I accidently drank Ganga water at the temple last Wednesday, that was given to me by a fill in at the temple as Naganath was in Allahabad. I thought that it was mineral water as it was sweet, tasted very clean and was actually delicious. Martin told me (after I told him that I drank from the brass pot) that that water was the water he collected right from Manikarnika (the burning ghat!). I was fine for the rest of that night and Thursday until we got to Allahabad.
Martin was asked by Naganath to come join him in Allahabad for a huge mela (festival) that happens every year. The festival is in Allahabad, at the site where the rivers Ganges and Yamuna meet. There are certain days where it is most important for pilgrims to go and bathe in the meeting spot where the two rivers meet. It is very important to take a dip at this spot regardless, of the date but on some days it is even more beneficial. We decided to go for one night, so Martin arranged a driver and off we went to Allahabad.
We had a really great driver Ramballak who spoke no english but was very enthusiastic and wonderful. The drive to Allahabad was about 3 hours, and we drove through many small villages where we saw families making beautiful carpets, elephants on the highway and goats in turtleneck sweaters! I found this to be particularly amusing, and kept entertaining Martin about this the entire trip.
As we hit Allahabad, we were stuck in the most ting tong traffic jam I have ever encountered. The street was jam packed to the point that I do not understand how cars made it through the throng without injuring anyone. This was only the beginning of what madness Allahabad was!
We drove over the bridge and for as far as the eye could see on both sides of the rivers where tents and little shanty huts. At first I thought it was a slum, but then as I looked closer I realised how uniform and in good condition everything was. It turned out that this was the festival that we were going to. the festival ground spans up to 25 km on both sides of the river, and the previous day (which was one of the auspicious dates) had over 800,000 pilgrim bathing in the river!!!! I started to get nervous as 1) This was a really important festival 2) I didn't realise that we'd be "camping" so I didn't bring along enough clothes (the nights are still cold here) 3) I felt really unprepared for this festival and what it means. We followed many buses and rickshaws stuffed to the gills with people to the festival site, which was absolutely flooded with people. People sat by the roadsides selling everything- from religious tat to cheap Chinese made toys. Loud speakers belted out announcements and music, while ice cream vendors sullenly pushed their carts past their competitors. Horse drawn carts carrying 2-3 entire families passed by as holy men waved incence. We didn't know where to go, so we turned down a road and parked until we could get ahold of Naganath or someone in his group that could tel us where to go. we didn't even know if we were on the right side of the river. We sat in the car for hours waiting for someone to either show up at the meeting spot or for us to know where to go. I amused myself by watching the scenes outside our window and watching the people watching us.
martin and Ramballak eventually left to go to the meeting spot, so I waited alone for about an hour and became increasingly nervous about being at the festival. I felt really unprepared about being there, and suddenly felt flung into a situation that I wasn't ready for. I described it to Martin like I had been invited to sit and have lunch with the Pope in the Vatican City- I don't speak the language, I don't know what all the rituals, movements, and ceremonies mean and I ultimately was surrounded by strangers. By the time Martin got back with Trouble #1 (more on him later) and a man we called Punditji- I was in a full on bad and stressed out mood.
Punditji directed us to a campsite that was miles away (good thing that we didn't try to find it on our own!) and we drove literally into a whole new city. It was madness.
It was full and I mean full of people, shopping, little makeshift halls for religious people to go and have a rant, music caves, statues of deities, dabbhas...everything. Martin said that it was like rolling into the Indian version of Glastonbury or Burning Man, but add 300,000 more people. It was insanse.
We ended up in the "VIP" area, a privately guarded area that was really serene and peaceful funded entirely by a right mad man Baba Boginath. Baba Boginath was a chubby Brahmin priest that wore a rick collection of necklaces and rings while scratching his belly and talking about how he was going to take over the world. By day, he is a Bollywood executive producer, by night a full on Brahmin priest. He was the epitome of the "Guru" that naive Westerners may be taken in by, he commands a strict and pious presence while he goes off on huge tangents. He was intimidating, impressive, crazy but very very very generous. He pays for everything in this area- music, servants, the tents that are equipped with straw and blankets and mats, food etc. The area had about 10 tents, ours being the biggest one, and was closely guarded. His servants were lovely men who took good care of me, when I became ill.
Naganath was in the large tent resting when we arrived, and it was lovely to see him. He had a few people from the temple with him- an American woman who was his new devotee, his newphew (Trouble #1), Punditji and a few others. We had some chai and went down to the river so that everyone w\could have a dip and so that I could see the rivers. I was in a really bad mood out of fear from the situation and tried to talk myself out of it, but the person that broke my mood was Trouble #1. He is a 17 yr old Brahmin boy (Naganath's newphew) who was so sweet, cheeky as hell and took a shining to me. He became my instant bodyguard and tourguide of the area. He was then joined by Trouble #2 Punditji's newphew who was 16, so sweet and eager to please, and politely cheeky. These two boys turned my experience around in a heartbeat, and thus I began to relax.
Punditji, Martin, Trouble #1 & 2 took us out for food and an evening walk so that we can check out a minute view of the festival. Martin and I were in disbelief about the festival, it was so insane but so so beautiful. However, I started to feel ill and we went back to the tents, where I ended up getting very sick. Baba Bolinath took me and Martin into his tent so that he could talk to us and give me medicine. It was overwhelming for me to be in his tent sucking on horrible tasting sulphuric tablets while listening to his rants, but Trouble #1 & 2 popped in and secretely made fun of him when Baba Bolinath wasn't looking. It was supremely hilarious and horribly cheeky!!!
I went to bed early and had the longest and more uncomfortable "sleep" of my life. Speakers blared music and religious mantras all night long and my bones ached and ached. I felt so nauseous, and ended up being sick in the night. Baba Bolinath generously offered me use of his toliet which was convienently close to the tent so I made sure that offer was taken! At 4 am, everyone woke up and went for a dip in the river. I curled up in the warm spot that Martin left behind and slept for a few hours. At 6 am, Martin came and woke me and took me outside into an absolutely surreal scene. Thick fog had infiltrated the camp and you couldn't see anything except the rising ball that wasthe sun. It was amazing and so dreamlike.
I went to the river with Punditji, Martin, and Naganath later on in the morning for a dip and a littl eprayer. There were so many people in the river, boys splashing around, women cleaning themselves, men sitting on the bank and staring over the sea. sadly, I started to get sick again, so we returned to the camp where I took to bed for the rest of the day.
Everyone took such care for me. Punditji went to the onsite hospital to get me some medicine, while Trouble 1 & 2 kept me thoroughly amused. Naganath kept me by his side, and Martin fretted and fretted. The servant boys came and sat and stared at me (what I fright I must have looked!) and got me water anytime my bottle got 1/2 empty. The care and kindness I experienced by strangers made me ashamed of my thoughts and mood from the night before. Martin decided that I should get back to Banaras, so off we went.
We went to Punditji's house yesterday, which is 20 km outside of Varanasi in a vibrant and lush agricultural area. Sadly, I was sick for the entire visit so I missed out on the walk, the beautiful lunch, and generally enjoying the serenity. But all the children kept me laughing, and they were all full of cuddles and games for me while I rested. It was fantastic to get out of Varanasi for a day though, and meet Punditji's family.
We are staying put here in Varanasi for another week and then we will go to the school in Puri for 5 days next Monday. Nenetta is here in India and will be waiting us in Puri. Nenettasaid that so many advancements have been made at the school, so we are excited to go and see what's happening. I'm keeping a low profile, resting and trying to do schoolwork. Martin has goe off to get me some medicine this morning so hopefully that will help me. I am feeling better though thi smorning, and managed to eat some toast so hopefully I'm on the mend. Being sick in Varanasi is NOT the place to be if you have a queasy stomach. The only place where I don't get sick is on the ghats where there is a fresh breeze. But I have to get through a few tiny and twisted streets full of garbage, cow poo and other rancid things first!!! Ah well. Lets hope I'm on the mend.
Love to you all.