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Taking the North Country to Northern India
On to Varanasi (Benares): November 13, 2004
There's so much to say. Lets see, I don't remember what I told you about last. Um, on one of my free days in Rishikesh, I got my eyebrows threaded (like waxing but it's really cool, because the woman just uses a piece of thread) and a facial. The next day we started our two-day rafting adventure. Most of you know me and tubing--we don't go together like peas and carrots. Before we started rafting, they were explaining what to do if you fall out, and I was freaking out. As the day went on I got better and had fun with it, although, I won't deny it, whenever we hit really big rapids and were supposed to be paddling really hard, I sort of just got into my "get down!" position. :) On the first day there were only two really big rapids, which was nice, because it gave me lots of time on the easy rapids. But on the last rapid of the day our guide was like, "So, if we're going to tip anywhere, this is the place, so brace yourself." Of course, that really scared me, but everyone made it through "The Wall" still on the rafts.
Now I kinda wish one of the rafts had tipped over. Our camp was the sweetest thing ever. There was a giant, white, circus-looking tent that we ate under (and the food was amazing--we had chicken for dinner!!!!!!--I hardly ever get meat here.) And then there was a row of really cute walk-in tents with two beds for us to sleep in at night. After rafting we made the best of the day by playing volleyball, playing World Cup soccer (Dom and I, playing as England, tied with Nigeria--mike and Haeli...ahhh, gts), and then at night we had an intense game of Mafia. The next day we hit more rapids and a bunch of more fun. On some of the small ones we added little twists to going down them, On one rapids everyone stood on the sides of the raft and tried not to fall in, and then on another we all jumped out and just floated down it (it was cold but fun--and once again, the Ganga there is cleaner than it is in Varanasi--so we were all ok).
After our rafting adventure, we went that night to see a puja in downtown Rishikesh. I was totally zoning out for a while and then it sort of hit me...I was standing next to the Ganga in India watching 7 and 8-year-old Krishna devotees swaying and chanting to the prayers that this group of older devotees were leading, and I almost started crying because it was just really cool. It's so amazing being here, but at the same time it's hard to feel like I'm completely soaking everything in. because there is just soooooo much going on. I'm worried that I'll come home and people will say, "So how was your fall semester?" and I won't know what to say, because it's all so wonderful and horrible and amazing and surreal--I dunno. Anyways, the next day we said goodbye to all the kids at the orphanage, and it was really cute because they made us all cards and I got one with a little poem, and then at the end it was like, "I love you sooooo massh." hehehe.
We rode for an hour in rickshaws to Haridwar where we got on the train. The ride out there was really eye opening because we had been staying in the tourist/rich person section of Rishikesh and the longer we rode the more I got to see of the differing economic levels in the city. It went from rich, to middle class, to poor, to extremely poor.
Cows really are everywhere. One was nonchalantly walking through the crowds on the platform. When we first got on the train, it was crazy--there was no room, and people and backpacks were everywhere. We were on a sleeper carriage because it was supposed to be a 23-hour ride (but of course it ended up being 25 hours). I don't really know how to describe it--it reminded me of what it must have been like in steerage class on the Titanic.
Once that hellishly long ride was over, we arrived in the holy, ancient, crazy city (I think all the cities here are crazy) of Varanasi, aka Benares. As we were finding our way out of the station to find rickshaws, we passed this cow lying on the ground with one of its horns cut off. It was all bloody and was dripping blood on the floor. I thought it was fake at first, like it was some really twisted-sick joke, but then I realized it wasn't. Which was worse.
We got these really cool old-school white cars to take us to a possible hotel, and ours was super-cool because it had these little blue lights on the ceiling, so it looked like we were in a club or something, but we were just squished in the back of the car. The hotel was full but we had some really amazing Middle Eastern food (it's sad, but I feel like I know more about other food than I know about Indian food). Then we crammed two people each (with all our baggage stuff) onto 7 bicycle-powered rickshaws and got rides through crazy Varanasi in the middle of the night--two nights before Diwali for that matter. It reminded me of those Visa commercials where they list how much stuff cost, and then at the end they show a moment and they say, "priceless". Yeah, so it was a priceless moment, and it sort of made me think of The Sound of Music when they're all riding on their bikes and singing. We weren't singing, but there was a bit of a competition going on to see who could get in the lead, which probably wasn't the best idea because we were all falling out of the little seats and the traffic here is insane, but we all made it to the hotel in one piece.
There's so much more to say--I'm in a homestay again and I'm going to start volunteering and doing an internship soon, and Diwali was last night, but I need to go, so I'll try to write another letter soon.
love you all lots, Becks
2004 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475