India 2012: Varanasi

DSC_3929India, the most beautiful, most terrible place I have ever been and I ended those weeks in Varanasi. It’s taken me two years to even stop for a moment and write about being there, of all the spiritual places I have been, the one I felt the most from my feet to the top of my head. As I pack my bags this week for Nepal, my mind has wandered back.

Maybe because there’s a hum to Varanasi, that can be heard and felt, a thrum of life, of death, overlapped on each other – drum of a heart, sometimes brand new and as ancient as time. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities – all that swirling history of energy cannot disperse – it floats, it dances, it electrifies the air. That could explain the butterflies I saw everywhere that week – why so so many butterflies? Floating, dancing in the wind. India’s outstanding amount of humanity seems never seemed more present. I can see why people come to seek salvation at the end of their lives by dying on the shores of the Ganges, it just makes sense to me to want to be there at that moment, hopeful the next turn round will go well.

I went to to see the ghats, steps down to the Ganges by the dark of the chaotic night, by the light of a brand new dawn. What a juxtaposition. Life and Death, side by side.

IMGP0438By night, it was like being on drugs, absolutely overwhelming in it’s dimmed technicolor, endless beeping, shouting, the cows (always cows). Lepers, babies, beggars, shopkeepers, men, scooters, women, monkeys, pushcarts, giant vats of lentils, holy man, unholy people, bodies, widows, just everyone and everything, all in one tide of what looked like chaos but really flowing together like the holy river in front of us.IMGP0417

A race, on the bicycle rickshaw, through the crowd (please don’t get lost), down the slippery steps, to the boat, by the funeral pyres, stopping to listen to the evening service, off the boat (please don’t let me fall in), back through the crowd, find the rickshaw, get back to the electric light of the hotel, the hostel, the modern ordered world.

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And then by the light of a perfect morning. The streets almost empty and the way to the steps clear of crowds. Chants of early morning prayers. People coming to wash themselves clean and start another day over. Offerings made to relatives and family long since gone from the material earth. I thought of my father, of dear friends & family no longer here and I sent my marigolds and my flour & ghee to them – somewhere down the river, on another shore.

India 2012: Taj Mahal

This morning we woke up at dawn to get to the Taj before the masses and I learned, you can never ever beat the masses in this country, because they get up even earlier and maybe never sleep at all.

I can understand now why my grandfather said it was the most beautiful place that he had been in the world. Simply put, it is. The dramatic entrance of the sun just proved his point more…the white walls and jewels glowed brighter and brighter, and it took my breath away.

The most impressive memorial of love lost in all the world, built by a man with a broken heart for a beloved wife, who died too soon. Shah Jahan would loose his empire and eventually his own will to live to build this mausoleum.

If you can come to see it, do it. Deal with the crowds, the hawkers with their books and their post cards, the security lines, the heat, the hassle…all of it (and if you’re looking for less hassle, I can already say, India is not for you… beauty is earned here for the tourist). It is worth the sight. Look at the building and take all the noise away and think of your own loves, hopefully not lost, hopefully a phone call, email, plane ride away because I did… I sent them all my love and more.

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India 2012: Cows

Of course, I need to write about cows here. So many cows, every where I look, more cows. More like wild dogs, domesticated cows sitting in the middle of traffic. Here’s a photo series of the whole high way being stopped by a herd headed south.

I have done so much more today and yesterday, so much I am too tired to speak about it – ballooning, temple seeing, museum going, Bollywood movie watching, chai drinking – I swear it’s all happening… and it’s amazing.

India remains one of the most baffling yet beautiful places I have ever been. I’ll be thinking of this trip, long after my return. Until then, the COWS!!

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India: Delhi to Jaipur 2012

India is all I expected and more – it is dusty, chaotic and noisy… people, cows and monkeys are everywhere. Life happens on the street – sleeping, eating, fighting, bathing. I can see how so many people come here and hate it but I can also see how people come here and loose their hearts to this land.

I arrived early in the morning and immediately faced a Delhi traffic jam like none I have seen (I include Los Angeles and Bangkok in that reckoning). All lanes, and I mean all, became two way roads.

And I was off… no personal space, temples of every kind on all the street corners, Buddhist monks crossing in non stop traffic, guards every where, school children yelling hello, hello, hello.

Yes, this is a stream of consciousness, but so is India. I am in the pink city of Jaipur now – spent all day yesterday bouncing along the highway. My ability to bargain is still not so great but I am slightly better and yes, I am okay with curry for breakfast, curry for lunch and more curry for dinner. I’ll let the pictures tell my story.

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This is indeed India! The…

This is indeed India! The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterday’s bear date with the modering antiquities for the rest of nations-the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.

Thank you, Mark Twain

Countdown to India: can count in hours now, 72? something like that

 

Almost time: India 2012

Today, when I called my credit card companies to tell them I was leaving my normal cowtown land, a great small world moment happened. The operator at X Bank asked me where I was headed, when I said India, he told me how lucky I was, how it would change my life and that especially going to Varanasi was an experience that I would never forget. He never said where he was but I knew.

We all go so fast in this life. Call Center operators can become anonymous people so much of the time – blank voices on the phone outsourced to lands far away (unless they make a point of telling you they are in the USA and this is alarming in another way… I don’t need someone here to help me or think they’d be any better at it… so there).

I told him I felt really lucky to be able to come see his country and I had waited a long time to go. Without saying more, He said India was more than worth the wait and don’t be afraid of how crowded and chaotic it was, to try to see beyond the crowds, the heat to really see the beauty because it was one of the most beautiful places in all the world. I told him thank you and promised I would, and I promise, friends, I will.

Countdown to India: days, mere days.