Friday, October 06, 2006

from Varanasi

We left Jaipur this morning pretty early, and I was hoping to catch a picture of a camel on the way out of town since they're relatively ubiquitous. I took the picture below and then waited awhile -- no more camels, so I put my camera away. Then I saw another one (meh, it's probably the last one) then another one (that's surely the last one) then a whole mess of camels but it was too late to take the picture since we were driving relatively fast. So anyway, here's my one picture of a camel.

They seem to work pretty hard, and as we drove through the old part of Jaipur, I realized that transportation there takes place via manpower (cycle rickshaws and walking), horsepower (real horses), horsepower (cars and buses), donkeypower, elephantpower, and camelpower.

One more elephant shot -- he was hustling down the highway, hard at work:

We flew to Delhi and had a tight connection to Varanasi, but had no problems. It's been difficult for me to think about Varanasi for some reason, I get choked up and cry. It's Marnie's part of India, so it touches me for that reason, but it's something beyond that. This is the most holy city in the world for Hindus, where the physical and spiritual worlds touch, where pebbles and cows and water are sacred. I'm not a religious person, but I think it's the sacred nature of this place that touches me and makes me cry. There's really very little sacred in my everyday life, rushing around my little realm, beyond my love for my family. But this place is anciently sacred and sacredly alive. I think that's what touches me so much. It's a place for purification, as Marc noted, and that also touches me very deeply.

As we were driving through town, I saw this amazing silver coach -- I have no idea what it's for, but it's incredibly ornate:

And lots of these mini-parades of people, don't know if this one is religious or political:

We saw another one in which a man and woman were standing in a flatbed truck, both wearing garlands of orange flowers and holding their hands in namaste, followed by a mini-parade of people. Religion here isn't something you just put on for a couple of hours on Saturday or Sunday, it's not separate from life like that. As we drove along, our taxi driver pointed out a stretcher on the side of the road covered in bright cloth and a growing accumulation of flowers; he said "there's a dead body, they're taking it to the ghat to be cremated." There's a dead body, not someone's dead body. They're taking it to the ghat, not him or her. The person is gone.

So we're in an incredibly beautiful hotel, the Taj Ganges, and we've got our too-brief time in Varanasi worked out. A car will pick us up at 5:30 this afternoon to take us to a ghat where we'll get in a rowboat and a man will row us into the Ganges so we can watch the evening aarti, the daily and very holy ceremony where the Ganges is put to sleep. I can't wait, the river is filled with little candles floating on leaves, there's smoke and music and praying and lights. Pictures to come.

Then we'll wander around, get some dinner, do a little bit of sightseeing. Tomorrow morning a car picks us up at 5:15 to take us back to the ghat, back to a rowboat, where we'll go into the river to watch the morning puja, prayers and rituals, in the early dawn. Then breakfast, more wandering and looking and being overwhelmed, probably.

Pictures to come in a few hours.

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