days a week, it is only 1600Rs a month each! fantastic. We went to our first class today, and had private instruction by Yogi Vikas and one of his teachers. In the hour class, we only went through 4 poses, but did 5 repetitions on each. Its not very vigorous, but it is very very good and you can get the full benefits of the poses. We will add 4 asanas each day.
We are off to Allahabad tomorrow for a day or so for a festival, and then will head to the orphanage in Puri at the end of next week.
I will be flying back to London on the 26th of Feb and back to Vancouver on the 27th, so I will see most of you soon. Bit of a bummer that Ican see the end already but nevermind, I got to India in the fisrt place!
Also got some good news today that the first stage of Martin and I's application of Martin's perm. residence has been accepted! I'm happy and relieved. So hopefully London will be as accomodating and Martin's papers will come in soon.
Big love to all.