[Oct 24th, 2005] News from India – Clara and Martin.

Cosmic Flight to India. We got to India, flying from Katmandhu to Varanasi by Cosmic Air. We thought the name was very funny when we first saw it, and I even took a picture of a sign. Now after 2 weeks in this part of the world this seems very trivial. The flight attendants were wearing saris, but again, what could I expect? I am in India! Varanasi traffic: the order in the chaos. Varanasi has 3 million habitants and not a single traffic light. There’s a variety of “vehicles” that I’ve never seen before: cows, goats, bull carts, cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, bicycles, taxis, trucks, buses, of all ages and sizes and in various conditions share the narrow roads in a clear display that God exists and spends considerable time preventing accidents in this part of the world. If you have a honk, horn it, if you have a bell, ring it, if you have nothing, it’s ok to just whistle. But make sure you do it continuously, maybe just stopping when your hands are busy changing gears. It would not surprise me if they modified cars so that the horns would go off all the time by default, and would only stop at the press of a button. The Ganges. Today is our third day in Varanasi. It’s been a long day, we woke up at 3AM with our yogi neighbors ringing bells and blowing on shells. We then went for a sunrise boat ride in the Ganges river, to see the people performing their pujas (ceremonies). The ganges is like a big karma cleaning bureau with many alternatives for sinners and saints: offerings of sweets, candles, bathing, meditation and so on. Cleanliness is very important for hindus and everywhere you would see them thouroughly scrubbing their bodies, covered with foam like a soap commercial. They brushed their teeth with fingers and a black powder, or with a piece of wood that they buy fresh everyday. To my mind this seemed so contradictory, considering that the ganges is water is extremelly poluted and contaminated, but I guess this is India, full of contradictions and with people doing the best they can with the resources they have. We also saw people taking laundry to the river, they pile stones like a trampolin and they thrash clothes violently against it. Secure your zipers and buttons. As this must be the clothes version of purification, it’s predictable that they will let go of their attachments. Trapped in Silk. Our “taxi driver-guide-tout-professional hawker and I can fix it all Mam and Sir” guy took us to see the silk area, where the muslims work on weavers factories. We thought why not, good to see and photoghraph. He casually said that few tourists had the priviledge to go directly to the manufactures, and therefore were lured into much higher prices. At that point, we fools, were not aware that this wasn’t really a tour, but a long process to get us into buying even if we were not planning to. We left with 4 scarves and 1 sari. I am still trying to figure out how to wear the sari. India without anestesy. I come from a third world country, and I thought I had seen poverty and lack of basic sanitary conditions. I was wrong. India takes things to a different level and there’s no good or bad neighbourhood. Even if you’re in a 5 star hotel (which we are not, but let’s just play along), as soon as you step out, reality grabs you, assuming a multitude of forms – a family of pigs eating from the garbage dump right next to you, beggars defying your theories, and kids going to the bathroom in the middle of the street. Travelling with a 12 kg backpack, with no schedule or reservations, and on the budget side of the road gives you a much closer contact with reality. Sometimes too close. Without the touristic shield, the air conditioned bus taking you to places, the high end hotels and the reception at the airport, you are left with predatory rickshaws, squat toilets, and spartan, hopefully clean accomodations. But there are many things that compensate, and soon enough we are laughing about them. I am even getting used to crawling things. We get used to never finding toilet paper anywhere, to the places that say they have hot water but they never do, to the hair in the food (what the heck it could be ours!), to the crazy driving. And we are rewarded with the smiles of people, their happiness when we take their pictures, their wonder at our watches, the color of the saris, the flavours of the food. Ok, there’s a japanese tourist with a dress and western boots in the 35o heat waiting for the computer. I’d better go. Love you all, Clara and Martin