Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday, December 18th

Well, I have had about three days or more, it seems, of a flu that is beginning to wear off and am ready to sit down in this little internet cafe which is not a cafe in any sense of the word but a tiny space with computers installed as close together as they can be and the users close as well.  It was interesting the other day to see a young man trading shares on his computer!
We are having memorable moments and experiences all the time and already I am thinking we will have to come back!
I left out one of our encounters in Delhi that I want to return to before getting more up to date.
The hotel I booked on-line in advance had two versions - we were in the less fancy one - and next morning were taken to the main one to get our refund on the taxi trip, escorted by a young man, of course.  He took us to his office and we waited a bit in this large room with a 8'x4' glass topped desk and oversize padded white leather chairs.  Eventually, his 'boss' came in - another young man who was not in a suit but much more casually dressed in jeans and an open-neck shirt.  He pulled up a wooden hard-back chair near the desk and proceeded to ask what we want to do while in Delhi etc. He was ready to organise a big trip for us, but fortunately was interrupted by the real boss, a Sikh in silk suit, shirt and tie, who came in and occupied the padded chair at the desk.
After much chat about our country etc. he began confiding personal problems with his wife and mistress and asking our opinion about his morals.  He told us about his marriage, his two sons, his wife leaving him for three years and then wanting to return while he had fallen for someone else who was now about to get married herself and they faced the dilemma of how to continue their relationship in secret.
He seemed sincerely troubled and figured he could talk to strangers.  Perhaps our lasting memory of him will be his example of how he now lives like a king - having left a hi-tech job in California to return to India - he awoke this morning he said and was about to get up when he noticed that his slippers were not right at his bedside but a few yards away across the room.  He rang for the maid to bring his slippers.  He is 37 and already extremely wealthy - helped by inheritance and no doubt some work on his part.

We took a car and driver for the day from him and were able to go around to the sites in Delhi - among them the immense Red  Fort that the British used as a center for many years - an enclosed park area with many admin buildings and residences. 

Before I go any further I have to tell you about walking and driving and being driven here in India - at least in the north.  Indian drivers are the most attentive we have ever seen and the most efficient.  There is no multitasking possible and anything that seems key for driving or walking our streets is almost the opposite here.  As drivers, we are constantly trying not to surprise people behind us - so we signal our intentions, shoulder check, look in the mirror etc. In India, who is behind you is of no consequence, you simply go forward into any space you can find.  Penalties are incurred if you hit someone from behind so your attention is always on what is in front of you.  Speeds are typically slow.  As a pedestrian, you can simply walk out into the stream of traffic and weave a path across the line of bicycle rickshaws, cars, autorickshaws, cows, dogs, motorbikes and bicycles where all that are capable of it, are honking their horns every few feet.  There is no point reacting to honking because it never stops and is not really a signal of anything - it just functions as an announcement of presence, not very often as warning to get out of the way.  It all seems very good natured and despite the incessant noise and the apparent chaos, we see little evidence of irritation or actual impatience - this is just the way you get from a to b and whoever can find an opening first, gets the opening and moves forward. More or less!

Walking can be quite hazardous and also requires concentration since you might find yourself stepping into cow pats or doggy doo or onto banana peels or into cavernous holes in the sidewalk or into heaps of sand or dirt that has been piled in anticipation of eventual building or something like that. 

Agra to Varanasi
From Agra, we took the sleeper train to Varanasi - the sacred place on the Ganges River where people bathe and perform rituals around life and death and the steps of the ghats stretch for a mile it seems along the banks of the river.
We walked from our hotel down to one of the ghats our first morning - having arrived at 4:40 a.m. we were too early to check in and made our way to the river.  As was true of seeing the Taj, so seeing the ghats and the river, slow and wide and brown and edged with the brilliant colours of saris and white dhotis seemed familiar but also magical.  As we stood gazing, Richard was tapped on the arm by a wiry little man in white and offered a massage for 10 rupees, about 25c.  Well, okay, why not.  He sat on the stone step and had his head and shoulders pulled about, sliced and chopped; then his back pummeled, his legs pulled and pounded, his feet kneaded, and finally was instructed to lie on his back and then his stomach and be pounded some more.  I watched and took some photos.  About twenty minutes passed.  Richard was smiling and occasionally grimacing, but feeling relaxing effects on his usually tense muscles.  But this was clearly no 10 rupee massage!  And no, it wasn't.  When he deemed the job done, the masseur requested 400 rupees.  We mentioned his original 10 rupee offer and he said that was for the head. Well, this was a typical situation, you are asked or told one thing and it turns out that agreeing to x means very little if the offer is actually for z but you don't know it.  Of course we gave him close to what he asked - it was a good massage and how often does one lie on the steps of the Assi Ghat by the Ganges and have a massage!

Although the train journey was fine, we were not too eager to be in Varanasi for only a day and then get back on the train for 24 hours to Amritsar.  When we looked at our tickets to Amritsar, we found that we had been booked 3rd class instead of 2nd class which would mean 6 instead of 4 people in the cabin and for 24 not 12 hours.  We called Irfan and told him we wanted to cancel and change our route.  We would stay in Varanasi and go from there to Delhi.

To be continued - the shop is closing down....

We had thought, before we got redirected, that we would go to Varanasi at the end of our trip and make our way up to two or three other Buddhist sites but s

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