Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Days 16-19
The next few days were spent relaxing in Darjeeling and were uneventful on the whole. I have grown quite fond of Darjeeling away from the honking and polluting jeeps that invade the lower streets. I enjoy reading a book and drinking chai in the square and, like the locals, just doing nothing except enjoying life. I have found myself to be a little envious of the man I buy chai from. He spends his day chatting to friends and customers, doing little other than having a huge pot of chai on the brew all day, thus making a living. I no longer see having money as being rich, far better to be rich in time, I wonder how I can find a balance between the two? It was planned that Kerry and I would take a jeep to Sikkim on Thursday morning, but Kerry was very ill during the night with sickness and shits, so I left her in bed and visited a little monastery. I was befriended by a local Indian man and he gave a history lesson on Bhuddism. His English vocabulary was incredible but his thick Indian accent meant I understood little, which was a real shame. However, he did have a key for the monastery and so I was able to spend some time inside meditating, whilst he continued to walk clockwise around the building, to 'clear his mind' and 'gain merit'. Later that same day, from my hotel balcony, I could hear chanting from the streets below. I grabbed my camera and went in search of the story... Marching from the streets below to the main square, were children in protest or in support of the demand for Ghorkaland, an independent state for the Ghorka people of the Darjeeling area, which is currently governed by the state of Bengal. Next came the women and then the men, I can tell you the women made the most noise! They gathered peacefully in the square and sat to listen to some speakers. The reason for the gathering were talks being held in Delhi between Ghorka leaders, Bengali representatives and the central government. In the square, I was again befriended by an Indian and I learned a little more. So in the space of a few hours I was briefed in the history of Bhuddism and regional politics by Indians in English, I just needed a chat about cricket to cover all things dear to Indians.
With Kerry feeling better, we made the journey to the Sikkimese capital Gangtok, which appeared cleaner and wealthier than Darjeeling but lacked character. Rather than joining an expensive tour to north Sikkim, we decided to head to Pelling and trek to the surrounding villages, going as far north as our permit would allow. This was an inspired decision and lead us to meeting a great group of people including Michael, an Aussie biker, fellow Liverpool fan and a top bloke. One night by candle light and eating yak cheese mono's ( a Tibetan mini pasty ) we hit the honeybee brandy, joined by a couple of other Brits and Canadian lass. We got locked inside the little hut as there is a 8pm curfew here, and drank a beer called 'Hit', it felt more like a 'smack', I checked the label and found it was an 8% beer, there'll be trouble in the morning I thought. Trouble arrived around midnight but only for Kerry, she spent a half hour vomiting into our squat toilet bless her.
Trekking between villages one day, a young man passed us by and said, "Hello Uncle, hello sister", I can tell you Kerry was delighted to be his sister, whilst I wanted to give my nephew a clip round the ear...
Sikkim is a beautiful place,its the perfect tonic to crowded India, the only problem was I hadn't experienced enough of India to want to escape it. So I spent most of my time thinking this is great but its not India, so having used only 7 days of my 15 day permit, I found myself winding, bumping and honking my way back to Darjeeling, then to Siliguri and New Jaipalguri train station and onto a train bound for Varanasi.
After 16 hours on the train, I was surrounded by no less than 30 men wanting to take me to my hotel. I bargained hard and ended up in Satin's tuk-tuk. At full throttle he weaved through the heavy traffic breathing fire all the way, I thought about offering him double the original fare but I was too scared to approach the beast.
Varanasi is one of the worlds oldest cities and sitting on the bank of the Ganges River makes it the equivalent of Mecca to Hindus. Millions come here to bath in the sacred river which is one of the most polluted in the world. Words cannot begin to describe this place, 'a sensory overload' is exactly what this is. Its shocking, disgusting, exciting, intriguing and very overwhelming. Kerry was in tears within an hour and I thought we'd be leaving in the morning. There is a biblical feel to the place, poverty and religion are everywhere, a temple, a whailing mosque, a man with no limbs, a woman having a shit, a dead body, men touching each other, the stench of shit and piss, the sweet smell of chai, men with guns, people drinking the dirtiest water in the world, cows blocking alley ways, people collecting cow dung, endless touts offering boat trips or opium, scary looking sadhus with their face painted white meditating or smoking pot, the place is nuts. I sat down in alleyway with the obligatory glass of chai, in the 5mins it took me to drink it, 3 dead bodies were carried past me. In Varanasi, death is as much a part of daily life as drinking chai. To die here, offers the soul an escape to the cycle of reincarnation, 'go straight to heaven and do not pass go...' Wandering along the ghats, I found myself at the main burning ghat, I was curious to have a look without offending. Several fires were burning and more bodies were being prepared. I was standing just a few feet away from a fire and noticed the legs and feet of a body poking out untouched by the flames. It was a tough thing to see for me and I guess westerners. There appeared to be no mourners only men busy selling and preparing the timber for the next 'lucky soul' taking the shortcut to heaven. I was beginning to feel like my two year journey so far was an apprenticeship for India. I'm not sure if I could handle this place if I'd just stepped off a plane from England.

No comments:

Post a Comment