Day: February 6, 2012

From Hippie Bubble To Ancient Varanasi

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I escaped Rishikesh..

On one hand I was itching to get out of there and on the other it had become a safe and familiar place and leaving had me feeling a little anxious. It seems that when making a decision to move on – whether physically or on a more subtle level – there’s that moment just before taking the first step where you face the unknown and wonder if where you are is really so bad.. Maybe I should just stay here.. I mean, here is nice, right.. Taking a few days to relax in hippieworld had been fun but I was eager to step back into my flow and so a little anxiety was not a valid reason to stay.

This time my train ticket got confirmed a few hours ahead of departure and I must say it was really nice to know that there would be no dilli issues. The cap ride from Rishikesh to Haridwar was as exciting as expected – the driver said it himself while laughing, “India traffic is crazy, yaah!” He was such a sweet guy and shared his life with me for the hour the ride took – no education beyond his 9th year because his father had died, no wife, no girlfriend (which was repeated several times), just work to support himself and a couple of his sisters as well with his 3000 rupees a month. The differences in how our world look is incomprehensible and yet I saw not even a trace of bitterness in him.

I was in class 3AC and was in the top berth. I know I’ve said before that you want to have the top ones but when it’s three layers, the top one is pretty high up there and the climb is a bit of a struggle – and I mean, like I don’t have a big enough audience as it is. Further more, because it’s three-layered instead of just two, there’s not really enough space to actually sit upright. I was able to share the seat with the guy on the bottom berth but from now on I think I prefer either 2AC or bottoms.

The journey was fine – my fellow travellers, a young Indian couple and a guy, was nice but very quiet – well for the first 17 hours at least and then just before I had to get off, they asked if they could take a picture of me. Seriously.

The picture thing has actually happened a lot. I honestly lost count of how many people have wanted to get photographed with me. The first couple of times it happened, I was expecting them to ask me to take their picture, you know, so you can get the whole couple or group in the same picture, but then realized that it was me they wanted in it.. It’s kind of perplexing to me and makes me feel slightly uncomfortable but until now I’ve tried to just play along. Being famous must be horrible.

Well, after almost 18 hours I reached Varanasi. Something about that city both fascinates me and scares the shit out of me. There’s the historically interesting side of it; the city is ancient and considered one of the holiest places. And then there’s another side, something dark that I can’t really define but like I said, it kind of freaks me out a little. I fell straight into the tourist trap and let the rickshaw driver take me to a guest house. I thought that by telling him I wanted to go to the main ghat I had steered clear of it and the guest house was definitely an okay place. The old guy checking me in made a big deal out of telling me to be careful when I walked around alone and then proceeded giving me very detailed examples of what could happen to me – apparently really bad things. I wanted to go for a walk before settling in, it was almost dark and I was hungry. It turned out I was in the middle of this maze which is very common in the Indian places I’ve been this far. Very narrow alleys full of holes and cow poop and dogs – and of course no street signs. It took perhaps 5 minutes to get to the ghat and from their you just follow the river. I realized that the ghat I was near was actually not that near to the main ghat and walking I was approached by a lot of guys, all very difficult to get rid of again. I got the one of the burning ghats, this one was the small ones and there was only one fire burning and it must have had no more than an hour left in it. I wasn’t planning on going to a burning ghat this quickly, it was something I wanted to ease into and I’m so glad that I wasn’t able to actually recognize a body on the fire. I man comes over to me and starts explaining about the burning and that his family has worked there for the past generations. Hi tells me to come stand a different place (which the guidebooks etc are warning you about because usually it’s a scheme of some kind) and at the same time the young guy who has been walking with me starts speaking to him in Hindi and it sounds like they argue and the ghat man asks me how I know the other guy, who looks like he’s trying to signal something of great importance to me.. All very confusing and the energy shifted instantly to something unpleasant so I figure it’s my cue to get out of there and leaves.

It’s now completely dark and I walk towards my guest house. Another young guy is now walking with me, asking all the same questions, telling all the same stories. A few other guys are walking a little ahead of us and behind us and seems to adjust their paste to ours. I’m looking for the place where I have to take the steps up and away from the river and into the maze and tries to remember exactly for how long I had been walking. The guy keeps telling me that he knows my place and that it further along. We come to a place where I’m certain I haven’t passed before, the guy still trying to convince me that we need to keep going but I turn around and starts walking back. At that point I wasn’t completely comfortable with the situation and sent out a request for guidance and protection from all available resources :) Not long after I found the right steps and also my way through the maze.

Next day I decided to find another guest house closer to the main ghat but when I tell the old guy, he flips out – yelling at me for changing my mind when I had told him that I probably would be staying a couple of days. I try to explain the situation to him but without result and the just lets him know to stop yelling at me and that it’s bad business.

Anyway, I found a great place and my room had a view of the river and the staff was really great.

It’s funny, in Denmark and most places I’ve stayed around the world, the hotel staff will be both men and women but the cleaning crew is most commonly women. In India I haven’t seen even one woman working in a hotel, it’s all men. Feeling very good about the move, I was ready to explore the scary Varanasi.