19.01.2011 - 20.01.2011
19th Varanasi - Delhi
5am. My alarm goes off. I let it ring for ages. The other two don't even move. I get up, turn on the light. Still, no movement. You two are slugs.
We were to catch another boat up the Ganges, but this time at sunrise. We all crammed in an autorickshaw. I stood in something slimy in a dark alley. We got chased by men who 'have a boat'. We found one whose price we were happy with, and off we went. It wasn't dawn just yet; maybe a slight hint of lighter sky to the east. Bron and Joss sent candles out across the water, and clunk, clunk, clunk, we headed downstream. Unlike the other night, there were no fires and dancing- but the burning of bodies never stops.
Men covered themselves in Ganga water, over and over again, careful to completely wet every part of them, which is particularly impressive in the dead of winter. It was freezing without being wet. Yet all up and down, men, nearly naked, and women, fully clothed, all plunged into the water, before clambering back up the steps to get warm.
After a yummy breakfast, we headed back to the hotel, and for a little bit of contrast, lounged beside the swish hotel pool for several hours. 2 Swedish girls came and lay there in bikinis. One gave the water a shot. It was freezing. I could have told her that.
Catching a taxi to the airport, I sort of sadly looked upon the last Indian countryside I would see. It was really beautiful, the canola crops, brassicas, and women amongst the fields, working away.
The flight to Delhi was fairly uneventful, although it was the first time I had ever actually walked from the airport to the aeroplane. It felt kind of odd. After a fair bit of smog after takeoff, we enjoyed an hour and a half of sun in the eyes, followed by a pretty landing at sunset. How idyllic it all looked, bathed in peachy sunlight. Delhi seems to be mainly residential apartments, and forest. It's a bit weird. And there was a patch of heathland with a river running through it. Where are the slums? Maybe further out.
Susan had been really keen to visit Connaught Place, again, for a bit of contrast to the rest of the trip, before heading home. So, after my wanting to murder our taxi drivers for being Indian males (thus not capable of listening to a woman), checking into a not-so-glorious hotel, we headed out to Connaught Place, to experience the sort of Chadstone of Delhi. It was mainly fancy clothing shops and even fancier restaurants where the prices were literally ten times what I had seen anywhere else. I didn't know such places existed!
Trusting Lonely Planet (despite our numerous disagreements), I dragged the O'Malleys to some sort of South Indian take away joint half a kilometre away. I was worried at first; it looked like McDonalds, was noisy, and oooh no, we didn't know what 95% of the things on the menu were. The others got a Thali; I stuck with a dosa, for old time's sake, and I dunno about the others, but I was not disappointed!
Served on a banana leaf, the thali had three pappadum type breads in the centre, surrounde by about ten little metal dishes of various richly coloured curries, sauces, yoghurts, and a dessert. My dosa, as big and glorious as ever, also had a banana leaf, and four dishes; one gold, one red/brown, one mint-green and finally, a white one. All were absolutely sensational, and a lovely trip back in time to the food we had in Mumbai and Goa. Home again, shower, bed. My exploration of India is over.
20th Delhi – Melbourne
After a rooftop breakfast, all five of us headed to the airport. I had expected a largeish car. It was a tiny car. 3 bags on the roof, two in the tiny boot, four gals mashed in the back, we headed off, through the partly familiar streets and highways of Delhi. I will miss you.
And so here I am. Sitting in an airport. The O'Malleys have flown away home; I still have a few hours to kill, in a waiting room where the Indians seem very civilised, unlike some very similar ones that scared me silly waiting for the plane to Mumbai 6 weeks ago. They still snort and cough like they're trying to heave up a dead rat, but it doesn't intimidate me anymore. They still stare at me for half an hour straight, but I hardly notice it. I don't even remember what used to phase me. I just hope I don't go home and start offending everyone by driving like a lunatic and pushing in queues. No, I still know what my culture is, but I think India has certainly taught me a lot. It has taught me that losing it doesn't work; if someone's pissing you off, talk them down with dry humour; always leave with a smile. Because, rich or poor, healthy or sick, surrounded by loved ones or homeless and alone, happiness is everything. And people mean more to us than we are sometimes willing to admit. The price of your tandoori chicken or taxi ride doesn't really matter, but it is nice to get out of a taxi having picked a bit of a fight with the driver for shits and giggles, at the very least.
This country certainly has the whole 'chill' thing worked out, but that's certainly not to say that I think it's a healthy place to live. Never will I accept a world where men think they possess women. I think it is the most vile and outdated behaviour imaginable. And I understand that girls cost money to marry off in a dowry, but to therefore label all females as some sort of burden on society? The number of times the O'Malleys said that they had two daughters, but only when they then added that they had two sons, too, did people say 'Ah, you are a lucky man'. The way boys go to school, but girls are always the first to be taken out in times of financial need. That in a family of ten boys and one girl, the girl speaks the best English, because she has worked hard, yet they still kill baby girls because they cannot afford them. I can't judge, but to someone of my cultural background, it makes some sort of logical sense, but is completely inexcusable in every other way.
Same with castes. Sure, make holy men the highest caste, but to force a whole group of people into a life of begging, because they are so filthy and untouchable that they cannot even buy food from other Indians, let alone earn money? A life of slavery, being abused for something well beyond their control, having no basic human rights? Are untouchables and the abuse that they receive some sort of strange exception to the whole karma concept that seems such a strong part of this culture? I understand that no world is perfect, it just a difficult thing for a 19 year old white girl from Australia to get used to. And of course, things ARE changing; in some communities, the caste system has been demolished, and all children have the right to an education. Some men at least know to treat western women with courtesy. People are being educated about basic hygiene and safe sex, slowly. You can see the public signs in every village. It will be a long road, especially with so many people so heavily set in their ways, but I guess we just have to respect every fairy step they take in the direction to a healthier way of living.
So here’s to a wonderful journey. To write a proper reflection would take several weeks. So let’s just leave it at this: India, you have changed me most profoundly and exposed me to some of the most breathtaking and heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen. Thanks for the memories. I will miss you.