Backdated from March 29 – April 03
One day isn’t nearly enough to take in all of the myriad sights and sounds of Varanasi’s ghats. So I decide to take another.
When I reach the pyres of Manikarnika this time I instead bank left. My Lonely Planet map tells me there isn’t much to see North of the main burning ghat but I decide to test the truth of that claim for myself.
It’s certainly less bustling up this end, and I don’t run into any other tourists walking along the stairs. But there’s still a pretty rich collection of sights along the upper ghats and the walk towards the Northern bridge is far from dull.
I walk past a man helping his friend to fold freshly laundered bedsheets, a pair of blue undies wrapped around his head like some bizarre, miniature turban. Laundry in the Ganges has been a constant source of wonder to me since arriving in Varanasi; I fail to understand how you can, in a river teeming with trash, waste and ash, somehow manage to get your clothes to become cleaner. And yet, from North to South, the area lining the Ganges is filled with sheets and saris drying on the ghat steps, or hanging to blow in the wind, their vibrant colors somehow magically unspoiled by the surrounding dust, dirt and floating river debris.
Herds of buffalo linger at the water’s edge or, when their owners begin shouting the order, begin to lazily make their way up the ghat steps. On the banks where the stairs end, I see a group of women rolling cow patties to lay out in the sun to dry, the shit caked thick over the dark flesh of their bare hands. This will be used for natural, clean-burning fuel. I had seen one of the hostel workers using a pile of these dried discs the previous night to cook food over. Suddenly my bowel troubles in India make a lot more sense.
As the sun moves overhead to unrelentingly blaze down upon me, I begin a hunt for unoccupied shade. Most of the scattered trees along the banks are taken so I continue North, confident that if I walk far enough I’ll find a little shade to read in for a while. I’m momentarily distracted by a persistent man who insists on following me over the first short bridge. Whenever I make the mistake of acknowledging his presence he uses the opportunity to attempt communication via charades; unfortunately, the message he’s clearly attempting to convey is, ‘let’s go have sex.’ Upon his seventh attempt, during which he’s formed his hands into the shape of a vagina at his crotch into which he’s begun thrusting, I stop in my tracks until I’m able to make it clear that whatever direction he’s walking in, I’m going the opposite way. As I head on alone I wonder what could possibly have motivated him to think this approach would ever yield positive results. Though, to be fair, I’ve often wondered that about some of the drunken advances of men in bars back home as well.
Further along I see a group of children playing in the river with what appears to be a coffin; they’re using it as a boat, laughing as they try to clamor into it and shove their friends out. I wonder where they got it from, particularly given that cremation’s the usual choice for final rites in this city.
Oddly, none of these sights really seem as foreign or unusual as I feel they should be to me. I wonder, not for the first time, if my malaria meds are making me apathetic. I consider, also not for the first time, to just stop taking them.
I find my shade in the end, and sit down on the grass to read a couple chapters of the ebook I currently have on my phone, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There by Rolf Potts – very possibly my favorite travel author. For anyone considering embarking on long term travel, I strongly recommend giving his book Vagabonding a read.
I consider that I don’t seem to be meeting so many people (or at least people I’ve any interest in continuing conversation with. I’ve had a rich abundance of encounters with others similar to ‘touch my penis’ man and the ghat scam tout from the previous post) this time around on my travels. I wonder if that’s just the nature of the backpacker circuit in India (I recall how difficult it was in Morocco to connect with anyone that wasn’t just looking to take advantage of me), or because I am, for the first time, traveling with someone else. Having someone around whose company I enjoy might well be making me less motivated to seek out other company.
Though that can be an advantage as well – the constant reliance of having someone with whom to share your experiences. This is particularly welcome in the best and worst moments – when you have someone to joke and laugh with, or to help quell the frustration of some unforeseen speed-bump.
Keeping that in mind, I head back to the hostel to meet up with Pete for lassis.
Health update: Health appears to be pretty much back to normal. I’m told the likely culprits for what was wrong are dysentery or gastroenteritis. . . .but whatever it was appears to have since been killed off by antibiotics and probiotics.
Provided nothing relapses within the next month, I should be off for Australia early July. Fingers crossed.