Despite just getting to India, I’m gearing up to leave again. As Alanna said in her last post, we met up in Varanasi about two weeks ago.
After my trek, I had to get my Indian visa, which took longer than I thought. But it actually turned out for the best. The reason it took longer than the usual 5 days, was because I happened to send it in on Shivaratri, which is the Hindu god Shiva’s birthday. It’s a pretty big deal, so the Indian embassy was closed. But, it meant I got to hang around and enjoy the festival with a very cool Irish couple I met, Chris and Sinaed.
Kathmandu is a cool city, but I was feeling the need to get out, so I decided to hop on an overnight bus to Lumbini. The town of Lumbini itself is nothing special, but just outside of the town is the remains of the place where the Buddha was born. It’s a Buddhist pilgrimage site, and people come from all over the world to study Buddhism here. Countries from all over have set up monasteries, and I just spent two full days exploring them. There were not many other people there, which was nice. I needed a break from the madness of Kathmandu and knew that I was headed for even more madness in India.
After a few days, I went back to Kathmandu and my visa was actually ready early. So I made all my arrangements and bought my bus down to Varanasi, where Alanna and I planned to meet. I was to take an overnight bus to the border, and then another bus from the border to Varanasi. Simple enough.
I got to the border at 5:00am and made it across no problem, only to be told that the bus ticket I had purchased in Kathmandu to get me from there to Varanasi was a fake, and totally worthless. In my sleepy daze, I accepted this fact and the new outrageous price the travel agent gave me for the other bus that was going to take me to Varanasi. He told me it was a VIP bus and went all the way there. I got on the bus only to realize that it was a 40-year-old local bus where three people are crammed into two seats, and it was not going to Varanasi. I was the only tourist on the bus, and just as the bus was leaving, an Indian guy in front of me turned to me and pointed to the guy who had sold me the new ticket and said “That man is a cheater!” The advice came a little late, but I realized that my original ticket had been the real deal, and this guy had taken it from me and sold me a new bogus ticket. I ended up having to take a series of three separate local buses to get to Varanasi. In total, the 600km trip from Kathmandu to Varanasi took 28 hours. I was beginning to think maybe India was not going to be the place for me.
But I met up with Alanna the next day, and we ended up having a fantastic time in Varanasi. We spent almost a whole week there. Our days consisted of leisurely breakfasts, followed by exploring the many ghats (bathing steps leading down to the water), and trying to navigate the endless maze of narrow streets around the city. We met an American guy named Dan who was there to study Tabla and teach at a music school. He talked me into taking a few lessons and they were a lot of fun. The lessons were scheduled for whenever I felt like it, and they always included the obligatory cup or two of chai. We also met two great girls, Amy and Sandra, with whom we spent quite a bit of time relaxing, eating, and hanging out.
Because I only had two weeks in India, and because both of us had to make it down to Mumbai to catch our flights eventually, we decided to splurge and take a flight instead of spending two days on a train. We got to Mumbai on the 5th, and despite the big city feel, we haven’t let that disrupt the relaxed pace of life we had settled into in Varanasi. The city is beautiful, and there’s so much to see and do. If you’re into buildings and architecture (as I know a certain few of you are) this is a place to visit. The buildings seem to be a mix of everything. There are the colonial buildings you see everywhere, but they’re infused with Indian architecture.
I had never read Shantaram before coming here (and I’m still working through it, and likely will be for the next few weeks), but Alanna and I accidentally stumbled across a few of the famous palces in the book. We had drinks at Leopold’s (where a great deal of the book takes place), which I can assure you has changed a LOT. But what was even cooler was that as I was reading I realized that we were staying in the same guest house that he does in the book, and maybe even the same room! I though that was cool.
We also happened to be here for Holi, which was an amazing experience. It’s a festvival where people take coloured powder and water, and just spend the day covering each other in all sorts of colours. We went to one of the local beaches to check out the scene, and weren’t there 10 minutes before a group of local kids decided we looked way too clean, and saw to it that we became purple. The rest of the day was just spent walking around having more and more layers of colours smeared on our faces. Most of it came off in the shower, with the exception of some dark blue powder around my eyes that made it look like I was wearing drag eye liner the rest of the day.
We had hoped to become Bollywood stars while we were here (or just land parts as extras in a movie, which is fairly common), but it never quite happened. So instead we settled on going to see a Bollywood movie last night, which ended up being a lot of fun. Despite it being in Hindi, both of us were actually able to follow along with impressive accuracy.
I have one more full day here, and then it’s off to Morocco! Both Alanna and I have been getting ourselves antsy with excitement while reading the Morocco Lonely Planet. We’re meeting a few friends there, and so it should be an amazing time. We leave on different days, but I get to Fez around the same time on the 15th, and then Aisha joins us, followed by Nyman a few days later!