Friday, January 1st, 2016
It’s the New Year! Well, it was in India anyhow. We had a late start to the Ganges River since two girls from our group somehow got themselves locked in their room, and had to be rescued by the hotel staff. We joined Jim in the rickshaw and since it was so early in the morning, we experienced our first mellow morning in India with limited traffic (which is still pretty damn congested)! It was a nasty walk around cow and human excrement as we traveled through the alleyways to get to the river. I was really regretting my not-so-wise choice to wear my Teva sandals that morning. Fortunately, I still have all ten of my toes, so I got lucky!
As soon as we arrived to the Ganges, we were bombarded by women and children handing us foil bowls full of flowers and candles, which they wanted us to purchase as an offering. We declined. There was enough trash and other disposed items floating around in the water, and we didn’t want to add to the downfall.
It was a foggy boat ride at the start, but it eventually cleared up. Through a mouthful of chewing tobacco, our boat guide spoke as he pointed to the ghats (steps) and the cremation sites along the Western bank of the river as we drifted by. Looking at our surroundings, there were many glowing offerings floating around in the water. A group of Asian tourists were throwing food into the river which was attracting seagulls above us. I begged the gods to keep bird poop from landing on my head.
Looking back towards the ghats, there were tons of people, each on their own mission as they utilized the river for various purposes. Some pilgrims were dunking themselves in the holy water or bathing in it to wash away their sins. Others were beating their recently washed laundry against the steps.
The worst was watching a man scrubbing his teeth with it. Jules informed us that in order for water to be suitable for washing one’s self, it should have less than 500 fecal coliform bacteria per liter. The Ganges has 1.5 million per liter, and there are also bodies floating around it. Not the best water to be gargling.
The chatter, chanting, and chiming of the bells got louder as we approached the crowds forming along the river. We tipped our guide and hopped back in the rickshaw, witnessing two cows fighting one another and a goat getting run over by a bicycle as we returned to the hotel. The goat was okay. Stunned and startled, but okay. I could totally relate to that goat.
We ate breakfast before returning to our rickshaws to head to Bharat Mata Mandir (the “Mother India Temple”), which was established by Mahatma Gandhi himself back in the 1930’s. Inside was a large marble relief map of India and the surrounding areas, which included the peaks of the Himalayas.
Outside, there was a man with two monkeys trying to score some tourist moolah. One of the monkeys was holding a gun. This is India, that gun could be loaded and that monkey was giving me the stink eye. There was no way I was approaching that mess. He then proceeded to bust out cobra-filled boxes. The man kept getting bit by the cobras and he was just calm and relaxed as if he were handling kittens. “These are just venomous snakes munching on my fingers. No big deal.” Whether they were de-venomed or not, it was still creepy.
Our next stop was to the Muslim side of town to check out a silk factory. There were many people hard at work inside on the old looms and other machinery, making some incredibly beautiful and colorful silk garments.
The guide showed us where they punched out the holes to create the patterns through the machines. As we walked from building to building, we waved to all the cute children running around outside, and I was incredibly amused by all the goats wearing sweaters.
After the tour was over, we were taken upstairs to a room with a massive comforter on the floor lined with pillows. It was time to get comfy! The walls were covered with folded fabrics, and one by one the shop keeper would throw out garments in the center of the room with swagger. The colors were so vibrant and before we knew it, we were covered in a long veil of rainbows. Trevor and I weren’t planning on making any purchases, but ended up leaving with 3 scarves. It was a battle to the death between a few of the girls in our group who would snag at each item before it even touched the floor.
Earlier in the day, Jules had organized us into several small groups to put together meal plans for the days ahead. I was with Ray, Carmel and Bennie and we were responsible for making dinner for the upcoming Sunday. Together, we took the rickshaw to the mall and were chased inside by a little girl yelling, “money, money, money!” as she held out her hand. There was a clear division of class bordering the mall’s entrance as security stood guard outside, not allowing any of the poorer people past the gate.
Bennie and Ray were nervous that we were planning a meal with such spontaneity, while Carmel and I were calm as Hindu cows since we both were used to whipping up random stuff back at home. We decided to make a vegetable stir fry and got rice to go with it. A whole lot of rice. We were made aware of the mass amount of rice when a grocery store employee said we had chosen an “American sized” quantity. The produce was lacking so we went elsewhere to get fresh veggies. We ended up being way under the planned budget, so we were super proud of ourselves. After an eventful day, we had a night-cap with a few people from our group at the bar.
Jump Back to Part 8: Paparazzi, Badminton & ‘Double Fisting’ in Varanasi
Jump Ahead to Part 10: Interpretive Dance, Monkey Business Meetings & “Blue Balls”
Start from the Beginning at Part 1: Don’t Forget to Pack Your Anxiety