I mean, I did choose this. This isn’t some sort of surprise. I love this, but I can’t wait to get back to the beach.
It was after dark when our plane landed and the three of us had no idea what was coming, well who does really. I mean with a little bit of research you could prepare yourself; books, documentaries and rehearsed stories from friends suggests that it’s a dirty, smelly, colorful and incomparable country. Incomparable… What? Is that some sort of deep meaning to “figure it out yourself?”
As we waited to exit the airplane, I quickly realized something about this action that I had never acknowledged back home. To be on a plane isn’t exactly a reality for 95% of this race. Surrounded by Americans, Europeans and Hindi’s of a high class, I felt like I couldn’t blend in. Even to be employed among this “assemblage” implies that starting now, we, the white girls, have just turned into walking dollar bills, whether we had the dough or not.
You don’t exactly work your way up here. I thought, as the cabin doors opened and we exited the aircraft single file.
A wave of excitement and nerves ran through me like a surge of electricity that immediately made me feel sick. Maybe I just need to go to the bathroom. Like Delhi Belly has hit me already and I haven’t even eaten anything.
Regrouping at the end of the gate we scurried to the baggage claim to grab our stuff and go, making this transition as quick as possible.
My alarm rang and the abrupt sounds surrounded the room until I rolled over to turn it off. Shortly after, the others did too. 6:10am and still dark. Reaching overhead for a full body stretch I inhaled deeply forgetting completely where I was. The restriction in my breath and the sharp pain in my lungs quickly reminded me that I wasn’t close to home. Not even a little bit. Not even somewhere comfortably away from home. India.
We could hear the chants and chimes coming from the ghats only a couple blocks away. The three of us got up, changed into different dirty clothes and proceeded to do our daily rituals best we could. Brushing our teeth with bottled water, collecting our necessities for the day and definitely not showering. Somehow, the night before we had organized a sunrise boat “cruise” down the Ganges river in Varanasi. One of the cute little indian men with absolutely no teeth met us late at the entrance of the guest house to guide us to our boat. Was a sunrise though? We weren’t entirely sure because you could kind of see the sun through the the thick layer of ash from the funeral pyres on the ghats. The ash of wood and bodies. Around 300 bodies per day are cremated at the ghats.
I’ll never forget reading this excerpt from written by Peter McBride in National Geographic “ When you step off a wooden boat onto the banks of the burning ghat in the oldest of India’s cities and you weave through a maze of funeral pyres hissing, steaming, and spitting orange embers into an inky night and you feel the metronome clang of bells vibrating inside your chest and a wave of furnace-like heat consuming everything in its reach, you realize how removed you truly are from the ritual of death” I read this after my experience in Veranasi and related to every word. I wish I’d written it myself.
After our “cruise” we docked and were a little overwhelmed and emtional. We thanked the boat driver for his tour and stories in incredibly broken english and carried on.
Upon our departure we came across a young man with a bowl of dough. I asked him what is was for. He said that he comes to the river every morning before his work day. His guru told him that is was his dharma to feed the fish. “When I do this”, he said, “the gods will give back.”
That was the first time we crossed paths.