Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me!

Ew, today I'm 27. No longer in the mid-20s, now in the late-20s. Hm. And what's really annoying is every time we go to book a train ticket they ask our ages (why they require it I don't know) and now it says:

Paul Fiehler 25
Lauren McPhate 27

No bueno.

Ok, I'm over it. We arrived in HOT HOT HOT Varanassi after a wonderful overnight train. We met a new German friend, Yen, and played cards on the train until we all fell blissfully asleep. We all decided on the same hostel and we've been doing some boat trips with him.

Yesterday, Paul and I walked all over Varanassi. This place is India full-on. Exactly how you picture India to be; hot, crowded, pushy, shops, and yes, dead bodies. As we're walking through the maze of streets [Did you know Varanassi is one of the oldest cities in the world?] we decide to go take a peek at the Ganges. We see stacks of wood in the streets, thought nothing of it, approached the river and saw fires on the banks, thought nothing of it, then heard a woman grieving. Like hysterical on her knees grieving. It clicked. We stumbled upon the cremation ghat. There were probably 4 or 5 bodies being burned and one stack of wood with a man being prepared to burn; the one the woman was grieving. A man approached us and gave us a quick run down. White burial cloth = young man or young woman. Orange indicates old man/woman. Pregnant woman, cows, unmarried people, children under 10, and poor people don't get cremated, they are brought to the middle of the river and tossed in. Cremations don't come cheap. You need to buy 300kgs worth of wood per person and we were told that's about 20,000Rs (~$450). The burning takes between 3 and 4 hours, then the family all goes home. The men in the family have to shave their heads, although Ive seen some bald women too, so maybe they do too. The family all eat one meal a day for 13 days, and only after dark. Then they have a huge celebration.

It felt totally invasive to stand there and watch while this woman unravelled. This morning we took a 5:30am boat ride up the Ganges where thousands of Hindus are bathing in the holy waters. Again, this seems like a total intrusion, but most smiled and posed for the cameras. Also on this boat ride we saw 3 floating bodies. Our boat guide told us they had washed down in the current and often times get stuck in docked boats. We saw a floating cow too. Can you imagine going for your morning boat ride and finding 2 people stuck on your anchor line?? I guess living here you expect it!

The city itself is just bubbling with excitement and life. There are thousands and thousands of shops, selling everything from jewelry, to clothes, to chickens (which is weird because Hindus are supposed to be vegetarians). Less cows than other places, but more flies for sure! And the heat. This is by far the hottest place we've been. Because of the heat and amount of people, the elctricity often goes out! We were tryng to cool off in the room yesterday afternoon and read, when it shut off for like 3 hours. Everyone just goes up to the roof and hangs.

As we walked through one of many markets yesterday we found a man selling paneer (uncurdled cheese- kind of like tofu) on the street. It's my birthday and I want cheese. So street cheese it was! Street cheese and Indian wine, which was really good, on the roof at sunset. Was quite lovely. Then we were joined by Yen who had spent the afternoon lost. ha poor guy took rickshaw after rickshaw trying to find our hotel, which incidentally doesn't have AC! It's a waste of money for AC as the power goes out so often. But,yeah, this place is a maze!!

Today was the morning boat ride and we'll do one at sunset today when there's a huge Hindu ceremony going on. Tomorrow we're doing a 4 hour tour of temples around the city and then Sunday we're off to Nepal. Well en route. We just started looking at Nepal and WOW!!! we have so much to look forward to! Tentative plan as of breakfast today (which was awesome; eggplant, egg, potato and tomato salad!):

Bus to Tansen from India. Tansen is supposed to be a tourist free lovely little spot.

Bus to Pokara where there's a beautiful lake. From here we'd like to do a week trekking through the mountains, but we're unsure if we'll be able to due to the monsoon.

Then bus to Mugling where we're going to white water raft for 3 days to the Chitwan National Park.

At Chitawan Park we'll ride elephants through the park to see rhinos and sloth bears!

Then it's off to Kathmandu!

Yey sloth bears!

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