Monday, May 17, 2010

My Return To India

After my fleeting trip to Nepal, I was happy to be back in the familiarity of India. I flew into Varanassi and was welcomed back almost instantly with temperatures soaring everyday into the 40's and a bout of food poisoning that took me days to recover. Oh, Incredible India! I met a great couple from New Zealand, and misery loves company so the 3 of us bonded over that lovely meal together that reaked havoc on our bodies.

Once I was back on my feet and feeling a little revived, Varanassi was really incredible. I was there for just over a week and was up for almost every sunrise at 5am, when the temperaures weren't as ferocious. Varanassi was one of my most anticipated destinations in India, and it was well worth the wait. It is over flowing with Indians all making pilgrimages from all around the country to visit Mother Ganga. Saying that though, as an outsider, that river is one hell of a cess pool. There are different ghats lined all along the western side of the river and its used for anything and everything. People mostly come to bathe in for its healing powers, but you will also find dead bodies being submerged and then burned at the edges, ashes left for the river, water bufalloes cooling off, locals brushing there teeth, doing dishes, kids swimming, laundry being done and flowers or candles being pushed off from boats to offer as puja to the gods. What a place. It is overflowing with culture.

Varanassi is also home to an insurmountable number of beggars and homeless children. In Hindu religion it is believed to increase your karma by giving them money. I'm all for good karma, but when they see white skin they also see money and I have been harrassed in this lovely mecca beyond what is comfortable. Id come home penniless if I were to give to them all. And so many are sick and disfigured, it is a tough sight to see, but so much a part of India.

On a happier note, just to add to the pulse of the city, Challu, the young gentleman working with his elders Mr. Raj and Mr. Chapatti who run the OM Guest House, had taken a little liking to me. Oh what fun. Western courtship is definately a little different from how its done over here. Challu had me on the back of his bike, flaunting his westerner to the whole city. He took me for the best lassi (amazing yoghurt drink I am addicted to) in all of India, and a few silk shops and even treated me out to a local joint for masala dosas for dinner (where I think I was the featured attraction of the evening) . It was fun mostly, though the constant professing of his love for me and his puppy dog eyes got a little tiresome by the end of the week. But sweet Challu showed me a side of Varanassi I wouldn't have seen without him, so I am not complaining.

After a week there, I was done and ready for a change of scene. So I booked a first class AC train to Delhi. This was my first AC train and well worth the investment of less than 20 bucks. One of the men in my car said it was the "rich mans train". It was a completely different experience of train travel, so civilised and easy.

Now, I have arrived in Delhi and come full circle from where I started my adventures in India.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Maybe Next Time, Nepal

Nepal was pretty much a failed attempt. I got stuck at the border crossing overnight because I had missed the last bus from Kakarvitta to Kathmandu. I shacked up in a hole in the wall and was up at 4am, with the wheels on the bus moving by 5. I noticed instantly the police presence on the roads of Nepal which shocked me in a country known for being peaceful and friendly. We were stopped and searched at least once an hour.
The drive was breathtaking. We were on a cliff road most of the time following a river through a mountainous valley, cross country. The journey was to take 10 hours and we were pretty much on time when I saw a sign for 33km to Kathmandu. This is where it all went wrong. Long painful story short, we were held up in the dark, on a mountain, in bumber to bumper traffic, unable to budge for almost another 10 hours. No one spoke English and all I really understood about our immobility was a "strike". The police? The drivers? At this point, who knew? (Did I mention there was a basket full of at least half a dozen chicks at my feet? Or what about the fact I hadn't eaten anything but crackers and water all day cause the food stops were not even an option or me?)

Turns out the whole country was affected by bus loads of Communist Maoists protesting the current government, the focal point of course being the capitol, Kathmandu. I arrived into the city in the midst of mayhem. It wasn't until 3am I finally got into the right guesthouse, AFTER my cab driver ripped me off AND my wallet was stolen. All in all, not a good way to mark my arrival into a new country.

The 2 reasons I went to Nepal were to volunteer at an orphange for a week in Kathmandu and then get to Pokhara and do a trek through the mountains. Fail on both accounts. I spent a week in Kathmandu, with the whole city shutdown and only certain things open from 6-8pm. The protests started out peaceful, but under strained conditions things started to happen and get worse on a daily basis. We walked around much of the city so I definately got a feel for Kathmandu, but all forms of transportation (except police, army, UN, press, ambulances, and airport shuttles for tourists) were halted throughout the coutry- so getting to Pokhara and trekking was out of the question. I decided to cut my losses and get back to India. After an entire day at the embassy with a million other travellers doing the same thing, I got permission to re-enter India early on my visa and booked a flight out.
I am disappointed not to have been able to get the most out of Nepal, but on the flipside it was so interesting to see a country on the brink of a revolution. The violence was scary and made me realise how far away from home and democracy I am, but now in retrospect I am glad I got to see it first hand, in such a foreign place.