Varanasi

Most of my entries will probably be hand written, than typed in afterwards, so they’ll be a bit off on dates – e.g., I wrote this entry on 29/Jan and I’m posting it on 30/Jan.

I owe you an entry on my host family, but presently I am in Varanasi and that’s what is on my mind.
Varanasi is, in some ways, what I expected of India in general – chaotic, noisy 1, stinky, with extremely obnoxious touts – people trying to get you into this store or that store. It is also very touristry, both for Indians and Westerners and my general impression is that everything is a racket. Everyone wants my money and there’s nowhere quiet to retreat from the consumerism.
The money is exasperated by the fact that I did something kind of stupid.
I attempted to challenge myself.
I had been spending too much money of late, and this is money that needs to last me for a good while. I am rather used to a lifestyle where I don’t really think about money: I’ve always had enough to save and spend. This is no longer the case, and I thought I’d jolt my system a bit.
Which I think I succeed in doing. But now I have a set amount of money that does not allow for any surprises and I left my ATM card in Faridabad. Deliberately. I am unsure of what I was thinking. That the amount I brought with me would be more than enough? That people in India survive on and travel on less? All true, but now I am frantically crunching numbers every time I eat. And what happens if there’s an emergency? Stupid, stupid. But, lesson learned. On multiple levels – I did shock my finances a bit in doing that, and I learned that the stress isn’t really worth it. Bring the ATM card next time.

Presently, I am sitting on the roof of the Yogi Lodge, where I am staying with four other volunteers. I’ve been tremendously antisocial and cranky all day – one part PMS, two parts not enough me-time. I know myself well enough to have seen this coming, but its so difficult to find me-time in India. At my homestay, the place is so small and the family… well, they’re Indian. Personal space is not a cultural value here – and it can’t be, with how bloody many of them there are. People constantly wander in and out of the room I share with Wendy, my fellow volunteer in this project. My morning yoga is regularly interrupted for one reason or anther, and when we hole up in the room to recover from a long day of navigating, it is seen as rude.
And thus, I am here. With my bag strapped to the chair in case a monkey gets curius, watching the sun set behind a sea of paper-tissue kites being flown from nearly every rooftop in the city.
There is a red-butted monkey staring at me.
The kites make me smile – they remind me very much of a dear friend and it’s comforting to see them up there in an odd way.
Today we took a sunrise tour of the Ganges, which is really the only way to appreciate the beauty that Varanasi has. We only saw one dead body (that of a dog), which I suppose is the most one can handle before coffee.

The temple tour afterward was hardly worth the money or time – I am pretty throughly templed out and I am only what, two weeks in? It is interesting to see the culture of it all, but I have yet to have a guide (tour or book) tell me the whys or the hows of it all, which would make it more interesting to me. And Hinduism is so huge and complex that all of my reading and college religion courses barely scratches the surface. It’s also difficult to make the connection between what I’ve read and the statues/temples because there are so damned many names and incarnations. I often wonder how the Indians themselves keep it all straight.
Thursday night/Friday morning was the 12+ hour train ride in sleeper class that we’ll have to repeat again Tuesday night. The train is an experience in of itself. I had a hard blue seat/bed barely long enough for me to stretch out on – not long enough for me to stretch when my bags were chained to one end and being used as a pillow. I didn’t bring any blankets – my sleeping bag takes up too much space. It would have been fine, if chilly, had I remembered to bring socks. As it was, I felt my toes again.
Eventually. I mean, they’re still attached.
It gets cold in India at night. Colder still when your body is pressed up against a plywood and laminate wall to the outside. A wall that shakes furiously every time the train passes another. I didn’t sleep much, though I did pass out for a few hours. I also acquired the necessary skill of peeing in a squat on a moving train. No easy task for a Western woman wearing jeans.
For whatever reason the way back is already scheduled to take longer – something like 14 hours for a train ride that was delayed an hour on the way down. So we’ll see about the way back up and the likelihood of us getting into Delhi for breakfast.

1 More than Delhi actually is, probably due to Old Varanasi being a maze of alleyways narrow enough to allow shops on either side and maybe 2.5 people walking abreast. Or one person and one cow.

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