Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Beneath my bunk were two middle-aged men and who appeared to be with their father. The father was not well. He mostly lay there with his arms over his head, occasionally rising slightly to watch the passing countryside when the sun came up. I had a feeling that Varanasi, as for many other Indians, was literally his last stop.
Many Indians travel to Varanasi to die. If you die in Varanasi, you receive instant nirvana (not sure if this is the right phrase). Many others go to bathe in the Ganges river for karma and cleansing... although the Ganges is one of the filthiest river on the planet. The guide books suggest that you dont' even stick a toe in it, yet there are all the Indians bathing, playing, dunking themselves, drinking and washing clothes in it.

I caught a rickshaw to my hotel and then went out for a walk. I really liked Varanasi immediately -- the narrow streets and the energy, the history and the people. I stopped to play with some puppies and realize an American couple had done the same. We started talking and then decided to get dinner together. I wandered around a bit more after that, taking pictures but decided to go to bed early.
Next day I stopped at an internet cafe first to transfer more photos. I quickly go through my memory cards. As I was paying, a turbaned man stopped in the doorway. I smiled at him and he smiled back. He was holding a small covered basket. As I watched, he lifted the lid on the basket -- and a huge black COBRA popped up. A very REAL Cobra. It was like a nightmare jack-in-a-box! I jumped back and he gestured that it was okay, the cobra had no fangs. Still. I waited for him to leave. ::shudder::
I spent the day just wandering about. I walked down the ghats taking pictures.




At one point, I stopped to take a picture of a wonderfully huge water buffalo and a man came over to me to let me know I'd have to put my camera away if I continued walking in the direction I was going. I hadn't noticed I'd reached the crematory ghats. I really had no plans to visit them. I couldn't really see anything, for which I was grateful -- just piles of wood burning. Only one shrouded figure was visible in one of them. I made my exit swiftly.
I stopped at a local chai stand with some older Indian men and then proceeded to get completely lost. Eventually I found myself in front of a women's salon and decided to get my scary eyebrows taken care of. "Threading" is very cheap -- about 50 cents or less. And again, surprisingly painful. Afterwards, the ladies asked if I'd like to get my hair washed. I looked in the mirror. It had been a long time since my hair had seen a hair dryer. I agreed. I felt like a million rupees when I left that place, clean hair, slightly curled, bouncing on my shoulders. I headed for the ghats again to watch the evening ceremonies. On my way there, a couple of young boys accosted me -- tried to show me a good place to sit, etc.


At one point during the ceremony (which was interesting... for the first ten minutes) they reappeared with a baby monkey on a leash. Afterwards, they invited me to their father's shop for chai. Why not? I went with them. On the way, they asked me where I was from, etc. When I told them I was American, they asked, "Do you like Goldie Hawn?" Um, okay. Weird. Of all the American movie stars... "Sure, she's okay." "Goldie Hawn is our friend! She visits many times!" When we arrive at the shop, photo albums are brought out. Letters also - ranging from 1998-2006. The photos show Goldie and family in the shop, in a restaurant, etc over many years with the family of the shop. I remembered later that Oliver Hudson and my friend Anson were in a short-lived WB tv show a few years ago "The Mountain" in which they played brothers. I later had to write Anson and tell him that India keeps throwing him in my face.
The boys and their father and Uncle were very sweet and the chai was delicious. The older boy offered to show me around the next day if I wanted. I said I would do that, maybe around 4:30 p.m. He said he'd meet me at my hotel.
I woke up at 6 a.m. to watch the sun come up over the Ganges then headed for a rooftop cafe where I wrote postcards and listened to music well into the afternoon by myself. Well, except for one point when monkeys appeared behind me and scared the stuffing out of me. They were about to go through my stuff but I smacked them with a guide book and off they scampered, throwing deeply insulted, "ooh ooh ooohs" back at me. I took to wander after that -- and yet again became incredibly lost.


In fact I had to get out my compass to figure out what direction I was headed. I was too late to meet the boy at my hotel. In fact, when I finally got my bearings, I was near the shop and the other boys found me and led me to their home. More chai, then up to the rooftop for kite-flying. Apparently Sunday is when you fly kites.

I looked around and sure enough from every rooftop there were boys and girls flying kites. It was amazing really.


They let me have a go at it, but the kites don't have tails so they're a little out of control.

I had more fun taking pictures.


Two of the boys demanded my iPod as soon as I had arrived. I had shown them the iPod the night before and they preferred watching "the visuals" over listening to music. So I put on Layer Cake and they shared the headphones. Again, they were watching Layercake and when I said it was time to go, I realized they were in the same spot as last time they had been watching, when Daniel Craig is in a bathrobe up on a roof with his mouth duct-taped. We went downstairs and more chai was brought out, so again, they demanded the iPod. After a bit I said I really had to leave and they reluctantly handed it over. It was again on the same scene. Now, this scene is about 37 minutes in, and I know they'd only had it for 10 minutes so they were clearly fast-forwarding to this scene. Then I realized...
There's a love scene just before the rooftop scene. Albeit a very tame one where there's no nudity... nor really any "love"-- just kissing and then Sienna Miller putting on lingerie in the bathroom. But those cheeky boys were watching and rewinding the same scene over and over again!! They were very upset to part with the iPod.


The older boys accompanied me back towards my hotel. I decided to stop and some food and they came in with me. Their "uncle" worked there. I don't know if it was an actual uncle or if he was a family friend they called "uncle" as is done here. It was an interesting meal -- very quiet.

Then we continued on and as we got close to the hotel, the older boy (who I thought was 14 and is actually 19), asked me, "What are you going to give me?" I said, "we never discussed any money." "No, that's not what I meant." "Well, then I guess you get the pleasure of my company." "How about a kiss?" "How about a handshake?" Boys. Same in every country.

Some internetting and packing before bed -- early bus to Nepal in the a.m....

I can't believe India is over. And I'm scared I won't like Southeast Asia as much.

[But I am in Bangkok now and I just had a double bacon cheeseburger at Burger King so I guess it can't be all bad. Oh Bacon, my lover. How I have missed you.]

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