Along the Ganges River @VARANASI, INDIA

Along the Ganges River @VARANASI, INDIA
First time in INDIA | From thought to real

PART III

( Varanasi  & Sarnart )

Varanasi a 4,000 years old city by the river with a colorful and mysterious way of life.

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**Part one is here @ http://mithuna27.com/india-in-dream/
Varanasi is certainly one of my favorites when it comes to seeing the life of the locals in the alleyways there along the sacred Ganges worshipped by the Hindus.

A quick fact check: Being four thousand years old, Varanasi stands the oldest city of India. It was here that Lord Buddha decided to give his first sermon to the first group of disciples of 5, after he found the enlightenment in the deer park, Isipatana, where is now called Sarnart. Well, that’ll suffice for now.

IN CONCLUSION

As I used to say, “Some of the most outrageously cute experiences about Varanasi, asides from hazy streets, is probably the poops lying around the sidewalks.  You wouldn’t know where they came from or which cows, buffalos, goats, monkeys, or even if somebody left them causing unpleasant sight and smell.  Stepping on one?  Don’t panic.  You’ll get used to it fast!  Can’t get your shoes cleaned up?  That’s fine too.  Because most likely you’ll step on another in a minute.  Asides from that, these people must have had a thing for Japanese.  If you found yourself hearing some weird accented Japanese words sounding like “kimuchii” or “konichiwa,” that’s probably the locals being nice to you.  Just yell some broken Japanese in return.  They wouldn’t know what that means, but they’ll like that.  Varanasi has its charms with all these small shops in the alleyways along the river, where the locals flock to sell anything you can imagine.  This is some kind of adornment to the river in itself.  Varanasi, incredible India!”  And that is true to very last word of it.

After paying respect at the great stupa once more, I hurried back to the temple to pack and hailed a ride. Almost got caught in the traffic, I finally made it to the train station. I ran like there’s no tomorrow through the crowd, hoping to get the tickets in time, and luckily I had them. That almost brought tears to my eyes.

Life on the train

I hopped on the train, and second-class ticket brought me to the car with rather civilized, well-mannered Indians.  It gave me a different impression of the raw gruff boorish locals I normally meet on the streets.  But if you’re in the funky mood, take the local trains.  On the train, I met a boy who sat with his handsome father while his mother was napping on the upper bed.  Having fun playing Candy Crunch with the boy didn’t require us to talk much.
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*The first class car housed double bunk beds, while the second class car triple bunk beds.  Both classes of the car were air conditioned, equipped with folding bed compartment.  In the second class car, getting our backpacks into the upper bunk bed needed a bit of monkeying, and got them laughing at me.

P.S. Judging from this photo, I was still very tired from dashing in from ticket booths into the train car.  All sweaty and perked up, right?  Hahaha.DSCF5661

Even in the heat, Indians always have time for a hot cup of tea.  Maybe all the ice just evaporate in that kind of heat or it was the influence that they got from being under the British Empire back then.  Well, here is one tasty cup that took my breath away.DSCF5666

Mughalsaraij Station

The train arrived at Mughalsaraij Station in 3-4 hours, which was a longer route to take to get to Varanasi. Actually, there is a shorter route, but I decided not to take to save some money.
DSCF5698 DSCF5719 DSCF5706*A photo of Pop, a nice and polite adventure mate. We met here and he tagged along for just a few days. Pop was a nice guy who put others before him, but relentless to those clueless Indians on the streets. Simply put, even Indians thugs would have to bow to Pop. Hahaha. I’ll put off saying thanks to you until the very end, you lil’ rascal. 🙂

This pinkish fountain served the purpose freshening people up in this extreme heat. Use it to wash the dirt off your face, and clear your eyes with. And despite its hint of murkiness, this water quenches the thirst of people here. (but not me)DSCF5713DSCF5730

Super Rock Auto!

From here, it took another 30 minutes on auto.  (Auto is short for auto-rickshaw which is a kind of three-wheeler vehicle.)  The city, though very crowded with people, but at least the roads are well paved.  The roads outside the city are dirt roads.  The auto while getting through the bumpy roads shook me side-to-side, getting covered up by the dirt from the roads, feeling like being inside Koala’s March box.  So a piece of handkerchief to cover your mouth with is strongly recommended.  The driver was listening to his Indian music sounding like the beats of drums and clunky string instruments, though faintly heard from the passenger seat, I figured it must have gotten him movin-and-jammin’ through the bumpy day.  The reckless driving style made him a guy not to meddle with, cutting in front of other autos and cows just by an inch or so, constantly honking horns tempting others.  The mixture of the sweaty dirt all around me, the heart-pumping Indian songs, and being shaken in the auto rubbed me into thinking that life was so much fiercely fun.  (Yeah, a bit extreme to some.  Hahaha.)  When coming here, it must be all these things that put you in the present and recognize!  So don’t put on your earpod diving into your comfort zone of some pop songs and cutting off the surrounding.
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The Haunted Indian

The first local con man I met

The auto driver promised to bring me all the way to my lodging, but he dropped me by the outskirt junction, saying that it’s only a bit further down the road but his auto wouldn’t go. He left me to continue on foot, and because of the chaos I had endured all day, I didn’t have strength or time to argue but only asking him to point to the right direction. He said to go and ask some kids, and he took off. I looked around and found people taking autos into the city. That’s when I knew the driver conned me. He could’ve taken me into the city, and after a few kilometers on foot, I knew that it was not just “a bit further.” I didn’t know it would’ve taken me at least 2 hours of a walk into the city. Factoring in all types of road hazards and crimes, I really needed a transport. Fortunately, a rickshaw came by. The driver seemed to know the guesthouse I was headed too. So that night I was saved and got ourselves a little guide, Mayulr. What a relief!

Chaotic Night

My first night in Varanasi had a mix of fear and excitement. Unlike those in Kolkata, the locals here busy life. The streets were so full of people orderly heading somewhere, lugging carts, carrying food, and stuff. Everything I saw here reminded me of the past centuries or something, maybe the time Siam was lost to Burma. I too was flowing mindlessly along the crowd feeling hopeless like prisoners of war at the time. (It sounds impossible, but it got me going. Hahaha.) The Indians thronged the streets, very energetic and a little threatening from who knew what they had for dinner. The Holi Festival was nearing, so they were all out buying new house items to prepare. I simply inched along the street, and that was faster than any type of transport. I was too tired to walk, let alone stand up, so Mayulr got me on rickshaws and I couldn’t help but feeling like lord and mistress of a mansion having him tagging along.

While I was on the rickshaw, the locals past me by to carrying a corpse headed for the Ganges River to be cremated and washed away. They came so close that putrid smell from the corpse was almost unbearable. The corpse gave me a chill to the bone since it was only covered by thin fabric. That was how death is a grim reminder to everyone. Some days these corpses just float by the shore while the dwellers are doing all sort of things including drinking, cooking from that very body of water.
DSCF5799**DSCF5818**The auto brought me to Varanasi by night time. The city, though full of people, was still scary to some degree. My little guide, Mayulr, and I took a ride on 2 rickshaws.

Our little guide ‘Mayulr’

was a boy who are interested in computers and English language skills. He told me, “I am free until Wed-nes-day.” So I figured that was the day the Holi Festival took place. But no! He meant to say Wednesday. To him, I said, “You mean Wednesday?” He insisted, “No! It’s Wed-nes-day. You are not pronouncing it right. I took a class. They taught me. You can’t trick me,” and gave me a brows twitch acting so proud. Seeing him so proud of himself like that, I thought, “Hmm. Maybe I have been saying it wrong my whole life.” (I also found a lot of others pronouncing Wednesday wrong too. Maybe it’s something you can find out for yourself.)

The Varanasi Allay

At last, we’ve come to the alleyways. We took off on foot into these small alleys woven together forming a complex network like that Diagon Alley in Harry Potter movie. Without a guide, I would be absurdly lost. To be honest, I was totally afraid to go into these alleyways at night. They are not just so tight, but all these people were making it feel even more uncomfortable. Every step I took sent a throb to my heart. Every sharp turn may reveal dark corner and dirty menacing Indians could’ve just jumped on me and took me for their sexual adventure. All I could do then was to toughen up and make the face, but I was all too pretty and dainty on the inside, and all these features couldn’t be kept locked up but reveal themselves into a beautiful girl as I am. Hahaha. (Whaaam!! My readers must have been slapping me to snap out of my dream.)

We often bumped into some Indian soldiers along the ways. They were there to keep the peace. This is our first night. By the time we were leaving, it would be the night before the Holi Festival. I assure you. It would be the night where all hell break lose.DSCF5862DSCF5860

I could hardly found a smoker here, ever since I came. But a lot of them, both men and women, chewed areca. Its red spits can be found on the ground, and the wall. So I must warn you to watch out for people here looking like they’re chewing something in their mouth.
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An antique shop
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A street shop prepping the items for the Holi Festival.
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If you want to go into these stores, you need to step over the front display, as I described in my Kolkata post that the way to go in is the same way to come out.
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Mysterious in the little old shop

The network of alleyways was the charm of Varanasi. The shops carry anything you can imagine, be it, candy, icy cold soft drink, a pair of scissors, stickers, postcards, rubber (Not condom; rubber! But if you wish to find condom, I’m sure they have it. Hahaha.) electrical wires, camera films, firecrackers, hair dryer, toy gun, and countless more. I wanted a pair of scissors. I asked around, thinking I would be disappointed. But at last, I found an Indian running a really run-down shop having stickers, soft drinks, some snacks and other stuff that didn’t seem to belong at the front display. He said, “Yes, I got a pair for you.” He went to the back and came out a shiny new pair of scissors, and best of all it was just about 10 baht. We wanted some scotch tape and Gauze. And what a surprise he had those too. He just went to the back and came out with everything, didn’t he? He must have gotten a Doraemon back there. In this tiny shop just a few square feet, if you want something, just ask them.DSCF5886

Then I saw a hair parlor for the first time. This is a real shop; unlike those hairdressers I normally saw operating out in the open.
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Now some food.DSCF5836 DSCF5851 DSCF5856Looking at this just makes your stomach growl, doesn’t it? Though I don’t recommend eating these unless you want to risk having upset stomach or worse! I took these photos just for show.

Tea in the baked clay

After finishing a cup of tea here, an Indian guy told me to toss the cup away, because nobody else would use the cup once used by people of other classes. (If this is false, please feel free to leave a comment.) So I looked around and found many used clay tea cups broken and were discarded on the ground all around.
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Another kind of street thug that no one would not dare meddling with is the cows. Cows are big here. They can do anything they want just like us humans. They wanna sit, they sit. They walk, sleep, piss, take a dump; anywhere they want. They don’t seem to give 2 cents about us either. And oh! Goats and monkeys too. Don’t mess with them or no one here is gonna side with you. Dogs are minor population here.
DSCF5779 IMG_2596**With a cute goat, this photo was taken after a whole day of strolling along the Ganges River. *

Finally reach ‘Shiva Guest House’

Then it was time to come back to the Shiva Guest House. It was situated near the Ghat waterfront of the Ganges. From here, I could have walked to the river, if it hadn’t been too dark to stride through rough walkway. Google Map that I used frequently on this journey was useless here. I had to rely on my little tour guide. He led me through the dimly lit passage to find the guesthouse. As we neared, my guide led me to turn to a really dark corner, too dark too really see anything. I cringed. It got me suspicious of him whether he was leading to some kind of underground whore house, and my little life would be ruined. After all, in this town of unknown, who could I trust really? Good thing I came with a friend. We hesitated a moment to muster our courage, and took steps into the dim walkway. Wow! I found my guesthouse. Whew! What a night! The room was . . . cozy. Everything seemed decent. Except an old photo of an Indian guy on the wall gave me a creep everytime our eyes met. After a night rest, I came down this very street again. Of course, it didn’t scare me as it did the night before. I realized it was all in my head and I was so tired from spending all days with some hectic crowds.DSCF5897(Someone asked which camera I used. I used Fujifilm X20, and Lightroom to retouch these photos.)

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Guess what this is. It’s clothes hanger. They seemed to be everywhere; the ceiling, or the floor. For these hangers they go all the way up to the top deck. I wonder what they’ll do when comes rain. (I forgot to ask.) The photo on the left was an upshot, the right, taken looking down from sundeck.
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This guesthouse seems decent except that it’s a bit hard to find, and like I said, scary at night. It’s near Ghat waterfront. A short walk and I could find the Ganges River. All sorts of tourists were staying here. They liked sitting in the sofas in front of their rooms chatting about their days and what they found. Perhaps they were even friendlier when they knew I had similar experience. So I encourage everyone not to by shy, talk to them, exchange opinions, and little cultural values.

The Ganga River

Ok, this is the climax of the story. Ready? Good. Follow me. Today I woke up and waited for Mayulr, my accidental guide for another day. But he didn’t show. I paid him for 2-day guide yesterday. I should’ve paid him day-by-day. I didn’t know whether he woke up late or he simply took off. Hahaha. “That’s fine,” I thought. My friend and I waited a moment and decided to head off so we wouldn’t have missed the Golden time.

The first time I laid my eyes on the Ganges rendered me breathless.  I kept thinking that it was so astonishingly beautiful that I couldn’t even begin to put into words.  I felt as if my heart was about to explode.  My hands must have been holding the camera strapped on around my neck so it wouldn’t fall, or these charming photos wouldn’t have materialized.  But I knew no photos could capture the sight that I had that morning at the Ganges.  I only wish these photos would move you, and these words would at least tell you the profound experience I had that morning.

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If my eyes did deceive me into thinking that it was a heavenly river, I tell you, I have no complaints.  You have to catch it at the right time.  Go in the morning no later than half past 6, or what you’ll experience would be completely different from what I’ve captured here, which is perhaps the reason some people say, “It’s just a river.  Stop overrating it.” 

You have to be at the right place, at the right time to fully experience this momentous hour of the day.

Life along the river

People who live by a four-thousand-year-old river.
DSCF5911At the Ganges, everybody seemed to get up early for their morning baths. (And maybe morning pee-pees too, but I’d rather leave it to your imagination because I happened to test the water with my own hand. Hahaha.) The Ganges has many names; some calls it Ganga. It depends on their territory.

The light of the new day

This is the shore of Ganges as I’ve seen it in Discovery Channel documentaries since I was little. The Hindus perform their rituals here, preserving the water for consumption, or bath to wash away their sins. I arrived on Sunday morning. The light of dawn reflected off glistering water looking like a vast golden land as far as my eyes could see. Everything on both shores found its life anew as everybody came out for bath. Some came to wash off the ritualistic paint they had from the day before. Today was the day before the Holi Festival. Perhaps that’s why everybody seemed happy and friendly. Compared to what I used to see on Discovery Channel or Google search results, these old damp paintings looked more vivid in real life. (Before I came here, I Googled Ganges and Indians. All photos I saw looked rather hopelessly grim. But don’t you do that right now. Read on and let’s imagine together. Before you come here and see the grim reality like me. Hahaha.)

Ganga river

Due to the fact that people set afloat the corpses or even cremate them here, Ganges is undeniably one of the most contaminated on earth. Surprisingly, scientists found high amount of Oxygen and microorganism capable of consuming harmful bacteria or virus. The more people keep bathing in the water, the more of those microorganism. That makes the Ganges 25 times more resilient to return to its normal condition than any other river in the world. I am here to attest that the water is clear not murky and odorless not stinky. Here’s proof.
(Info: Ganges River of Life, “Wildest India” a documentary on Animal Planet.)DSCF5921DSCF5923

Let’s shove off!

Now on to the boat! The light is looking swell. 🙂
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The hotel of death

This is where they cremate the bodies. They name this place “Hotel of Death.” It is divided into small rooms to arrange for the dead and the relatives to perform their rituals. No photos should be taken, but I didn’t understand the old boatman, so I was taking many photos until the other boatman shouted at me to stop. That’s when I thought, “Oops, sorry.”DSCF5962

For the rich, they can buy enough wood for cremation, but for the poor, only so much they can afford. All the remains will be disposed into the river. I actually saw remains of a cremated body floating by. Well, at least there was still some coversheet. They use white plain cover sheet for male bodies and any other color and pattern for female. I could see the corpse floated by the locals who were having play time with each other by the water. This is normal for Hindus for they believe that death liberates a soul from suffering. My boatman said that the fire here had been burning for at least 4,000 years. They cremated at least 10 bodies every day.

Moment on the ship

It’s nice. The boatman taught me a thing or two on boat paddling. We alternated a little just for kicks. 🙂
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Asking the Ganges for pardon with a floating basket. Other boatmen would paddle by selling these to you. They take asking price, so go ahead.
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Some people were there to perform rituals, while some were just having watery fun. I was free to take photoshoots, unlike in some countries that people may be offended. Here, the locals couldn’t get enough to be photographed. Hahaha. Just look below.
DSCF6016DSCF6004This man must have been performing a ritual too.

Once I got to the other side, these ladies were performing another ritual, building some kind of sexual Shiva symbols with sand to worship Shiva. (If you want to know about that, Google Linga.)DSCF6028 DSCF6032

On this side of the shore, you must watch out for the con Indians. Absolutely and definitely don’t bother with them!!! They come selling you something, say no. They come giving you a massage, walk away. One guy came to me saying “You happy, I happy, you pay, happy together.” Don’t bother with them. Once you give them some cash, they’ll never leave! Though I recommend taking a horse ride. Don’t forget to settle on the price first.

It’s getting late. I’m getting off the boat.DSCF5988DSCF5933 DSCF5931DSCF5942*Pei and Pop were trying hard, real hard, to look like the locals. Yeah, well. Hahaha. The type of hats they’re wearing is actually used in wedding ceremony. It can be found quite easily. Mayulr brought these guys to get one the night before.

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I’m so satisfy, here is your tip ; )

My boatman was constantly trying to explain to me things in Hindus while we were paddling. I hardly understood anything he said. Some hand gestures helped communicating with him. Like for the time he was telling me in Hindus not to take photos around the Death Hotel, I was actually taking excessive amount of photos just as I thought he said to me to take photos. I didn’t understand him until the other boatman shouted at me in English. Hahaha. Well, at least I got these nice photos. He also taught me to paddle. I was impressed by his honesty and kindness, so I gave him a 200-rupee tip. You like someone when they do good service to you, you tip them, right? After an hour of boat ride, I returned on land. DSCF6080DSCF6099IMG_2340

I saw this guy looking like his head was going to crack open with blood all over his head. Stay calm, though. He had just joined the pre-Holi Ceremony. That red liquid could take a week to wash off. Yet he looked like he was having fun, didn’t he? I told you Varanasi should be a nice place to visit. Hahaha. DSCF6142 DSCF6152 DSCF6179 1200-2 DSCF6134 DSCF6198


This is the chic outdoor barber service that I mentioned before.
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Bird feeder
DSCF6187This guy was yelling at me for stepping on his bird feed, but once I turned around and point my camera, he suddenly turned the smile like so.  Hahaha.  Charming, huh?

About the Holi Festival

This is about time people come to wash off the paint from Holi Festival. It’s hard to rub off, and should stick for days. They believe it’s for lasting friendship. About the Holi Festival, it takes place just when the winter is done, and spring is on the rise. Hindus cease this opportunity to celebrate, splashing paint, and colored dust on each other. The colors represent the will to live prosperously, and like I said, the hard-to-get-off paint represents lasting friendship. Indians set aside social classes during Holi Festival. Just have fun, real fun. Settle rough edges with the neighbors and things like that. It’s that time of year that love fills the air, despite insignificant change in beliefs throughout the years, just like any other traditional festivals like Songkran in Thailand. Here, the night before Holi, Hindus are setting bonfire and burn Holika dolls. It’s a belief to burn evil things, and that good will always win.
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The Civil War??

To be honest, I didn’t know why people were so unusually disorderly the other night. See. Holi Festival is like a civil war. Picture everyone running around avoiding the bomb, saving themselves. (Actually, they were as drunk as skunks. That is how Indians got drunk.) Some even lit up firecracker and dropped it in the middle of a crowd. Some set bonfires. To me, it was a total chaos. My friend thought they might have been burning someone alive, and they had their eyes on me. Well, that’s gone too far. But we have to watch out among the drunk, right? After all, they looked scary enough sober, when drunk, who knows? I was riding a rickshaw and suddenly a local came and slapped the driver on the face. When I catch an auto to return to Kolkata (I chose to do that at night time for some reason. Hahaha,) a guy threw a live firecracker at my auto. Good thing I had the shades down, otherwise it would have come inside my auto and I might get burnt or scream my lungs out. So I must recommend to stay in-door at night, or you’ll risk losing your sanity.

Ganga Aarti

Ganges Aarti is a symbolistic ritual to worship Ganges with fire. None of the god worships can be complete without Ganges Aarti. It is believed to bring wholesome happiness to the worshippers. It starts at 6:30 every evening. People gathered around and chanted together to appease Ganges. Ok. Ready? On land or on the boats. The chanting was about to begin. Ready your Aarti lantern, lotus blooms, and some scented incense.
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The ceremony began.  Chanting started.  Trumpets were blown.  Gong was banged resonating spellbound sound throughout the area.  Strangely peaceful indeed.
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We were on a boat trying awkwardly to paddle our boat to chant with the locals. Luckily the boat was not so far from the shore, so I easily got on land. Attending the ceremony on the boat, and chanting on land certainly gave me different kind of experience. Coming close to these people being among them chanting, I could see their eyes full of faith and I couldn’t help but feeling the same. 🙂 That night, I returned to my room heart filled with joy that I would remember all my life.
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YUMMY!

Yummy! Let me introduce “Ganga Fuji Restaurant” and especially “Spicy Bite.” The food there was so unbelievably tasty. I liked it so much. The locals there can also fix you some Japanese menu, and Korean menu. A lot of tourists dropped by and had a taste.

These menu below are from Ganga Fuji Restaurant. This restaurant had full musical bands playing Indian fun jumpy music.  Many customers left a piece of greeting notes on the wall.  If you go there, try to find mine. 🙂  I dined here since my first night.  I brought Mayulr too.  These were different curry dishes that I couldn’t remember the names.

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Chicken Tandoori DSCF5874

And this is the best contender, Spicy Bite menu “Chicken Burter”.DSCF6289I think the winner this round went to Spicy Bite : )

SARNART

“Sarnart” or known Isipatana park in the old days.

Let’s go on a little pilgrimage, shall we?
Before setting out, do little face painting, and snap!

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Today, I’ll take autos into Varanasi.  On the way, an official hitched a ride with us.  I wasn’t alarmed or anything.  It’s normal. 
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The Sarnart entrance fee was just 2.5 baht for Thai visitors, a great discount from regular 50 baht, because Thais had been not only visiting the park, but also rebuilding it.
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The park was very spacious with many historical sites.  For those who aren’t religious, they wouldn’t get the sense of the significance of the park. 

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The Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon to his first disciples of five here some twenty-five hundred years ago.  The Dhamek Stupa is now set on that exact spot telling the visitors the story of Buddha enlightenment and his setting the wheel of Dhamma in motion at the time.  Now, allow me a moment of peace to pray  : )

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You can also meditate here, and despite the heat, you should find peace within.  Then it’s time to get back.  I was still holding on to the charm of the park.  I wish I could stay there for Holi Festival.  But well, better stick to the plan, joining the festival at Kolkata, then fly back to Thailand.  That night I returned to the guesthouse knowing that it was the pre-Holi night, so I should have fun going back again.  (As I mentioned in “About the Holi Festival” and “The Civil War.”)

End of this trip

Finally, I want to summarize my tips for you,

so you’ll be prepared for your trip.  I’ll also tell you how I felt about the trip, and my opinion toward India briefly.

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About how I felt

  • With all the hardship and discomfort going on this trip, I’ve come to be aware of my physical strength.
  • The autos gave me exciting experience, even though every ride almost gave me a heart attack.
  • I shouldn’t have given any cash to any kid-beggar because all others would surround me begging for more.  *(Actually, they would come begging no matter what.  So be prepared for cutey-dirty kids all over you, and don’t get scared.) *
  • Dirt!  Gosh, so much dirt!  Just imagine yourself being sprinkled on at the top of those chocolatey sweets.
  • Even though they know we wouldn’t understand neither Hindi nor Bangalore, they speak it anyway. 
  • Having intense feeling toward someone and want to let it out?  Yell something in your language.  They’ll shout something back in their own language; an altercation just for kicks and nobody gets their feelings hurt too. 
  • Stepping on poops in Varanasi is like breathing the air, drinking water.  Chill out! 
  • Anything can happen on the walkway there including poops, pee-pees, product displays, damp clothes on the hanger, animals, chicken slaughtering, or even human slaughtering.
  • Indians, particularly, those at tourism sites, are aware of you tourists with cameras.  Whenever they see you taking selfies, they’ll call you out and if you think they’d take photos of you handing them your camera, they’ll say, “No.  No.  Me.  Me,” with his fingers pointing to himself, and before you know it, they take a few steps back and pose.  Hahaha.  You’ll get used to it.  Go on and take “their” photo.  Show it to them too.  Don’t be rude.  I assure you they want to see their photos. 
  • The sales reps here are really aggressive and ready to pull off any tricks.  First, they may tell you, “It’s free.  It’s free.”  While they’re doing something for you, say a message, they’ll notice you’re feeling happy, and they’ll almost immediately say, “Happy, happy.  You happy.  I happy.  You pay.  Happy together.”  Haha.
  • When buying something, negotiate the price.  They’ll get you more than you really want to buy, with a cute smile on the face, and end up costing you more.  If you say you don’t want all the extra stuff, they’ll simply make innocent face saying, “Oh not 5?  Just one?  Well get 2 then?  Why not get 2?”  Something in that vein.
  • Travelers, there are real travelers.  They are very friendly and no one is too proud to talk to one another.  Probably they realize that they have never lived a life with so much hardship and that goes the same to you.  Haha.
  • Indian foods are tasty, hands down.  Don’t believe the naysayers.  Go there fully prepared about what to eat, where to dine, and you’ll find the whole experience more pleasant.  Do your research.
  • For anybody who says India is filthy, I have to agree.
  • Before buying any product or service, make sure to get the exact price of each item.
  • Always check your bills, because ringing the bills wrong happens all the time in India.
  • Make sure you fight back when you’re taken advantage of, or they’ll do that again and again on you.
  • Getting a Sim Card there is very difficult.  I wouldn’t do that on a-few-day trip, but rather, use Wi-fi inside any shop you can find.
  • If you’ve never visited India before, make sure to have some mobile data plan.  Get a roaming plan if you have to.
  • Don’t ride the Kolkata subway, unless you have to.  Though very cheap, it’s so cramped with Indians that it may suffocate you.
  • Buying things outside the mall, try asking half the price.

India is full of 2-opposite things visually or emotionally.
Life goes through so much hardship, but touching smiles are everywhere.
If you asked me what I impressed me most about the stay, I would have to say their smiles.  (Yup, a bit cliché like beauty pageant, isn’t it?)
The dirtiest surrounding I’ve ever encountered.
The prettiest sight I’ve ever laid eyes on. 

All in all, this trip to India has been the most glorious 7 days of my life.  While living there can sometimes be dangerous, India shall stay in my memory as a country I most adore : )))

Self Note

I’ll always remember . . .
The impression I felt once I got out of a cab and shouted, “Bring it on, life!”
The impression I felt when I set my foot off an auto.
The first taste of chicken butter and Nans.
The cringe and frustration I felt when I got on a sleeping train.
The morning at the Ganges River.
The moment when I reached into the holy water of Ganges.
The fright while I was waiting for an auto in the dark night among those Indians crowd.
All these precious memories that I have never felt before.

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SCHEDULE

Trip records: March 13 – 20, 2014
13 Flight to Kolkata.  One day to visit Victoria Memorial.  Packed inside a cheap 2-baht subway.  Shopping.  Deep in the underground market (for money exchange.)  Night train to Bodh Gaya (Sealdah station)
**14 **9-hour train ride to Bodh Gaya.  Spent a night at Thai temple.  Took a stroll.  Worship the Mercy Buddha at Mahabodhi Temple.  Evening rickshaw ride to the Japanese temple. 
**15 **4-hour train ride to Varanasi (Mughal Sarai station.)  Arrived by evening.  A boy as our guide navigating the network of alleyways and finding the guesthouse.
**16 **Catch the Ganges at dawn.  Sarnart at brunch.  Back at Varanasi for dinner.  Out at six to get tickets to attend Ganga Arati.  By late night, catch an auto to Kolkata (very scary.)
**17 **Lonely and quiet day in Kolkata.  Off to Kali Temple, but end up at a wrong one, and almost watch cows and goats sacrifice.  Visit the St. Paul’s Cathedral and the tomb of Mother Teresa.  Shopping for some souvenirs.
**18 **A whole-day train ride to Santiniketan.
**19 **Off to Kali temple, and got it right this time.  Got back and had Peter Cat for dinner and make Henna.
20 In the morning, fly back to Thailand
 : )

BUDGET** **

Visa : ** $65 (in Thailand)
Jet Airways : $188
Train : $52
Living & other: ~$60

Total   $365**

Exchange rate 1 USD = 65 Rupees (from underground market in India)

Don’t forget

Mandatory items & Cautions

Mandatory items include:
+handkerchief
+a pack of hygienic masks
+smelling salts
+diarrhea remedies
+hand gel
+wet tissue
+bunch of small bills
+petition paper for VISA.
+Allow 2 weeks after being vaccinated. The hospital should best advice you regarding vaccination once they know which country you’re headed. I took 2 vaccines against Typhoid and Encephalitis.
+Spending a night at Thai temple at Bodh Gaya requires booking through their Facebook page.

+The document that you have to print for VISA https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/info1.jsp

Vocab. Note

Rickshaw = basically a three-wheeler.
Auto = motorized three-wheeler.
“Namaste”, “Namaska” = Hello.
“Bai-ya” = “Brother”, “Bro” male auto driver.  (“Di-di” = Older sister).
“JOL LI – JA RO” = Go faster.
“A-cha” = Ok.  (When saying OK, you have to shake your head.)

Other

– Many Indians are vegetarians.  So packing of many products or menu items at the restaurants are clearly labelled Veg.
– India is not a country that you should travel alone, especially for women, first time travelers and visitors, or during festivals.
– India is a dangerous place.  Be on guard most of the time, and the rest be hopeful. 

– Not just in India that you should be on guard, any other foreign countries too.
– Any place can be so dangerous if you are reckless. And no place can make you happy
 if you constantly focus on the negative side of things.
– So, Use the positive and negative at the right time. (only you can know, what the right time is.)

Special Thanks

Thank you, all of my fellows.
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After the trip

The only remnant from the trip to India is the Henna that I got. It lasted for a week after the trip, and everytime I looked, it reminded me of India.  Thanks for everyone and everything that made this trip possible. It had been an undeniably precious experience. Bye-bye India and until next time. I promise that.

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