Tuesday, November 1, 2011

India - Part 5: Varanasi and Friends

Without further adieu...(sorry this took so long, I promise to be better!)

Due to the train debacle we arrived late, missing the yoga activities that I so dearly wanted to partake in. Raj gave us the option to either miss out on other activities planned for that morning or be dirty and smelly, suck it up, and proceed with the pre-planned activities. We opted to see more of India and smell bad.

Photo Credit: Melia Metikos 2011
We went to Sarnath where we saw the Buddhists temple and dozens of red clad Buddhists meditating. We slowly walked through the ruins, admiring the delicate carvings made out of stone with gold, here and there, covering the design. Raj then took us to at another little temple where dozens and dozens of Buddhists were praying. There was something in the air that morning that just felt peaceful, calm, and warm.

We drove around a bit more before heading to the hotel and finally got ourselves cleaned up. Later, the four of us went for a little tour around the town by way of taking a walk and the girls all decided to do some shopping. Our hotel was nestled right by a scarf store which is good for me and bad for my budget. I love scarves, which is insane for someone who lives in heat 9 months out of the year,  but man, does India have some good scarves! I bought far, far too many. It was a well spent afternoon.

On top of that, us ladies had all been talking about getting a massage sometime and now seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Our hotel had a spa downstairs which offered traditional auyrvedic massages. I've studied ayurveda a bit and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience this. Sunita went for a traditional massage while Mary and I opted for the ayurveda one they offered, which is basically a hot oil massage.

Imagine, if you will, a spittoon like object hanging from the ceiling with a lot of hot, healing oils in it. Then imagine your massage therapist just throwing handfuls (handfuls!) of oil on you, who has been clad in a diaper like object and nothing else. Definitely not like any massage you would get in the US of A, but true to itself as an ayurvedic massage. I want to point out that everything about it was top of the line, ethical, and professional - and honestly, one of the best massages I've ever had.  You see, once they've covered you in at least a gallon of oil you then go sit in a sauna for about 30 minutes to really let it all sink in. Then they lead you to a shower where you attempt to get all of the oils off. Trust me, this is no easy task. After that we all went to dinner, but my suggestion would be to go to bed. For one thing, you're probably still a wee bit oily. Might as well soak up the good oils and sleep it off, because you feel so relaxed and peaceful that curling up into a little ball and sleeping is really the only thing you want to do anyway.

The next evening was filled with adventure as we were going to view the Puja ceremony. First, we all got to ride on these "taxi cab" things that are death-defyingly awesome. One man bikes you around on this two seater contraption on wheels while you zip by cars, cows, and herds of people - and if you don't balance just right you are in trouble my friends. It was fun though and I kind of wish we had those here! On our way there, once we were back on foot, we walked by a very nice indoor store where a bull was curled up sleeping with a blanket over him. According to Raj this bull had been going to that store for years and years, every single night, to catch some shut eye. It wasn't quite like the "Bull in a China store" saying, but it was close enough.

At the Puja ceremony a stage was set with about a dozen gentlemen clad in white and orange, lighting candles. The candles were then waved through the air, creating patterns with the smoke. The turn-out was almost as amazing as the ceremony. Not only were people there on the land, but dozens of boats crowded each other in the waters behind the stage. While the ceremony was taking place a stillness came over the crowd. This quiet reassurance that everything was good, everything was right, filled the air. I don't fully understand what the Puja ceremony was about, but I believe it was a kind of prayer or offering to their gods. Whatever it was, it was stunning.

Photo Credit: Melia Metikos 2011

The next morning we went back to the area where the Puja ceremony had taken place, right near the Ganges river. On our way there we heard the Dalai Lama over the loud speaker, as he was in town. I guess Raj had tried to get us tickets but they were obviously sold out months in advance. Still, nice thought. We took a boat ride on the Ganges and lit prayer candles, setting them into the water and casting our silent thoughts out. We watched the red sun rise up over the black water. This was one of my very favorite parts of the entire trip. While the Ganges is possibly the dirtiest water I've ever seen, everything about it and everything that surrounds it is beautiful.  Even thinking about it now makes me long to be back there, on the boat, seeing everything up close and personal. I've been to Europe several times and seen many beautiful things, but this goes down as one of the best.

Photo Credit: Melia Metikos 2011

We saw the Bathing Ghat observatory, where, as Raj puts it, people "beat their clothes like the clothes did something wrong." Here, in the Ganges, everyone  is either bathing in the water, washing their clothes, or throwing trash into it. Why they throw trash into a river that they believe to be sacred, I don't know, but Raj told us that their skin is immune to the diseases of the water, which is excellent for them. As we floated past all the people and buildings Raj would point our certain things, like the Nepalese Temple of Love, as well as the Cremation Ghats.

Photo Credit: Melia Metikos 2011

After our amazing boat ride we headed back to the hotel with a little bit of time remaining before the day ended. Tony, Mary, and I decided to venture back out while we still could. We walked all over the back parts of the city. Tony directed "traffic" when we neared a group of cows that were taking up road space. We then headed back and sadly, had to say our goodbyes. Sunita and I had the same flight back to Delhi, so that was nice, but it was time to wish Mary and Tony well as we parted ways.

Once I arrived back in Delhi, Sunita walked me to the area where I was to meet my taxi driver, which I had prearranged to take me to a friends families house for dinner that night. We hugged each other goodbye and promised to stay in touch. True to our word, we've all stayed in contact one way or another. Sunita and I are friends on Facebook and Tony and Mary and I have emailed each other. In fact, I'm thinking up an adventure for next year and want to email them all to see if they want to meet up. How fun would that be, to continue traveling with the people you meet along the way? I love it (and I mean the love part here...this is why I love traveling).

The taxi driver, that was to guide me through the end of my trip, was incredibly nice. On the way to the house he showed me pictures of his family and a card he had gotten from a friend who lived in North Carolina. We made small talk. We shared in what ways we could through our language barrier. In his cab a little statue was hanging from his mirror and when I jokingly asked if it was for safe driving he told me that it actually was because "people drive crazy." It did it's job keeping us safe as we zipped around in traffic that evening.

He dropped me off at my destined location and we set a time for him to come back for me for my late night flight home. This dinner arrangement was one of the highlights of my trip. My friend, Farrah, had told me her brother lived in Delhi and that I "absolutely, positively" had to go see them while I was there. Mind you, we didn't know each other, but she wanted me to be with people she knew, which really was lovely of her. Prior to leaving I had emailed back and forth with Bernadette, her Bonus Mom, who was as sweet as she could be. I was a little nervous to meet everyone, but once I was there they literally welcomed me in with hugs. Bernadette had prepared an Italian dinner for all of us to enjoy and I must say, it was excellent. More importantly, they made me feel so incredibly welcome. We ate and talked and even took group pictures. If it wasn't for them I would've been hanging out at the airport for hours until my flight left, but instead I got to spend the evening with some truly fantastic people. Her and I still stay in touch and thanks to their incredible kindness, I have great memories of my last day there.

The truth is, I miss India. I was thinking about it earlier today and I really do miss it. The whole trip was like one big adventure. There is not one thing I would trade, even the train ride. Every person I met and experience I had made me...better. I feel more complete, somehow. Like this little missing puzzle piece of me was found or maybe even a new part of me was discovered. A part of me I never knew existed. I'm going back one day, definitely going back, but this time I think I'll venture to South India. It's already on the bucket list. Now to just cross it off.

Related Posts
India Part 4: The Taj and The Train
India Part 3: Jaipur and Agra
India Part 2: Delhi
India Part 1: The People You Meet
If You're Reading This...

No comments: