Thoughts on India after almost 3 months
21.10.2013 - 02.11.2013 31 °C
Since the last time I wrote we have wrapped up our tour through India. I’ve had word from my editor (Brayden), that my last few posts haven’t included enough of the ‘grit’ India is so infamous for. So this time around I thought I’d do a ‘director’s cut’ edition featuring all the bits I didn’t include in my previous posts. But first a summary of the last 3 stops on our Indian adventure with some of my favourite pics:
The most holy city for Hindus and the most overwhelming for tourists. Situated by the banks of the river Ganges, Varanasi is said to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. The historic quarter is a warren of tightly packed temples and buildings in various states of decay. Attempting to find your way through the maze of alleyways reminded me of trying to navigate the streets of Venice, only I don’t remember there being so many cows and poo. I also don’t recall the phrase “watch out, dead body coming through” in Venice either.
The steps leading down to the river is where the real magic happens. These ghats are where pilgrims come to wash away sins or cremate their loved ones. Whether you’re touring the ghats by boat or on foot, it’s hard not to feel captivated by the intimate rituals of life and death going on. For a few bucks, a local agreed to take us out in his rickety boat at sunrise. He paddled us just metres away from a burning body and although it was hard to take, we enjoyed the tour so much we went again at sunset. That time around there were no burning bodies but instead hundreds upon hundreds of floating candles. Bliss.
— Varanasi is holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism.
— Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation.
— This is Sarnath, an important site for Buddhists just outside Varanasi. It's where Buddha gave his first sermon.
The centre of the world for the world’s 300 million Buddhists. It’s where Buddha sat under a tree for seven years meditating, after which he reached enlightenment. A descendent of that very tree stands at the site, visited by thousands everyday. It’s a special place to come and soak up the jubilation of pilgrims from Korea, Thailand, Tibet and beyond. You'll also find hundreds of scammers, monks and scammers dressed as monks. We watched the devoted perform countless prostrations. This is the practice of standing, then lying on your belly, then standing up again. It is done over and over to gain merit – often for months at a time. I spoke to one Buddhist from Denmark who was aiming for 200,000! He was two days in.
The highlight was the trip to the Dungeshari cave, where Buddha spent years meditating in before he set up camp under the tree in Bodhgaya. As a non-Buddhist, the cave was mildly interesting, but the 12 kilometre journey through the little villages was unforgettable.
— Underneath the Bodhi tree at The Mahabodhi temple.
Our final destination in India. Kolkata (‘Calcutta’) is the former capital of British India and the nation’s second biggest city. It’s home to a handful of sites including the pretty impressive Victoria memorial and the most gruesome of guesthouses. The best part was meeting up with Sweta, who I had met on a train the week before. She showed me around, taking me to the best Bengali street food vendors. Sweta even gave me a gift for Dewali, the huge ‘festival of lights’ starting the day after we fly out. Note to self, in future look at festival calendar before booking flights.
— The Victoria memorial, the most famous site in this city of 15 million.
So after 3 months, what do I take away from this crazy, colourful place called India? Did I love it? Mostly yes. Did I hate it? At times, certainly. There’s not a lot that hasn’t already been written about India. Take an average Indian street; two long rows of concrete cubes inhabited by women wearing the most dazzling of saris. Smells of sewerage and rot punctuated by tiny bursts of incense and jasmine. There are people everywhere. There are cows everywhere. It’s hot. It’s dusty and misery is everywhere. Sure, India is far more poverty stricken than most countries but it’s also because it can’t tuck away its problems in nursing homes, shelters or hospitals.
Sometimes we just couldn’t face it and decided to spend the day in our room. But even then, India would find its way in. A rat would scamper across the bed, the toilet would overflow and the heat and noise would seep in. Before we knew it we had our own little 2x2 version of India, population 3 (including the rat).
I won’t miss the endless requests from men for photos, the man who yells ‘Ricky Ponting’, ‘Kangaroo’ when we tell him we’re Australian, the constant tummy bugs, the crazy tuk tuk drivers…oh and the scammers. How can I forget those charmers? We had more people trying to scam us than in a year in Latin America.
But there’s plenty I will miss. The dazzling sites, spectacular landscapes, the delicious curries and the way the women dress (it’s no mystery why they haven’t taken up western clothing…sari v jeans and t-shirt…a no brainer) in particular. I will also remember the spirit of the people, most of them poor but trying their best with the cards they were dealt, even those pesky scammers. I bet most of them can teach us in the west a thing or two about resilience as we whinge about traffic jams, pimples, workloads or the cost of living.
India I love you but I’m happy we’re taking a break. Don’t worry, we’ll be together again, but next time I’ll be ready. I’ll have money so we don’t have to stay in dives and take clapped out busses and third class trains.
Thank you for teaching me that travel isn’t always about fun, beauty or photos to show off on Facebook. You offered me an experience and showed me how lucky I am and for that I will be ever grateful.
Next up, Thailand.
— NAMSATE! Thanks India.