week 1 logs

And so it begins.
chughun, ananya, and jedi set out to maintain their zen !

Week 1 photos on flickr

Day 1 – 24 april 2009
Bangalore – katpadi
230 km
NH7 to krishnagiri, NH47 to Katpadi
Meeting the parents
Drama ‘unwanted’ letter
Finding maal
Repacking – adding tent and helmet – chucking laptop – give to naz – meet at k giri
Chucking jeans but more clothes

Day 2 – 25 april 2009
Katpadi – Pallikonda- Gudiyatam – Pallikonda – Ambur – Pernambut – Venkatagiri Kota – Kolar – Bangarpet – Malur- Sarjapur – Bangalore
260 km
Meeting aunt at gudiyatam
Wedding gifts
Taking vgiri kota route to return to Bangalore to give laptop
Smoking up – ideas
Recording voice clips
Trip gets relaxed
Qt – most common trees and birds reference book – update on group
* Detachment vs immersion in senses
Stages in life – seek spirituality, answers to life purpose etc (Tibetan book of death)
Heat shimmer on road – same thing happening to heads
Portraits need to be taken
* Making Sense Trip
* route ideas – lakswadeep?
Head to ooty via mysore.
Too late – stay at bangalore
Puncture 2 km from sarjapur turnoff
Need to get new tyre and spare tube

Day 3 – 26 april 2009
Bangalore – Great Banyan Tree & Machinabele Lake – Mysore
200 km
SH17 to Mysore
Bike do-up before heading out– new front tire, bicycle locks, puncture kit
Bye-bye to Saurabh and Priya
J & A discovered that they have lost substantial amounts of ass over the last few months, and that it’s bad news for their tailbones
Banyaned place. so many banyans.
Watched goats feast and chill at machinabele lake. stay away from desolate areas 🙂
New food – Mallur Vada, Ragi Dosa
Stayed the night at a Lonely Planet ‘budget’ option – Dasaprakash, Gandhi Square, Mysore

Day 4 – 27 april 2009
Mysore – Bandipur – Masinagudi – Ooty – Pykara – Ooty – Coimbatore – Isha (reached late) – Coimbatore
340 km
NH212, NH67
36 hairpin bends uphill from masinadugi to ooty – v. v. steep. Nerve wrecking with the weight on the bike. Did not take easier 70 km route via gudalur.
ooty – another big town – just on the hills
fascinated with huge trees – emerald lakes – went to Pykara. nicer road!
strike on road before coonoor – women, from a local factory that had not paid workers, were protesting on the road and had stopped traffic
coonoor to metupalayam – 14 easy hairpins
more ideas for repacking
man helped way out of coimbatore by riding ahead for almost 7 kms to lead towards isha road.

Day 5 – 28 april 2009
coimbatore – pollachi-palani-kodaikanal-kookal
NH67, NH209, white roads
260km
Huge brunch – exiting coimbatore – lady in burqa gave us wrong directions and we went around in circles for a while
Hot – water stop – coconut water stop
Palani temple from far away
Ride up long but nice. People asking where we are coming from and then wishing us all the best
Nice light.
Kodai – 5.30pm
Shopping – chocolates (roasted almond, roasted cashew, rum & raisin), namkeen, eucalyptus oil, vicco toothpaste, cigarettes, paper, matches, honey, coconut oil
Met Das for the magic.
Dark. Ride to Kookal, slower, darker, almost bison – huge cows? Black cows? Cold – thumb freezing numb – right shoulder ache – bag from behind pushing forward and squashing balls – serious need to reorganize/repack
Yesterday queen of hills – today princess of hills
Road speed is 1/3 of usual. 300 kms taking toll.
Cigs and tea to be phased out. What replacement?
Cigs – pranayama – tea?
Happy to be in Kookal again, with Ravishankar, Suzie and Beauty and hot dinner

Day 6 – 29 april 2009
Kookal
Chilling
Eating lots
Stroll around the carrot/bean cauliflower fields
Films

Day 7 – 30 april 2009
Kookal – Mannavur- Kookal
Still chilling
Beautiful mushies with chocolate – lake, dragon flies, birds, J’s headstand on the edge of the water. Evening trip to Manavur. Films – Mad Max 2 & 3, Gulaal

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(another) full circle

Day 34

April 16

Nainital – New Delhi

  • Cab to Kathgodam (Rs. 550). Nainital reasserts its high-endedness with no shared vehicles to Kathgodam at 6 am. A shop sign says ‘ Style isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’. Sad, sad, sad to leave the mountains behind, but soon I’ll be in the middle of serious mountains again, so that’s ok
  • Aloo parathas (Rs.10 each) at the station refreshment room. A lot of trekkers are returning to Delhi
  • The chair car on Uttarakhans Sampark Kranti Express is an old make and has ample leg and luggage space. I have the seat in the middle, which I usually dislike because of the not so easy access to the window and the aisle, but soon I get engrossed in the Tehelka I just picked up, and don’t realize when the train takes off
  • There are several articles on the state of the Maoist movement and the state’s anti-insurgence measures. It’s a hopeless situation when a country turns against its own people. When you get thinking about it you realize it was always against its people, otherwise why would it give away your land and your home without your permission, for financial benefit, without compensating you in all fairness? Isn’t a country supposed to protect and provide for its own? One article puts forward ‘solutions’, which are so obviously fair you wonder why they weren’t implemented in the first place, before turning the tribal belt of central India into this big sodding mess. Land may not be given away to corporates without the permission of the Gram Sabha, which includes every adult member of the village (unlike the Panchayat, which only includes elected, and often corrupt and sold-out members). The people who live on the land should be made stakeholders in the enterprises that are built upon that land. It doesn’t matter to us, right? If it hadn’t been for exploitation how would we be this comfortable? Money is everything. People with no money are shit and don’t have the right to be included in any decisions regarding them. When people like us make up this world how could things be any different? Corporates are kept alive and strong by our greed
  • The train ride is uneventful. Lunch is loads of food for Rs. 60. I ask if I can pick 2 things. No. That will disrupt the ‘sets’. Parathas, rice, matar paneer, dal, salad, dahi, balushahi, water
  • Delhi is gravely hot. Like sitting inside a just-off-the-heat phulka. Like your skin will peel off with the next gust of steam that passes for air. So hot that the auto driver offers me glucose water from a cloth insulated bottle under his seat and warns me against fainting from dehydration
  • I surprise my chhoto pishi out of her siesta. The plan is that I will accompany her to my mejo pishi’s for dinner (and to surprise her as well), chhoto pishi will stay on there for the night, and I will return to chhoto pishi’s place to be with Shivani and Guru da
  • Guru da, Shivani and I, after much dithering between films, and genres, watch Ringu. Home theatre sound and vibrations and the glass surfaces in the room make it scarier. Finally, we sleep all together in the same bed, to make it through the night

Days 35 & 36

April 17 & 18

New Delhi

  • Much quality time spent with my aunts and cousins – family dinners, chat sessions, movies
  • Get to know Juno a little better, as in, now he will let me pet him for longer till he decides to start jumping and play biting. He does the funniest thing I’ve ever seen a dog do, galloping on ‘his bed’ in the study. Totally adorable and makes me miss having a dog or cat around. And I still haven’t got over how big he is
  • I need to go to Doha to help my parents with moving back to Kolkata, so I drop my Nepal plans, cancel the train tickets to and from Gorakhpur, and buy a ticket to Kolkata (the Qatar visa authorities need my birth certificate asap)
  • Homemade food. I eat non-stop

Day 37

April 19

New Delhi – Kolkata

  • Cab to the airport (Rs.250). Check in and wander round the shops and try on sunglasses and shoes I’ve no intention of buying. Do buy a book, a mag and a scratch guard for my phone. Hungry and the flight is an hour late and won’t be serving food anyways. The pita sandwich (Rs. 160!) is the cheapest healthy substantial thing I find. Trains and planes are worlds apart, sigh. Read on the flight
  • At Kolkata airport no one knows which conveyor belt has the luggage for out flight so every one keeps flitting around checking all belts. I stand in a corner and make calls to my aunts and parents, that, indeed, I have arrived, and then turn around and spot my backpack. The taxi line is a km long . There’s a new bus service but no one selling tickets and no buses in sight. 2 hrs after landing I manage to get out of the airport and on my way. Stars on hoardings look sweaty. Realism
  • This bit of BOBI is officially over. I await my visa and the trip to Doha and further forays into western medical science

Nainital

Day 32

April 14

Karnaprayag – Nainital

  • Leave the rest house at 6 am and find my way across the old bridge, to the Nainital bus. It’s conked off for a few days now and hasn’t been repaired. I opt for the shared sumo to Chowkhotia (Rs. 70, one third of the way according to my map book) where, I’m assured, I will find transport to Nainital. The sumo is stuffed to bursting capacity, I have to hold my backpack on my lap, not comfortable but will do, as long as we’re moving. This sumo is also the morning newspaper delivery vehicle to all the villages between Karnaprayag and Chowkhotia
  • The ride is pretty – boulder strewn mountain rivers, pine forests, terrace farms, sleepy chai shops. After yesterday’s spectacle nothing looks that good anymore. I eat Kurkure and butter-jam sandwiches I made this morning. The driver plays assorted hindi film songs from the 80’s
  • Finally, we’re dropped off at a place which I assume is Chowkhotia and directed to a bus that we’re told will go to Nainital. As it turns out, this bus (Rs.25) will take us to Chowkhotia (!) where we have to find something else. It’s pretty empty so I get a break from my backpack
  • This time we’re dropped off at Gaini (which I assume is Chowkhotia but find out later that it isn’t!) where I find another shared sumo that says it’ll go to Nainital, but the way things’ve been going all morning I’m lucky if I can get to Ranikhet
  • Once again with my backpack squashing me against the seat I keep dozing on and off. The guy next to me, who works at the Nainital High Court, makes conversation from time to time, mainly asking questions about me and telling me about Uttarakhand. I’m glad to note that we’re doing good time
  • Mom and dad call. It’s mom’s birthday. It’s a little tricky because her birthday is on the Bengali New Year day which keeps switching between April 14th and 15th in the Gregorian calendar
  • Finally, finally, finally we reach Bhowali and I’m happy because it’s only 11 km away from Nainital, when we’re asked to get off. Keeping in tune with today’s ‘not quite going the whole way’ pattern, so why am I surprised. Find a bus to Nainital, and I’m no more sure that it will get there, but it does, by 3 pm. My friend from the sumo invites me to come and meet his wife and 3 daughters and stay with his family, but I turn down the offer. I really need some private space
  • Next part of the adventure involves finding a budget place to stay but no such thing seems to exist in Nainital. The KMVN hotel has rooms for 3k and when I ask about a dorm they say the drivers of their guests sleep in it. Walk down the Mall Road asking room rates, 2k, 3k. A tout comes up and says madam cheap room etc. so I get excited and then he says Rs. 1800 so I start looking again. 1200 at the Evelyn Hotel on the Tallital side is the best I can do, I’m tired, I need a bath, I shut out the fact that this is 6 days of boarding budget for me
  • The hotel is pretty and the room comfortable. I change and go on an exploration walk down the Mall Road. It’s a typical hill station – families on holiday, shops selling all kinds of junk like cowboy hats and mini umbrellas and acupressure lollipops, and people buying them, and a lot of eating and boating. Find a cyber café on the Mallital side, update blog and upload some pics
  • On the way back I can feel the cold (at last!) dressed for summer. Pick up street food on the way back – paneer chilla (Rs. 20), aloo chaat (Rs. 20), aloo tikki chaat (Rs. 30)
  • Speak to Jedi and crash

Photos

Day 33

April 15

Nainital

  • Up early. Plan my itinerary for the morning. With a little help from the hotel receptionist I figure out what is where and am off
  • Gurney House is somewhere uphill from the Mallital ‘grounds’. None of the shopkeepers know what or where it is. Finally, a shopkeeper’s wife tells me to take the road next to the Masjid, but warns me about going right. There are 3 roads going up from the mosque and I take the extreme left one. Climb, climb, climb. No one to ask for directions. Great views of the lake and the town. A lady tells me it’s the wrong way. Allow gravity to take me down in 1/4th the time. Confirm the right way this time, up Araipatta Hill. This is a much steeper and prettier climb. Basically, a path through a forest with cottages tucked away in the thick green. Alas, Gurney House is now privately owned and no more a Jim Corbett museum. I take a photo of the outside. Corbett was born here. Going downhill is quite tricky. Some parts are so steep my feet are almost perpendicular to the ground. I love this about the mountains– the delicious challenge of uphill and the calm surrender to downhill
  • I’m eager to take the aerial ropeway to Snow View to see more snow capped peaks. Lots of families wait their turn, but as I’m alone I get accommodated in the first car up. The lake glitters green in the sun, but the windows are too dirty to get a good shot. It gets its emerald colour from Parvati/Sati’s eye that fell here during Shiva’s Rudra-Taandav. It’s no view day at Snow View. The observation tower is tattooed with graffiti from other no view days, when poor snow peak deprived souls decided to leave their ‘i-was-here, i-did-paisa-vasool’ mark for generations to come. The Naini lake view point is shut for renovations
  • I get myself a milk refill (Rs. 5) as I don’t want full breakfast in case I do more climbing
  • Next up I go looking for St. John of the Wilderness. The cable car attendant has already pointed me to the right road, past the High Court and the Manu Maharani hotel. The church is pretty run down and only used for Sunday mass at 4.30 pm.
  • Strawberries and mulberries (Rs. 20 for each little basket)
  • Mom and Jedi’s mom call to wish us a happy anniversary
  • Shower and walk down Mall Road for lunch. Purohits says they’re reknown for their momos and special house sauce so I order some and forget to specify veg and get chicken ones, ofcourse. The garlic and onion in the sauce overwhelms my palate and I can hardly taste the chicken, which is probably a good thing. Steamed chicken momos with special sauce (Rs. 70) and palate cleansing papaya cherries and raisins fruit salad with cream (Rs. 70)
  • Watch TV for the first time in ages. Mesmerized
  • Go on another walk, surf the net, udate blog, upload pics
  • Roasted almond chocolates (Rs. 8 each) + 2 packets of chips (Rs. 15, aloo chaat and cocktail flavours). All the climbing has left me voracious
  • I’m overcome with melancholy, an intense sadness, perhaps reasonless, perhaps repressed, heartbreakingly so. I don’t feel like the boat ride I’d planned for the evening’s activities, but since I’m here and may never return I walk out and take a few pictures. A naughty dog I try to shoot gets pissed and starts barking at me so I run away from the lakeside
  • Return to the room and watch a film with Luke and Owen Wilson in it, from somewhere in the middle. I’ve watched it before, from somewhere in the middle. I used to like Owen Wilson better of the 2 brothers, but now I prefer Luke. Is growing up choosing the kind and regular over the blond and charming?
  • Room service dinner – Cheese Toast (Rs. 50) and Anda Bhoorji (Rs. 45). I want a lacuna procedure for all the money I’ve spent in Nainital

Ukhimath

Photos

Day 30

April 12

Rudraprayag – Ukhimath

  • Get up early to visit the confluence. Monkeys have taken over my morning confluence shot vantage point. Walk all the way across town, over the Alaknanda and down to the sangam. The temple’s quite small. Go up and down the Mandakini footbridge and come back up a path to a tunnel on the highway
  • On the way back, Raghubir Singh Rawat invites me in for tea. He tells me the stories behind each of the 5 prayags. He says when I decide to come visit Kedarnath and Badrinath he’ll tell me all about them as well. If anyone wants some mythology on their travels in this region I can draw you a map to his vegetable and chai shop
  • During check out I learn that the way to Badrinath will open on My 18. It’s Ukhimath then. Find a bus (Rs. 40). It’s a stunning ride along the Mandakini, but there’s a lot of dust from blasting/road building. Every 20 minutes we reach a bustling little town and market
  • Spot pretty GMVN cottages close to the river in Syal Saur. The route gets all green and yellow and less rocky the higher we climb. The terrace farms are thick with crop
  • Dropped off at Ukhimath main market. Apparently the GMVN Tourist Rest House is somewhere downhill. All the guys who offer to help me out with directions argue amongst themselves over the best route while I have chai and pakoras (Rs. 15). Finally one of them fixes me up with a shared taxi that’ll drop me off on it’s way out. I figure it’ll take ages for the taxi to fill up and set off and ask another man who shows me a winding path downhill. The path is paved and has a green railing and goes right through the village/town, past houses and gardens in full bloom and fields and shops and mules
  • Right where the path ends I stop at a grocer’s for further directions. A lady asks me if I’m Ananya. She and her husband were staying at the Rudraprayag rest house and had seen my name on the register and the reception guy there had told them that I’ve left for Ukhimath. They were here to visit the temple and were heading back to Delhi. They very kindly offer to drop me till the GMVN rest house and tell me that I look much younger than 32. You just have to look and you’ll see the wrinkles
  • These are the things I get told/asked most often – people usually ask where/what I’m studying, they’re surprised to hear that I’m old, and they think I’m super bold to be traveling by myself
  • The GMVN TRH has a great valley view but it’s too high up to see the Mandakini and I get a cottage overlooking the valley for Rs. 430. It’s a mini palace to me with a TV (that I never watch) and carpet and running hot water and a sitting area and a porch and the house spider
  • Gape, shoot, wash clothes, bathe, call dad, jedi calls, lunch, gape, shoot, sleep, wash hair, go on a lovely long walk, gape, shoot, buy junk food, eat junk food while gaping and transferring photos, discover to my joy that internet works on my phone once again, dinner, call jedi, sort photos, update log

Day 31

April 13

Ukhimath – Karnaprayag

  • I wake up and open the door to my cottage and am shocked by a glistening snow covered peak. It wasn’t there yesterday. Later, the shopkeeper outside the GMVN TRH tells me it’s the Sumeru Parbat, the Meru Dand/spine/central axis of the earth, and that the Kedarnath Temple is at its base
  • The bus for Chamoli will be here at 7 am. At 6.30 we (the GMVN caretakers and the kind shopkeeper who has invited me to tea and foot-tapping pahari devotional songs) spot the little white speck of the bus leaving Gupt Kashi across the valley. It’ll take half an hour to make the 13 kms to Ukhimath. I get some practice on being able to tell the size of a vehicle from its sound and the speed at which the sound is approaching
  • It feels good to have tea that’s a sign of goodwill and a way of extending friendship. And it’s also a good way to beat the cold. Today, for the first time on this trip, I experience cold, yippy
  • Monkeys take over a nearby tree and make a lot of noise. Finally, when they pounce on a girl, her high pitched primal scream shuts them up. An old one-armed monkey throws the shopkeeper ‘s slippers in the valley when he goes to the temple
  • Soon the bus arrives and I’m on my way on a precarious and bumpy mountain ride (Rs. 60). Thick forests on both sides are pink with rhododendron. This is the most spectacular journey I’ve had so far on this trip. Soon the forest is interspersed with high altitude meadows or bugiyals. I also catch glimpses of the chhai-footiyah or paved trekking routes through the trees. Dugalbitta (has a campsite) and Chopta look heavenly. I’ve been reading about treks in these areas and now, having seen them a bit, I’m dying to do one. I just have no one to do a trek with. Then comes the cherry on the cake – a super-stunner of a panoramic view of several snow clad peaks at arms’ reach. There’s Chaukhamba, Kedar, Neelkanth, Bandarpooch, and even Nanda Devi in there, I’m told (video). I’m so taken by the view that I forget I should be keeping some visual record of this. I manage to shoot some really shaky video
  • The bus stops in the Chopta market (couple of dhabas) for a chai break. It’s freezing here. I walk out a bit and attempt to shoot rhododendron pinkness. When I get back to the bus an old man gifts me a bunch and says that it makes a sweet honey and a healthy drink. He shows me the thickened sap sticking to his hands
  • Close to Mandal the forest starts dwindling. Mandal looks flat like a village in the plains, but (and this is one of the things I love about the Himalayas!) no sooner are you under the illusion of being ‘back on ground’ that you turn a corner and find yourself looking at a valley way, way, way down
  • Gopeshwar has a full on ‘back to the plains’ feel – mean people, congested, dirty, hurried. I get off the bus because I mistake it for Chamoli. This time I get the seat next to the driver on a mini bus (Rs. 40) to Karnaprayag. Several young men try to stick to me but I’m tired and can’t be bothered. By now it’s scorching hot. At Chamoli, when the bus refuses to restart, the driver pulls a wire out of the dashboard, and for rest of the journey holds the wire in his right hand and surfs the winding mountain roads with his left hand, only. Impressive and scary
  • After Devprayag and Rudraprayag I was expecting Karnaprayag to be another dramatic confluence full of stories. Karnaprayag is a depressing little town lined with coke/chips shops and a makeshift taxi/bus stand. The only thing going for it is the emerald green of the Alaknanda in the afternoons. My stay is further soured by the kitchen staff at the GMVN TRH (who have never stepped outside Chamoli district), who lecture me on why it’s unsafe for women to travel alone. The reception guys and shopkeepers outside are quite ok, and help me out with where and when I can get transportation to Nainital tomorrow morning. The general bad energy makes me stick to my phone and laptop rest of the evening
  • I’ve got a room for Rs. 225 at the GMVN TRH. Clean, with sitting and dressing areas. No hot water though. Dal chawal lunch comes to Rs. 75. For dinner I buy bread, butter, jam, chips and water
  • More photo sorting and daily logging

Rudraprayag

Photos

Day 29

April 11

Rishikesh – Rudraprayag

  • Shared sumo from Rishikesh town to Rudraprayag (Rs 170). We leave at 7 am and follow the Ganga up north-east. It’s a lovely turquoise green in the morning light. Spot some beautiful beaches that the big rafting agencies use as camps. I would love to do a long rafting trip, where you row all day and stop at a camp each evening. Maybe it should be my prize for learning to swim, hahaha
  • Feel the thrill once more, of passing through places I’ve never seen – Brahmapuri, Shivpuri (centre for the shorter rafting trips), Kaudilya, Vyasi, Devprayag (looks like a postcard town, confluence of Alaknanda and Ganga, I think; it’s a little confusing as to what really makes up the Ganga; all this whiler I was thinking the Bhagirathi was called Ganga south of Rishikesh, but I guess the Ganga is like the mega river that encompasses all rivers), Teen dhara [where we stop for breakfast – bun (Rs. 5) + banana (saved from yesterday’s ashram brekky) + kurkure (Rs. 15), Shrinagar
  • Everyone, except the driver and I, puke their guts out. I distract myself with spinal twists to look at the river through non-puke parts of the windows
  • Just as I begin to realize that the entire stretch has been completely phirang and Bong free, a little round Bong man and his dupatta-pinned little Bong wife get into the cab. They say Rudraparayag the Bong way and impress me by not puking and share a headphone over Kishore Kumar Rabindra Sangeet
  • Beyond Shrinagar the Alaknanda valley is pretty much screwed up from a hydel project
  • We make it from Rishikesh to Rudraprayag in 5 hrs (in spite of a half hour road block before Shrinagar)
  • I’m happy to have toned down my backpack to a weight where I can carry it uphill effortlessly. Check in to the GMVN Tourist Rest House (aka Rudra) dorm (Rs. 120). They have no electricity till 1 pm and you have to ask someone to fetch you water for the loo, but they have the best view in town of the Alaknanda-Mandakini confluence
  • I sleep till 3 pm then lunch on Gauhat ki Dal (Uttarakhand cuisine; gauhat = kind of greens) + mixed veg (potato, cauliflower, beans) + rotis + rice (Rs. 70)
  • Walk in search of the spot where Jim Corbett killed the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag. Before I can say Jim Corb… people tell me it’s 2 kms away in the direction of Shrinagar, in Gulabrai. On the way I meet an army guy from Karnataka who gives very precise directions to the place
  • It’s strangely exciting to touch a bit of history that has been the stuff of stories so far. My dad used to tell us Corbett tales as kids and we’d love listening to the same ones over and over because he’d create so much atmosphere and build in so much detail about the positions and movements of the hunter and the kill. It was like we’d been there. And that’s how it felt today. Although there’s a highway between the tree (where Corbett waited on the machan) and the spot where the leopard was shot (which is now a platform with a stone tablet) I knew how it all happened
  • Start feeling a little queasy on the way back. Meet 2 sadhus who are eager to reach Rudraprayag and find food and stay. I assure them there is plenty. Pass through town and across the Alaknanda bridge to the Narad temple and confluence. Everyone on the way help out with directions. Monkeys jump out from buildings. Start feeling ill before I reach the bottom and turn back. A shopkeeper asks me where I’m from and congratulates me on my good Hindi for a Bong. By now I’ve broken out in a cold sweat and feel faint and make my way up slowly. Just as I reach the rest house parking lot my stomach churns and I throw up into the Alaknanda way down below, retch after retch after dreaded retch. Maybe I caught too much sun, or it’s the effect of non-sattvic food after 2 weeks, or I just experienced too much puking today and had to follow suit, who knows?
  • Sleep till 8 pm. Wake to a message from Jedi. Message back. Have a bath. There’s water in the tap now. The dorm has shared bathrooms outside, but there’s no one to share them with. Call dad. He’s back home from the hospital and feeling better. He’s delighted I went to Gulabrai. Ask for jam-butter sandwiches and sweet lime juice. Call Jedi. Transfer photos to laptop. No internet in Rudraprayag. Not sure if there’ll be any ahead
  • Realize that I’ve already created a lot of karma by wishing to see the places I wish to see. Oh no! Many more lifetimes now, to see the world

Rishikesh

Photos

Day 12

March 25

Haridwar – Rishikesh

  • The ghats look busier than the last 2 days
  • Breakfast – chhola batura (Rs. 35). The only times I’ve had fresh fruits/veggies in the last 11 days is when I had an Israeli lunch in Benaras, plus all meals in Delhi
  • Take a cycle rickshaw to the highway (Rs. 20) + shared auto to Raiwal (Rs. 15) + shared auto to Rishikesh (Rs. 10) + shared auto to Ram Jhoola (Rs. 10) + shared auto to Laxman Jhoola (Rs. 10)
  • Walk around both sides of the Ganga/Bhagirathi near Laxman Jhoola looking for a place. Everything is full. It’s apparently high season. Grab the only free place for Rs. 200/day near Laxman Jhoola temple on the duller side of the jhoola. It’s dungeon like, no windows, attached loo, plug point inside room has conked off, have to return by 8.30 pm every evening. They have a terrace where I can do yoga
  • Go off in search of Yoga classes. Walk all the way across Laxman Jhoola, down Swarg Ashram, across Ram Jhoola – around 2.5 km one way. This side of the Ganga is really nice to walk in once you cross the temples and tourist trap shops near Lax. Jh.
  • The jhoolas bounce and are almost always super crowded, so you’re trying to make your way through the slow walkers and photo posers, trying to keep your balance, while the Ganga/Bhagirathi rages below
  • Yoga Niketan offers a minimum stay of 12 days@Rs. 450/day, drop-in any day – 3 meals, 2 two-hour yoga classes, lectures, satsang, etc. Karma yoga on Sundays only helping clean the dining hall and kitchen
  • On the way back, discover Trika Yoga through a vegetable vendor near Swarg Ashram Gaddi Hall. I had been wanting to do their Tantra workshop and my email to them has bounced back
  • Buy a crunchy sliced cucumber w/masala (Rs. 5) from the veg guy, and a jar of Shatavarigulam from an Ayurveda shop
  • Locate important stuff like the post office, ATMs and Siva Book Shop (which I dare not enter at first, but which kidnaps me eventually and I’m now the proud owner of Shiva – An Introduction, by Devdutt Pattanaik)
  • Locals are not convinced with my hindi. They think I’m a phirang who’s learnt hindi. On the other extreme, a few people act like I’m not white enough and thus not worth their while
  • Meet a sadhu who’s embroidering a lovely bag for himself
  • It’s hot, hot, hot. Which reminds me thnere’re things in my backpack I haven’t used so far – warm clothes, shorts, sunglasses, daypack, torch
  • Dinner – tomato mozzarella salad (Rs. 50). This was cheaper than the thali on the menu and all I had. Food budget busted!
  • Almost finish reading the Shiva book which is full of fun ‘facts’

Day 13

March 26

Rishikesh

  • Wake up early, get ready and leave for Ram Jhoola 2.5 kms away. It’s windy and chilly, but not chilly enough to wear warm clothes. The roads are empty
  • Drop in for Trika Yoga’s drop-in class. While we’re waiting for the instructors I talk to a lady from Norway who was in India for a week and was supposed to go to Manila on business after that, but she didn’t and ended up staying here longer. And now she was into her third day in Trika’s one month basic course and on a macrobiotic diet and loving it
  • There’s some noisy puja on near the centre so the class moves to Justine’s terrace, which is a lovely little place with a superb Ram Jhoola/river view
  • I like the class. They do a very slow Surya Namaskar emphasizing on your connection with the sun, and teach you how to create energy circuits of your body while holding asanas. Not much attention is given to technique. All my pranik healing practice in drawing, channelising and sending out energy comes to good use here. After class everything looks brighter!
  • On the way back to the centre (to drop off the yoga mats) chat with a German guy who came to India for a month and eneded up staying for 3
  • Lunch – veg & yak cheese sandwich (Rs. 45) + lemon mint juice (Rs. 35) at Namaste Café, a place run by a Nepali guy
  • Pick up another book from Siva Books – Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine. It’s about the Mahavidyas – 10 offbeat (scary, polluted, erotic) but super powerful goddesses like Kali, Chinnamasta, etc.
  • Read and nap
  • Attend Trika’s 4 pm class. This is held in the original venue, a cool, shady hall
  • Dinner – heavenly thali at Chotiwala (Rs. 75)
  • Bump into my friend the veg vendor and buy 3 bananas (Rs. 5) for breakfast
  • Talk to Jedi to decide if I should do the super-expensive Tantra workshop. I should
  • More reading and sleep

Day 14

March 27

Rishikesh

  • Run around looking for some place to stay closer to Trika. The Yatri Niwas is full, but they recommend I look in Gita Ashram nearby. A brahmachari there explains that they don’t give out rooms to singles, only to married couples and families. He’s quite helpful, though and suggests a few more places I can try around there. I’m about to leave, when an idiot reading the paper starts moralizing on why I shouldn’t be traveling alone and how I’m a liability to the people I’ll be staying with. I’m forced to snub him mid-way and walk off
  • Am pissed off about all prejudiced people everywhere, but then I find the Nepali man who owns Namaster Café and he says I’m in luck, he has a free room. It’s bright and cheerful, with big windows and a river view, hot and cold shower, a plug point inside the room that works, a full length mirror, a double bed and it’s still 200 bucks
  • I dance all the way to my soon to be ex room, pack up, check out, and trudge back to Namaste, have a long bath and hairwash and drop in to the next door dhaba for their special thali (Rs. 50)
  • This is followed up with a visit to the laundry (white pants and t-shirt require some servicing; when I ask for a token they say I can come in and find my stuff for myself the next day) and a long nap
  • Catch up on logging
  • Drop in at Trika to sign up for the Tantra course and inquire about timings
  • Enroute, an extended family of langoors have taken over a mango orchard and been hassling people all day. In the morning they jumped on a sadhu and took away his bananas. The sadhu reprimands them individually. Now, in the evening, they snatch a bag of oranges from 2 little girls who give out bloodcurdling screams. They sit on the bonnet of a jeep and screech at the driver. The entire road turns into a circus
  • The cyber café I find does not allow pen drive use so I can’t update the blog
  • Hungry, I look at a few slate board menus and then settle for the place I’m staying at. Dinner – stir fried tofu and vegetables w/ garlic bread (Rs. 90)
  • Mark, an Englishman who’s always hanging out in the restaurant, recommends I visit Srilanka. He has been traveling all over south east asia for the last 2 years. And firmly believes China is planning to attack and take over India. Tribal elders in Nepal told him that ex-Chinese army men were coming to Nepal and trekking/mountaineering all over the Himalayas. They’re learning up the mountains, India’s last defence. A lot of Chinese posing as Tibetans have been buying vast amounts of property all over Nepal. Plus the Chinese government has offered to build highways in Nepal. Mark loves India and doesn’t want us to be ruled by China, but he feels we will probably lose because we are so laid back. The west is too emasculated to help us. He’s getting the word around so everyone stays prepared
  • Catch up with Jedi
  • What’s Rishikesh been like so far? I like that the Ganga’s just a glance-out-of-a-window away at most times. It’s very crowded. Mainly with phirangs who’re staying here and learning some form of yoga/healing/massage. There’re also plenty of pilgrims from Bengal, Bihar, UP and obviously Uttarkhand who litter the streets with orange peel. They also get lost pretty often (loudspeaker announcements). Then there are the sadhus – bearded and hairless, institutionalized and free agents, sweet and shady. The shops sell all manners of touristy things like pajamas and bags and musical bowls. Not a bad place to be, though not as idyllic as I expected
  • Btw, I’ve only shot one picture since I’ve landed up!

Day 15

March 28

Rishikesh

  • All excited about the Tantra workshop. Read about Kali; get ready; long phone chat with Jedi; I want to see his morning dance moves
  • Alas, the Tantra workshop is cancelled! They give me my money back and tell me I should keep a look out for the same workshop in Bhagsu and also in Bangkok
  • Brunch – delicious mega-stuffed aloo paratha + subzee + dahi (Rs. 30) at a tiny dhaba near Ram Jhoola
  • Now I need to make some plans for what to do next
  • Jedi looks at Siva Books online collection and sends me a wishlist. I rush with it to their shop and spend the entire afternoon browsing. Now Jedi’s yoga collection has grown by 9 – Anatomy & Physiology of Yogic Practices, Yoga Nidra, Sarada Tilaka Tantram, Tantra the Path of Ecstasy, Ayurveda & the Mind, A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga & Kriya, Yoga for Pregnancy, Kid Yoga, Secrets of Marma. I conveniently erase the cost from memory
  • One of interesting features of the Sarada Tilaka Tantram is the practice of subjugation of women!
  • Long afternoon chat with Jedi. I still haven’t planned the next step in this trip
  • Step out for food and bump into Shaswaty who used to be a junior in both QMS and NID. She’s quit her textile design jobs and going to be shooting stills for an on-location feature film. Spend a nice evening with her and her parents, walking from Laxman Jhoola to the Ganga aarti at Parmarth Niketan. Shaswaty catches up, shoots and shops on the way. We take chai and lemonade breaks in the middle. Her dad buys a gigantic singing bowl that unlocks the 7 main chakras
  • A naked baba draws a lot of attention on the road and creates a traffic jam. He forces himself on to an elderly phirang lady’s bicycle. She turns red and refuses to drive him
  • The langoors have moved to a house up the road, bugging an old lady on her terrace
  • Dinner – thali (Rs. 50) at the morning paratha place. Finger-licking, lip-smacking goodness
  • Walk through Swarg Ashram in the dark for the first time. Looks like another planet
  • Drop in to the laundry to pick up my white t-shirt and pajamas, which I have to pick out of a room full of wannabe yogis’ white t-shirts and pajamas

Day 16

March 29

Rishikesh

  • Breakfast while I wait for the packing shop and the post office to open – aloo parathas + sabzi + dahi (Rs. 35)The packing guy in the little green packing/ weighing/ STD/ ISD/ photocopy/ fax/ gangajal shop does a great job (Rs. 50) with Jedi’s books
  • The Laxman Jhoola post office has a huge sign saying parcels to all over the world can be booked there, but when I say Bangalore they turn their noses up at me and I have to go to Ram Jhoola post office. I meet my old friend, the Ram Jhoola postmaster, who so kindly advised me on how I can send my aunt’s walking stick to Delhi. He invites me right inside and my parcel is speed posted for Rs. 450
  • Take a shared auto (Rs. 10) to Yatra bus stand to enquire about bus timings to other towns in Garwhal. Much equanimity is lost as the driver alternately digs his elbow into my breast and tells me to sit ‘comfortably’, and then drops me off after Muni ki Reti and points out the bus stand in the far sunny distance
  • There are hourly buses to Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag and Chamba from 4 am to 4 pm
  • Go in search of a regular medical shop (ayurvedic shops are aplenty)
  • Return to Laxman Jhoola by shared auto (Rs. 10), and have the best tangy, spicy, loaded with crushed mint nimboo soda (Rs. 10) ever
  • Sleep for 4 straight hours
  • Walk to Ram Jhoola for some internet with USB (most of Rishikesh doesn’t allow the use of pen drives, or even if they do they have a strict don’t upload/download policy). My machine takes ages to open up pen drive contents so I give up and leave
  • The Chinese have kicked off the invasion with a subtle zoo-attack. The langoors are still at it, snatching ice creams from kids, lifting trinkets from the roadside stalls, driving the terror of the jungle deep into peoples’ hearts. Ram Jhoola has been taken over by saggy boobed guerilla monkeys. They pull peoples’ hair demanding fried gram and nuts, and try to trip them over by grabbing their legs. I’m saved by a lady ahead of me who draws full attention from a nasty mama. The monkey pulls off her ghungat and latches on to her head. A huge black bull stands in the middle of the bridge trying to goad and kick. I manage to ward off all attacks. A liitle beyond the bridge another bull refuses to let a guy get on his bike. Freaky
  • Have one more nimboo soda. Addictive
  • The beach looks inviting. Some people play music. A lot of people are still bathing. The water is cool but the sand underneath is even cooler. This and Siva Books are the only places I like in Rishikesh, so far. A kid standing in the Ganga right under the Ram Jhoola bridge has water coming up to his shins. Doesn’t seem that shallow from the look of it. I leave when a group of men prop themselves next to me and start speculating loudly on whether I’m phirang or Indian and commenting on what I’m wearing (incredibly dull t-shirt and shapeless pants). I leave. I guess that’s what they wanted
  • I don’t understand why men can’t let you alone. They don’t approach other men, or ‘accompanied’ women. What do they get out of this? Why does it always reek of hostility? Why don’t women behave like this? Do I deserve this when I am not bothering anyone or invading their privacy, just being quietly by myself? What is so strange and threatening about one having a good time by one’s self?
  • Long, dusty dinner walk through pilgrim populace, over 3 venues – delish avocado salad (Rs. 70) @ Ganga View Cafe, samosa + chai (Rs. 12) @ dhaba next door to Namaste Cafe, so-so apple roll (Rs. 20) @ Namaste CafÈ’s German Bakery
  • Phone call updates to Chhoto Pishi, Ma and Jedi
  • Tomorrow I check in to Yoga Niketan

Days 17 – 28
March 30 – April 10
Yoga Niketan, Ram Jhoola, Rishikesh

  • Clubbing ashram days together because it’s pretty much the same routine everyday. It did vary greatly in terms of inner experiences, but I won’t be mentioning that in detail here
  • I have a great room. Plenty of natural light. There’s also a desk and a chair. The bathroom is marbled. Pretty ostentatious for an ashram! Later I see the plaque outside, each room has been donated by a disciple. There’s also a geyser and a cooler. Not bad at all for this plus 3 meals plus yoga/meditation classes at Rs.450/day
  • Meditation: twice/day, 5 – 6 am & 6.30 – 7.30 pm; guided by a swamiji, touching upon a different aspect of meditating in every session, e.g. chakras, mantras, breath modulation, etc.
  • Hatha Yoga: twice/day, 6.30 – 7.30 am & 5 – 6 pm; the instructors are a bunch of young guys, not as sophisticated as teachers in Isha and Sivananda, but with great happy energy, each bringing their unique personalities to class. Enjoyed these sessions a lot…especially the ones where SS Rana literally wrung us out and put us out to dry with silly ‘what hit us?’ grins on our faces. Was also fun to watch a super nervous trainee, Angshuman, bloom into a confident, gentle and witty yoga teacher over just a week. Learnt some new stuff – the eagle pose, and minor technical adjustments to perfect the ‘downward facing dog’ pose in Surya Namaskar, and Surya Namaskar that starts with Vajrasana followed by child’s pose, and lots of variations on Trikonasana, and names of asanas – ‘downward facing dog’, ‘horse rising’, Tadasana, Dandasana. I want a class to join in Bangalore!
  • Lecture/Q & A on Indian Philosophy: 3.15 – 4 pm
  • Satsang/Kirtan: 9 pm on Mondays and Fridays; the mic got passed around in a circle followed by prasad mithai; so far I’ve sung ‘Yamuna teer vihari’ and ‘Jaya jaya shankara’
  • Food was another exciting part of the stay here – fresh, wholesome, simple, tasty, homegrown veggies, and hearty and generous kitchen staff. Breakfast: 8 am; fruits, tea and any one of these – poha, sweet semia, upma, dalia, channa. Lunch: 12 noon; rice, rotis (choice of ghee or sukha or both), dal, sabjee. Dinner: 8 pm; same as lunch. Treats: tomato soup at Thursday dinner and a mithai at Saturday lunch. Mealtimes were also major socializing sessions, where everyone caught up with each others’ inner and outer travels, although there were signs saying ‘Silence please in dinning hall’
  • Finished reading all 50 issues of Love & Rockets Vol. 1 and the divine feminine book. Started reading a Theosophical Society book on the Gayatri mantra and a glossary of yogic terms from Bihar School of Yoga. The library here isn’t that great and most of the books are in Japanese
  • Langoor families pass through in the afternoons and I feed them oranges saved from breakfast. They are very well behaved and accept the fruit quietly in their palms, across a railing of course
  • On the free Sunday Patricia and I go for a ghat walk down to the capsule bridge and then all the way back up the other bank to Ram Jhoola. The water is clean and tempting and people are in full on bathing mode. We walk the ashram stretch hopping in to ask each of them about stay and cost and yoga classes. Parmarth Niketan are the only guys who behave civilly but they have so many public events going on all the time that their ashram activities are often disrupted. Plus it’s super crowded and nowhere near peaceful. At one nameless place 2 TV watching swamis refuse to speak to us and drive us out with angry expressions. Gita Bhavan (which with it’s Aloe vera and amla juice signs dupes us into thinking it has something positive going on) shouts at us that it’s a ‘hindi speaking only’ ashram. We head for the beach. The water is freezing. I just sit in it till my waist, till my toes go numb. Patricia braves a full dip. The sun is so hot we are dry in minutes. There’s some mysterious blue colour in ger palms. We think it’s the cold water or the Ganga sand but it turns out to be dye from her bag. A group of guys want to talk to and have their picture taken with Patricia. She says this is the first time it’s happening with her fully dressed (usually it’s when she’s wearing a bikini). On the way back we have lemonade and 100 gms of kaju katli each
  • Met some beautiful people with beautiful smiles. Patricia from Florence – vivacious, loves chai, very well informed in yogic practices, lived and worked and learnt and taught English in London and so fluent that you’d never guess she’s not a native speaker, smitten by how beautiful Indians are, washed away all her sins on the beach here, and helped me out with some great Kathmandu and pasta tips. Rebecca from Sydney (now moving to London) – cheerful, loves her sleep, coloured her hair black, came to attend a friend’s wedding, wants to visit so many places in India that she plans to return again and again, had an ayurvedic massage and found certain bits ‘inappropriate’. Sudhankar from Delhi – quiet and funny and spiritually advanced, great to talk to about anything under the sun, not trying to quit smoking, is the only person I’ve met who has good things to say about Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and makes complete sense. Sabori from Tokyo – soft, conscientious, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa devotee, has visited almost every Ramakrishna Mission (and Ramakrishna related place) in India. Radhe from Vrindavan – made all newcomers feel super welcome but pissed off people by clicking photos of them doing yoga, took lessons from me on CD/DVD ripping and multiplying (he has a huge collection of Yoga related stuff), real chotiwala pandit. Simone, Dutch, bookshop browser, has an Italian boy’s name, found the yoga guru of her yoga teacher in Holland by asking around in Rishikesh, going on to Dharamshala and Ladakh with her boyfriend; Then there were the ones I didn’t speak to much but exchanged smiles with regularly – Frank & Natasha who drove here all the way from Germany; the Russians; the Korean couple (radiologist husband, composer wife) from the US; many many many Japanese, always women
  • My sis is looking out to do her Masters and my dad has a mini seizure. I need to work. I ask Sarit and he says yes. I’m relieved
  • Last day in Rishikesh I shoot a bit (I delete a batch of great Ganga pics from my phone and am kicking myself!). Some sadhus are boiling coins in pots of water but they aren’t very clear explaining why, plus the minute you look at one of them they start hassling you for money, so i run away. A phirang standing on the ghat with his backpack asks me what date it is
  • The night before I leave the ashram is all decked up and busy in anticipation of a swamiji’s visit. The kitchen co-ordinator, a sweet kind happy man, and an incredibly lively bhajan singer, gives me 3 helpings of everything because he says he can’t be sure I’ll be eating well once I’m out. Benches and tables in the dining room are pushed to the corners to accommodate visiting disciples, so we have to crawl under to get in/out. We joke about how this was the objective build up to all the yoga we’d been taught so far and do our favourite stretchasanas as we crawl out from under
  • Mithaiwallahs make amartis outside the kitchen. Patricia (aka Prema), Simone and I stand and watch hoping they will offer us some but they never do. We are in awe of their skill. These guys run and get their cameras. The old uncleji from Delhi (who, earlier that day had asked me what I’m studying and that if I need anything in India I should as him for help) tries to misinform the phirangs that these are jalebis, and when I point out that they are in fact amartis, he goes like ‘what do they know!’ Well, considering that they know way more about Indian philosophy than he ever will, I make sure that they know their jalebis from their amartis. There’s some plan of stealing into the kitchen that night, as the amartis soak in their sugar syrup
  • Patricia and I are dying for sweet by now so we decide to go out and get some. The guard doesn’t want to let us out at first because it’s 9.30 and the gate shuts at 9.45 but he sees how desperate we are and asks us to make a run for it. We get badam kulfis and chocolate near the auto stand and are back in 7 minutes
  • Patricia shows me a map of Kathmandu and points out places she enjoyed. She also passes on contacts of dal-bhaat places and mandala painters. We make plans for her next visit to India and my visit to Florence! I already start missing our conversations on yoga, food and travel. And I miss the ashram and its staff too

Haridwar

Photos

Day 10

March 23

New Delhi – Haridwar

  • Almost everyone in my compartment of the Dehradun Shatabdi is going to Kumbh Mela. I feel clear headed. Thanks Jedi for the new phone and headphones, they’ve kept me good company
  • Spot a train Bandra – Haridwar – Bandra. The aunty and uncle next to me say it takes 42 hours. They also point out a vada pau walla on Muzzafarnagar platform
  • Haridwar station is neat and unchaotic in spite of the crowds and has a lot of book shops
  • Shivani has already given me directions to an ashram in Sapt Sarovar that belongs to someone in her family. It’s roughly 8 km away from Har ki Pauri and is pretty easy to find. The lady who looks after the place was expecting me. She warns me that they can’t provide food and that the shared autos to ‘town’ won’t be running because of Ram Navami. I decide to find a place near the main ghats
  • Finding a place turns out to be a bitch. There are all these odd rules – no singles, only voters’ ID will do as identification (instead of a valid passport!), etc. I’m not sure if these have been imposed as police security measures or these guys just make them up to avoid keeping someone they can’t put in a box. Everyone’s demanding outrageous rates. I also constantly have to prove that I’m not a foreigner. I seriously hope Haridwar is not like this in non-Kumbh season because then it would be a sick place to visit
  • Finally one man is kind enough to set up a one bed room with an attached loo for Rs. 700 (budget blast apart!) but I have to take it for 2 days or nothing. 1 in around 30 places I asked at, so I take it (and do not regret it – all the ghats are walkable from here, it’s in a bustling market lane, the loo has a geiser, and I have all the electricity I need)
  • Hundreds of people bathe in the Ganga in silence and no one hassles me to buy their stuff. There’re hardly any phirangs. It’s very different from Benaras. I spot a lady sadhu and a baby sadhu. A white dog bathes tummy deep
  • Mom calls with news of a Rajdhani accident in Bihar and a fire accident in Kolkata. I assure her I’m part of neither and safe in Haridwar. She listens to the Ganga through the phone
  • The Ganga flows real fast here and has a very strong current. The water is grey-green and tempting so I keep taking stops to bathe my knees in its coolth
  • Hordes of people head for Har ki Pauri to see the Ganga aarti. It’s difficult to shoot, there’s hardly any elbow space and too much jostling. Still, it’s not like how I’d imagined it from the movies – not stampeding multitudes
  • They bring out silver idols of Ganga, Durga and Lakshmi in silver palanquins. People sitting in the aisles are kicked aside. Temple crew are nasty. Rich patrons get their own ‘boxes’
  • There’s an Adi Ganga Mandir, a Pouranik Shri Ganga Mata, a Mukhya Ganga Mandir – each one claiming to be the real thing. Like Chotiwala and Pracheen Chotiwala.
  • A policeman gurgles to me to take off my slippers. I think this means I’ve been mistaken for a foreigner again. Surprisingly there’s no monitoring of slippers. I take some badly composed photos of the crowds on the ghat across and the Raja Birla clock tower
  • Hindu temples suffer some strange paranoia that terrorists are dying to blow them up. Aren’t there like too many of them for that? It must be confusing for the ‘terrorists’
  • An ‘announcer’, meanwhile, manages to create enough terror by screeching in his loudspeaker voice and spewing paan on everyone’s heads. He demands a minimum of Rs. 101 as offering to the temple for carrying on their puja, lifeguard and lost & found babies services. A lady meekly inquires if she can give 20 bucks and he roars red paan juice over her face in a grand no. Donors get their names and addresses announced out loud, a little like having your b’day at Pizza Hut
  • Places of religion are a bit disgusting that way. They don’t feel particularly holy. It’s really just people’s personal faith that’s helping them tolerate the shoddy treatment and associated nonsense
  • When the priests/sadhus walk down to do the aarti people fall over each other trying to touch their feet. A Gujrati lady behind me gives a high five to another lady in front of me while she screams into my ear of her foot-grabbing success
  • Guess there’s just one microphone doing the rounds as the aarti bhajan regularly makes way for lost baby announcements and temple publicity
  • The crowds do ‘Gange maiyya ki jai’ Mexican waves
  • Dinner – samosas and halwa (Rs. 29). The guy says I should come back and try the chandrakala
  • Everyone I meet – hotel keepers, eatery folk, policemen, tourists – are shocked that I’m on my own and keep saying that I shouldn’t have come alone. It’s strange because it feels pretty safe
  • I float the customary flower and lamp basket in the river

Day 11

March 24

Haridwar

  • Today is Ram Navami and a shahi snaan day at Kumbh. I have my first Ganga bath ever. The current is too strong for me to stand in the water so I hang on to the chains and sit slide in. The water is ice cold and refreshing. I’m tempted to dip again and again. Flowers, leaves and underwear flow by. I sit in the sun for a few minutes and take another dip. Then I sit in the sun and dry off. Meet some fellow bathers who are Bong. They are shocked that I’m traveling alone. They ask if I feel scared
  • Being alone gives me certain priviledges. Like, the police don’t allow anyone to jump fences and take shortcuts, but they let me. They also shooed away a dog that was jumping on me
  • Delight my parents and aunts by telling them about the Ganga bath
  • Walk around the bazaar around Har ki Pauri. Lunch – so so thali (Rs. 30), gigantic yummy lassi (Rs. 20). Pick up a walking stick for mejo pishi. The pickle shops look delectable. I wouldn’t mind selling food in a place like this
  • Sleep the afternoon away and then do some furtive logging. There’s been a back log of 4 days!
  • Things have changed. I have changed. There used to be a time when I would feel anxious if I didn’t get ‘good’ photos of a place. Now I’ve gotten better at passing through places and letting places pass through me
  • Famished. Food is really expensive here. Aloo tikki chaat (Rs. 57), kulfi-falooda (Rs. 30)
  • Bump into the freakishly tall guy I saw with Aarenfrieder this morning. Aarenfrieder is from Iceland and was in my Sivananda TTC class.  He tells me she’s left for Rishikesh. Maybe I’ll see her there
  • Walk the back alleys between the Ganga and upper Road. They’re mostly filled with bazaars. Discover a trust belonging to Rani Ahilyabai’s family. Everything to do with the Holkars has taken on a new significance
  • Saw albatross today. W-i-i-i-d-e
  • Saw the young and middle aged torturing the old and the very young by force bathing them. Pleas were ignored
  • Usually Sadhus cross the Ganga hanging on to the chains under the bridges, but this year the water is too harsh. The loudspeakers announce that bathing has been disallowed for the evening as 3 people have been washed away and rescue operations are on
  • I sit and watch the Ganga. Her speed is still new and fascinating to me. Watch Ganga aarti at the Vishnu ghat. It’s small and private here. Float a tokdi. They’re bigger and cheaper in Haridwar. I can never figure out how these things work
  • Find what seems to be the only internet place in the ghats area. Rs. 40/hr!

New Delhi

Days 8 & 9

March 21 & 22

New Delhi

  • 2 days of feasting and family. Apologies to everyone else. I’ll meet you when I’m here again soon, for longer
  • My Aunts share interesting family history from Benaras – chhoto pishi was born there, there’s a road named after my great grand uncle Lalit Behari Sen Roy, and the Ahilyabai Ghat was built by my great grandfather Khirod Behari Sen Roy. He was the Chief Civil Engineer of the Holkar Estate of the Maharaja of Indore
  • Shubho da shares a YouTube video that was conceived and created on the ghats of Benaras
  • Reunion with Max, mejo pishi’s german shepherd and my most favourite dog ever. Meet Juno, Guru da and Shivani’s beautiful and spirited great dane, for the first time
  • Share plenty of yoga/ayurveda/health trivia with my aunts. They love this!
  • They cook up a storm of all the things I like to eat
  • It’s good to see Saumya da, Guru da and Shivani. I’ve always been a fan of my dadas. It’s good to be with family. With every interaction you learn new stuff. The unfathomable depths of being human
  • Saumya da has this awesome book on the Munger/Bihar yoga school. I need to photocopy this
  • Night before I leave, Saumya da takes us all out for a grand Chinese dinner. He tells us exciting stories of his near death experiences in the Ganga. My aunts tell me to be very careful bathing in the Ganga and to hold on to the chains. There is much concern over whether enough vegetarian dishes have been ordered for me. Do I miss non-veg? I don’t. I totally remember how great it tastes but the sting of death looms larger. Why did I switch over? I list out some of the reasons. The pork chops look amazing though, and everyone says they are, indeed, perfectly done. Rest in peace piggy

Benaras

Photos

Day 1

March 14

Kolkata – Benaras

  • Desperately happy to escape all things Bong, I bye-bye colonial Calcutta
  • On the platform a shopkeeper chases a cockroach with a screwdriver
  • Train pulls out to ‘Don’t worry, be happy’
  • Fellow travelers represent a range of demographics – middle-aged medical representative, mom and 12-year-old son, college girl, young couple with a wrinkly little newborn.  In Dhanbad they get exchanged for a giggly family of seven, and an angry young man in a silky blue shirt who keeps switching between his wife (strict and disturbed) and his girlfriend (strict and jealous) on the phone
  • Pretty lyrical train route: Howrah – Bardhaman – Durgapur – Asansol – Dhanbad – Parasnath – Hazaribagh Rd. – Komdera – Anugraha Narayan Rd. – Dehri on Sone – Bhabua Rd. – Mughal Sarai – Kashi – Varanasi
  • Eat home food on a train after ages. 6 grandmom’s aloo parathas – 3 for breakfast, 3 for lunch. Shiny black coated police sniffer dog wants them too
  • Must be mindful of carrying change in 10’s and 20’s. It’s difficult to follow our ‘feed the hungry’ rule with one 500 rupee note
  • Cold, white sun. Sink into the green carpet fields
  • Every time we pass some obscure little station I feel like a kid – every place holds so much thrill, so many secrets. When this feeling dies I guess that’s when I’ll stop traveling
  • North India is truly filthy. It’s the hard truth
  • I wonder if the music shows on my face because I often lose myself in a song
  • The train is running an hour late, but Mr. Lance from Yogi Lodge has someone waiting for me at the station. I have the same feeling I had in New York. I haven’t seen this entire place yet but I already love it. The dazzling lights. The crazy rush. My evening is brightened further by the auto gentleman’s ‘welcome to varanasi’. The station is like a gigantic dorm. I’m freaked. Dodge our way out. The traffic is freaky too.
  • Yogi Lodge is peaceful. The manager, Sanjeev, who has lived in Calcutta for 30 years is super helpful, says I can use the monkey infested terrace for yoga and warns me against touts of all kinds.
  • Dinner – dal, chapatti, salad at the lodge
  • Sleep off almost immediately in my triple bed room. I’ll get a single room tomorrow

Day 2

March 15

Benaras

  • There’s only enough room for pranayama in the room. The terrace is locked and everyone is sleeping. Later Sanjeev says I can wake him up anytime, even if it’s 4 in the morn
  • Walk to Dashashwamedh Ghat and then down the ghats on the west of it, up till Assi Ghat
  • I walk around in wide-eyed wonder. There are a zillion photo opportunities and I miss a real camera
  • I make a few acquaintances – Ashok the lazy dhobi and his youngest daughter Sonali aka Amrita soak in the sun; Nandini the diya seller and budding scholar poses for a picture before rushing off to school
  • I’m constantly asked which country I’m from and if I wish to have a bath or a boat ride. My interrogators look pleased the minute I assure them in Hindi that I am, indeed, Indian. They immediately stop selling and start chatting
  • People tend to ask for money for taking their picture, so I start asking them right away ‘aap paise mangenge kya?’ to which they are forced to say no, and now I have a trick
  • The other side of the Ganga looks odd to me. I was expecting to see a mirror image of this side. Instead it looks like vast sand banks with some sort of foliage dim in the distance behind them, yet boats are lodged there. Later, in the evening light, I realize there’s civilization/towns beyond the sand banks, and see people walking to them
  • The walk makes me hungry. I go off in search of the much recommended, but as it turns out, elusive, Marwari Bhojanalay. Every one I ask has different directions to it. I have a cool stop – mango lassi (Rs. 10) – at a roadside stall run by a bunch of extremely well-mannered boys. Finally I spot a Bong hotel and drop in for a Niramish Ahaar (veg meal) (Rs. 35) – rice, dal, aloor jhuri bhaja, shukto and borir jhol. Return to the lodge and sleep off immediately
  • There’s no power and my phone and laptop have died. Can’t shoot Ganga aarti today but go and watch it anyways. Take full energy advantage of the chanting and satsang-like situation. The crowd is very disciplined but a little too dead. Hardly anyone is clapping to the bhajans. People watch the aarti from boats as well
  • I like that they use a lot of different kinds of lamps in the aarti. Maybe I can ask someone what each of them means. I try to befriend a pandit who is fixing his umbrella. He shows me where he sits during the day so I can come and meet him if I want to do any pujas
  • The water is wretch-worthy. An old couple inadvertently bathe in idli/chutney remains
  • Lots of diya girls and boys around, but I don’t spot Nandini. They press me to buy one, so I do, and promise to buy one from each of them every evening I’m here. Each of them uses a different coloured flower
  • The Ganga washes up a treasure for a group of little boys – they jump in for waterball with a hollow watermelon,
  • I run away before the aarti ends. My ankles ache from sitting cross-legged and I want to beat the crowd. A man in a hurry turns over the chai a little boy was delivering. He refuses to pay 5 bucks for damages. The kid looks totally traumatized so I get him to pour cold water on his chai burnt parts and buy him another cup
  • Dinner is samosa chaat (Rs. 16). I bite into chillies after ages. It’s tough. Forced to pick them out and put them aside. Dessert – ask around for the rasmalai place near Dashashwamedh that Saurabh mentioned, but no one seems to know. All the mithai wallas around Gowdolia say rasmalai spoils quickly so I settle for malai chop (Rs. eight)

Day 3

March 16

Benaras

  • Yoga on the terrace. No monkeys. I’m disappointed. I spot some on a roof far away
  • Walk on the other side of Dashashwamedh today, east side. This side is less restored and practically phirang-free
  • Burning actually takes place at the ghat just before Manikarnika. A lot of pyres are lit but see no people parts. The corpses are swathed in layers of cloth. A young man starts giving me unsolicited hindu funeral ritual information. He says he wants to practice his English; he’s a late bloomer and only now finishing high school although he’s old enough to finish college. He’s also studying aromatherapy, and massaging corpses with 7 kinds of substances – ghee/honey/essential oils. His uncle has an essential oils factory near Kanpur.
  • 7 kinds of bodies that are considered are not burnt based on their purity/impurity, but sunk in the middle of the Ganga with a big stone – babies/children, pregnant women, ascetics, those marked with a disease (smallpox, leprosy, their bodies are considered to have been cleansed by their affliction/punishment), those who kill themselves, those bitten by snakes and I forget the last one
  • Then I’m accosted by Hiroyuki Yamashta. His name means wide-go-mountain-underside. He is a construction worker from Japan. He knows all Hindu deities by heart and calls them out loudly every time we pass a wall painting or temple. He loves animals – hugs every dog. cow, goat we meet. We decide to walk till the railway bridge and back to Dashashwamedh. Before we part ways he bows ceremoniously and kisses my hand and makes it break out
  • This side of the ghats are full of goats. They mainly eat garlands, sometimes right off the deities
  • Sip Benaras tea for the first time today. The tea-sellers sons keep coming to look in a mirror (hidden in the back of the stall) and combing their hair. He explains they lost their mum 10 years ago and looks sad. I guess it means the kids have had to look after themselves and learn to comb their own hair
  • The minute I tell local people I’m from Calcutta they start speaking to me in terrible Bengali
  • After the long long walk I seek out a sweet shop for lassi (Rs.16) and malai bahar (Rs. 8). Drop all lunch plans after this as I’m stuffed
  • Getting a little tired of the orgiastic ‘haylo medam’s and ‘heyy sexy’s I’m greeted with in the gallis. Ward off eager sari sellers – one of them jumps off a running rickshaw to interest me in his wares
  • Return ma and baba’s missed calls. Baba says my great grand uncle has his name carved in a rock at Dashashwamedh. I can also try and find the Bong hotel where he stayed with his family as a kid when Marshall Tito visited Benaras. They were served steaming mutton curry and rice for lunch everyday. He forbids me to bathe in the Ganga – he saw a documentary where a Brit guy got some terrible fungal infection from it
  • I get free internet at Yogi Lodge’s cyber café as I got my own machine
  • Over the afternoon Buddha provides plenty food for thought on the nature of birth and death and emptiness and fullness. Been reading a bit of Old Path, White Clouds daily. Plan to send it to Jedi from Delhi, or Benaras if I finish sooner
  • Head out for the ghats in search of food. Aloo Dum (Rs. 5) from a grumpy mithaiwala. Batata Puri (Rs.15) from little Santosh
  • Several people wish me good morning. I check the time. It’s 5 pm
  • Surprise bump-in with Ashdeen. I haven’t seen him since NID. He’s here with a photographer friend, Ashish. They’re doing a feature for Travel & Leisure magazine. Ashish captures some really great non-typical material. And some pics of me. Ashdeen and I talk about the best places to visit. It seems Zoroastrians have a similar purity/impurity schema for bodies in the tower of silence
  • Buy a diya from the next girl in line. 2 more kids book me for the next 2 days
  • A boat comes to clean up Ganga gunk, but goes away 1/5th full
  • Try to shoot diyas in the water and Ganga Aarti lamp rituals but is no good on phone cam
  • A man next to me wants to know which country I’m from and if I’m married and if I will marry him. He claims over and over that he’s from a ‘good’ family. Then he comes down a rung – can I find someone for him to marry? I ignore him. He says he will meet me next day, same place, same time
  • Decide to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Golden temple. It’s heavily guarded against terrorist attacks. Terrorists probably have more integrity than the temple people. I relived everything that made (North Indian) temple visits unsavoury when I was a kid. First, I was not allowed to enter till I bought some flowers and leaves and packets and boxes (Rs. 51) to donate to the deity.  Next, I was being forced to hire a priest/guide, and when I refused everyone was super offended. Add to this the claustrophobic environs, rude priests and the complete lack of navigation cues. I was out of there in 5 minutes. What makes South Indian temples so much more pleasant and vibrant? The police security guys had been very polite and helpful, though. Later, I discovered some awesome kesari pedas amongst the stuff they’d made me buy
  • Retire early. Transfer photos. Log. Read comics – Carnet de Voyage

Day 4

March 17

Sarnath & Benaras

  • Julieta (hoo-lee-eta) shares a rick with me to Sarnath. She’s from Argentina, has been traveling in India for the last 2 months and is off to Nepal for the next month. We chat a lot, mostly about the places we’ve seen and why the Indian man on the street is so annoying and sticky?
  • Sarnath is ok. The Buddhist sites are peaceful, but it all seems a bit halfhearted. Maybe I should’ve done more research on the place before coming. And it’s shocking that anything associated with the Buddha can keep animals in captivity – it’s pretty depressing to see cranes trying to spread their wings in a low netted space
  • We look around for a couple of hours (conversation swings from travel to religion to cultural differences to yoga to India to Argentina) and then decide to rest under a tree close to where the Buddha had given his first sermon. Two guys settle down in front of us and stare steadily, so we ask them to move on. They’re taken aback that I speak Hindi, but soon recover and come back with more friends and mobile phones and start taking pictures of us. It’s time for us to move on.
  • Ask around for buses; there’s one from the station a km away. On the way we check out a Chinese Buddhist temple. No buses today; they’ve all gone to some rally in Lucknow. A chai seller suggests we take a train. We buy tickets and luckily there’s a train to Benaras (2 stops away) waiting two lines away. As there’s no overbridge we jump down and cross over and climb up and sit in the doorway
  • A man orders us to get up. I ask him if he wants to get off. He say’s no, he wants to sit in the doorway. But we were here first, I say.  That seems to work and we are on our way.
  • At the next station the train waits for some 20 minutes and we are wondering what’s up, when I look out and see it’s Varanasi City, which is the same distance from our lodge as Varanasi Junction. So we get off, and after much haggling with autowallahs we take a cycle rickshaw
  • Lunch – thali at Shanti Café (Rs.25), lassi at the corner place (Rs. 15). We meet dogs with funny expressions sleeping in doorways and alleyways. Sleep
  • Julieta wakes me up; we’ve planned to listen to her friend Rafa playing on the Ghats. We wash our hair to beat the heat and are off
  • Rafa and a few friends jam with a guitar, bongo drums and dudgeridoo. Kids play ball. A Bong gentleman with a huge camera gets invasively close to the musicians
  • We meet Francois (Julieta’s lost friend who she was supposed to meet in Nepal) and Julienne. They are funny, in the tradition of the make believe school of humour. Pink Elephants are discussed, as well as ways to make dogs respect you and how all French guys living in Barcelona go looking for Argentinian ex-girlfriends and end up in India
  • Rafa joins us. He wants to work in India. Something creative and to do with computers. We exchange contact numbers. I’ll hook him up with Jedi and also send him some links to organizations that could interest him
  • We head off for the classical music concert at Tulsi Ghat.  There’s some jaltarang, followed by tabla. It’s pretty lame and there are too many bugs so we step out to a terrace on the side. Nepal and Bangaladesh compete for the destination in demand. Julieta infects us with her ice-cream craving
  • We go to a pizzeria in Assi Ghat and have dessert – apple crumble with ice cream (Rs. 50/plate). Then we have brick oven pizzas (2 pizzas come to Rs. 50/head). We eye and catcall everyone else’s apple crumble with ice cream till our pizzas arrive. Sated. Completely
  • Long walk back across the Ghats. They change dramatically with every hour of the day. We make shadow gods that look like shrimps
  • Load-shedding at lodge. Yearn to talk to Jedi; it seems we haven’t spoken in ages! Talk, talk, talk, talk. Sleep

Day 5

March 18

Benaras

  • Sore tummy. Pranayama in the room
  • Go in search of breakfast. I think I’ve found the sweet shop Jedi gave directions to last night, but they’re not making rabdi/rasmalai these days. They say it spoils in the heat. So I have kachori sabzi (Rs.10)
  • Walk the ghats till Assi. Meet Nandini. Meet a skinny mom-dog and her plump little babies. Get her some sweet buns. By now it’s late enough to visit BHU
  • More haggling later I get to BHU in a cycle rick. The campus is super neat. Departments/colleges are grand old red and yellow buildings lined up with avenues of shady trees. They all have well manicured gardens
  • I ask around for the ‘Museum’, which turns out to be the Kala Bhavan. The security people are very sweet. One of them, an old gentleman, on learning that I’m Bengali, told me stories about when he lived in Dakshineshwar as a boy
  • The miniature paintings gallery (Chhavi Gallery) kicks ass. It’s a very well balanced collection – not too big, not too small, covering all miniature movements in India (Rajasthan, Mughal, Orissa, Company, Nepal, Bengal, Mysore, Tanjore, Oudh) with depictions of history, mythology and ordinary life. The ones with Krishna appear risqué (he holds on to the breast of a consort while listening to a sitar player in a garden; he bites Putana’s nipple to death). My favourites – an elephant fight (the onlookers are throwing up some strange contraptions that look like periscopes with fireworks coming out of both ends); an infuriated war elephant chasing a horseman, a camel and two foot soldiers (the mahut digs his metal hook into the elephant’s head and blood spurts out); 6 acrobats entangled in a ring; and Ardhanarishwara sitting on a flattened goat on a flattened elephant. One can look at the details for hours – the lush gardens of banana and pomegranate, the subtle differences in facial expressions in a crowd. There was even a pictorial map of a town done miniature style
  • There was other fascinating stuff as well – attar sprinklers in tourquoise, purple and jamun see through glass; ram leela masks; sketches of old Benaras (actually lot of the Ghats look exactly the same); Alice Boner’s tryptich of Prakriti, Viswaroopa and Kali
  • Then, when I was ready to leave, one of the guards said I should wait till 12 to check out the jewellery collection in the Nidhi gallery. I napped on a bench. The ornaments were worth the wait. The gallery is a heavy duty locker cell housing all sorts of exotics – gold, silver, jade, ivory, marble, and even some very very rafre terracotta. Gold lace designs set on an emerald background make cool art
  • The dept. of Dravaguna is undergoing some major renovation so I’m unable to visit the ayurvedic garden
  • All this time my stomach has gone from bad to worse. I feel faint
  • A policeman stops my auto and demands that I get off in ‘seva’ of the police. They need to go somewhere else in this auto. A long-drawn argument ensues, but the auto guy and I sit tight so finally they have to let us go
  • By the time I get back my stomach aches so bad that I fall asleep. Wake up around 4, shower and go out and have peas poha (Rs.5) and samosa chana (Rs.5) at babaji’s shop. This is the exquisite best I’ve had so far and I already feel revived. Next up lassi at the corner place
  • Back at the lodge Julieta [Ju-ju (hoo-hoo) to her mom] has to fix up a place in Kathmandu as she’s reaching at midnight. She’s taking a train to Gorakhpur and then a bus across the border. We make several calls (I pretend to be her) and finally figure out a budget place
  • Logging logging logging
  • Ju-ju comes up with the perfect parting gift – a 50 Argentinian centavos coin!
  • Read Carnet de Voyage on the laptop till power runs out

Day 6

March 19

Benaras

  • Finally do the sunrise boat ride on the Ganga. Accompanied by Katie from the US.  The Ghats look very dramatic. Everything, including the Ganga, is a golden gray. Katie and I discuss how cameras can never quite capture what we see
  • The boatman, Rajinder, used to live in Calcutta 18 years ago. Then he took on a job to deliver a truck full of cows from somewhere in Punjab to Benaras and has lived here ever since. He says his cows, monkeys and dogs are his family
  • Hundreds of chamgadars cover the sky every now and then. They look like mini swallows
  • It’s good to get a front view of the Ghats and the action; like watching a strange soft porn film, with semi naked bodies of every conceivable shape and size slow bathing away their filth. Katie says she’s uncomfortable shooting people bathing
  • The sun comes up like a fiery laddoo. Shutters start clicking. The river is pretty crowded by now – the white people come in small groups, the monks and Bongs weigh down the boats
  • We check out the other side of the river – wide sand banks, then fields of crop, then trees, then village. A overtly playful dog tries to climb all over and some local gentlemen come to the rescue
  • Katie just finished studying Journalism and Business at the University of Colorado, and has been traveling in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand over the last 2 months. She’s spending her last month in India, next stop Goa. She feels singing comes naturally to Indians like dancing comes naturally to Brazilians (Gurukula kids sing guru puja hymns in the background). We also talk about Benaras and burning ghats and yoga and stories we’ve heard from other people of corpses bobbong up in the Ganga
  • On return to solid ground we fumble our way back to the guesthouse
  • Jedi calls while I’m charging my phone in the reception. There is always so much excitement and so much to say!
  • Give myself a head massage and fall asleep while reading Buddha
  • Wake up hungry, shower and drop in for tomato garlic cheese spaghetti (a whopping Rs.100) at Ganga Fuji (much recommended by Katie). Is perfectly done. Ma and Baba call to catch up on Benaras happenings and recommend more places for lassi and sweets. Customary dessert follows – malpua (Rs. 6)
  • Drop in at Yogi Lodge’s cyber café to update log and upload pics. Today is basically my day off
  • Spend entire afternoon with Buddha
  • Walk out to the ghats seeking Nandini. Promised I’d light a diya with her before leaving. Instead, bump into Rafa. Talk moves from how he’s found a room with his own plug point (e.g. I have to go to the reception to charge my phone and laptop, and can only use them in my room till batteries last) to tribals in India to musical instruments. Rafa has been reading up on ayurveda and is interested in healing. Tell him about pranic healing and viewing/scanning auras. We have a quick scanning section followed by an animated discussion on energy/thought/aura/vibes/telepathy. Rafa says I’m the first person who has not refuted his experience in affecting and being affected by his environment via energy. He goes off to his evening jam session and I go looking for my little girl but don’t find her
  • Pick up some wooden toys for cousins in Delhi. Need a t-shirt. Find one for 40 bucks
  • Dinner thali (Rs. 30) at Marwari Bhojanalay – ghee drenched rotis, rice, dal, aloo palak, salad, pickle, papad
  • Return and wash clothes, drink water (the heat has risen over the week), browse, read Carnet de Voyage, sleep

Day 7

March 20

Benaras

  • Last day to do something befitting of  ‘the holiest place on earth’. Been telling Jedi everyday that I want to give the ‘bhikkus’ sitting at Dashashwamedh Ghat steps something to eat. Can’t decide between tasty (kachoris) and healthy (fruit), so I ask the first beggar lady what she feels like having. A juicy orange. Have great fun hauling 10 kgs of oranges from the fruit shop to the ghat. An orange party is underway. All the women and kids and sadhus and a phirang with dreadlocks are delighted and shower a million blessings
  • Next stop Nandini. Once again am waylaid. This time by Hiroyuki. Use Nandini as an excuse and escape. Realise I have no money to buy diyas. Now I have to buy some alternate route back to avoid him. Discover an yet undiscovered lane full of Bongs and Japanese, parallel to the ghats that runs all the way back the lodge. Pay all hotel dues to get change
  • On the way back on this same lane (still trying to dodge Hiroyuki) discover a Bong sweet shop run by Mr. Bibhuti Narayan Mukherjee who’s family has lived in Benaras for 4 generations. 1 langcha + 1 kheer kodom = Rs. 10
  • The undodgeable Hiro gets me this time and I graciously agree to walk with him in search of Nandini, who we find bathing in the ganga
  • Coincidentally Hiro’s guest house is in the same ghat. He wants to get out of the sun and takes a picture of me and says he will never forget me (within a total of 2 hours of knowing me!). I squirm out a quick goodbye and escape
  • Nandini does several tricks in the water but it’s too far away to shoot (the zoom on the phone sucks). She holds her breath underwater for 7 seconds
  • Next a long but not unpleasant fleecing session begins. Nandini and a slightly older friend (who initiates all the ‘business’) mehndi each of my palms. They want 100 bucks each (towards school fees, they say). Then they want a packet of chips each. Then they want a bottle of coke each to take home to their families. I guess it’s ok, because i haven’t really spent much here, and for them this is a mega treat. Lastly, Nadini wishes to speak to Jedi when he calls. I can see she’s happy. The little girls promise to float a diya each for me in the Ganga tonight
  • On the way to brunch Feroze Khan walks with me. He works with Missionaries of Charity and also with a  co-operative of 25000 sari weavers 7 km outside Benaras. If I, or anyone I know want authentic Benarasi saris at a fair price we can get in touch with him at 09936163556. He was born in Calcutta, studied bio at BHU and now lives with his girlfriend who’s studying French. He invites Jedi and me to come and stay with them next time we are in Benaras
  • Today seems to be some major dantun day. Spot several phirangs walking around doing dantun
  • Today has also been my most expensive day here. I further add to it by having a gigantic Israeli ‘thali’ (lunch & dinner, this) for Rs. 125 at Shree Cafe)boasts more than 100 veg dishes) – 2 pita, big bowl of hummus, big bowl of labneh, big bowl of israeli salad, big bowl of french fries. Predictably, sleep follows
  • Wake up and pack and come down to log and email.
  • Will miss all the ‘Medam, hashish?’, ‘Medam, massage?’, ‘Medam, which country?’ and close calls with full power 2 wheelers in the narrow lanes and the puking bulls and the ankle high muck. Craig Thomas says ‘it’s easy to fall in love with a place on the last day…’
  • 3 hrs before leaving Benaras I discover the rabdi shop I have been looking for all along. Don’t know how I missed it when I must’ve crossed it on my way to Dashashwamedh and back every day! It’s late afternoon, rabdi is over and they’ve just started cooking a new batch. Anyaways, they made me some lassi with the last bit of leftover morning rabdi scrapings on top (Rs. 15)
  • The T-shirt guys give me thumbs up when they see me wearing their devanagari script tee
  • Take a cycle rickshaw to Benaras Junction (Rs.30). The mammoth effort of driving a rickshaw through the potholes and waterlogging and often non-existent roads should cost more. God’s eye view’ll show the roads chock full of tessellated rickshaws
  • Heated argument on the much carpeted and curtained Shiv Ganga Express to New Delhi. A lady orders me to move out of my seat and stand far away so that she can arrange her luggage (which, btw, is enough for 6 people and is already being chained together neatly by a servant who’s accompanied her, and me being/not being in my space does not any difference make). When I don’t play up to her feudal demands she starts calling me names and her parents (respectable looking couple in their 60’s start calling me names. Equanimity is lost and I snap out about how they need to learn the difference between requesting something of someone and ordering people around. Later, once the train is off, I make peace with the lady by playing car accidents with her 3-year-old son. He also listens very intently to some RHCP and Mozart on my phone and offers me potato chips