Varanasi to Lumbini 10-11.03.11
(Pictures at https://picasaweb.google.com/109837841352688899289)
God I was glad to be leaving Varanasi I had seen Bupa one more time, I had been out in the lanes taking photos when he’d just appeared and took me to see his friend who’s father had been a great astrologer there, I didn’t really like the guy he was a bit weird seemed to be living in his deceased fathers shadow and his place was filthy, the streets may be filthy in India but homes I had always found were clean and well swept. He spoke pretty good English though and so straightened out a few things for me. Bupa, he and the young guy I had been playing guitar with were priests, which is what “Pujapat” meant. He also told me that Durga was the Godess and Shanka was god and that Kashi was the God of Varanasi and then jaw droppingly he told me that there were 83 million gods in Varanasi, I had to ask him 3 times just to make sure I heard right
83 million? And was told yes that was correct, what that means is there are apparently 83 million shrines all across Varanasi, which I could believe and in each shrine there lived a real god. It was what they believed and what I had heard and seen.
I did manage to do a little healing with Bupa there, it was gentle and he got it I could feel that Bupa was in a tight corner I wouldn’t like to say dark, because he was such a good man, but it seemed to me he was so devout that he couldn’t actually see the light if you know what I mean. But it may have been referring to his family situation, the group of people who lived in that wonderful falling to pieces place, there was defiantly strife going on between them all, no breathing space, and so as it always is people fought for what space there was. Maybe that was what was going on in India itself. I wished him well, deeply, later they told me that he was going to get married next year to a woman from Gujerat who he’d seen but never talked to, it all seemed so tragic to me, Bupa was lonely, but I’m from a different world what did I know about it all. I just felt it, at the end of it all he’s just a guy trying to make sense of the world, just like me I supposed.
I stepped out of that lovely last meeting and almost immediately got into a huge argument with the drug dealers who hang around the street corners taunting the tourists, but I was late and had to get back to the hotel to pick up my lap top and bags, it really is a shame that this supposed holy city is infected with such negativity, I wondered if Kashi was actually disturbed and simply not heard under the thick layer of dirt and noise.
One night there I didn’t sleep all night waiting for the sunrise, as I lay there I had a flash back to a time or so it seemed, a life in that place (I have questioned it many times since, but I’m pretty sure) I saw a young man, down by the river, he was in love, I glimpsed the woman, the city itself shone behind him, it was golden and beautiful and the river glittered. Though magnificent it still is I suspect Varanasi is a shadow of what it must have been in its day. It would explain my strange anger and resentment there. In days gone by there would have been no train, to get there would have been a serious undertaking, a vow or an ordeal and to die and there would have been either an accident, fate, or a huge commitment from your family to get you there then to have you cremated and placed into the currents of the Mother Ganges.
In the modern world, and please don’t get me wrong, as it just seems the way it is with all things, the sacred has been drowned under a tidal wave of tradition, what once was is no longer, or at least is buried under dusty repetition. People looking back means nothing moves forward, there is security and identity in what was but the past was looking forward when it created these things, and so the present looking back is to me something that is dying. Is it not better to look around at what is here now, keep what is valuable and what works, look hard at ourselves, forgive our failings but do something about it. To change what needs to be changed for the good of the moment and the times that we now find ourselves living in. This in itself is a great challenge and perhaps we live in a time of great insecurity and so look back to times when things seemed to work, or so the myths legends and the parables tell us they did, the same could be said for the place I come from too, perhaps it is simply human.
I watched the Ghats, I remind myself I am not Hindu but it looked like factory at times belching out smoke, never resting. Mountains of piled wood that seemed to dominate the city far more than any temples there. I am deeply saddened that that is how I felt as I could sense where it had evolved from, but sheer numbers and the myth of tradition had taken over long ago from what must have been something very beautiful. The ritual bathing of the body in the river was little more than a dunk, I watched when quite a few people had lifted the body onto the pyre how they didn’t know what to do with their now unclean hands, I watched on as a man lifted the body of an obvious close relative onto the pyre then immediately answered his phone and stood chatting whist the body waited to be burned, all signs that people were missing the point about the death and the journey and about respect. But to be fair death is a strange affair and personal to all who come up against it, we all will for sure at some point even if it is only our own.
I doubted whether there were spirit at that “particular place, though there must have been. I recalled Phil my friend and teachers funeral he had not stuck around to watch. What was the point in that? Funerals were for the living, I was glad to be leaving too.
Back at the hotel the guy had had the virus cleaned off my lap top, which was a great relief, he said it was his pleasure to help me and though he seemed like the only man in the Puja Hotel who had genuine manners and regard for the Visitors I know that he creamed me, but he was there to make money right.
The station was as usual like a refugee camp, and maybe it is, the people there stared at me as usual as I walked through, the rickshaws had fought over me, I had knocked the price down, but paid extra on my arrival, that was my choice which felt better I wanted them to appreciate me as I had tried to appreciate them. The platform and train time instructions were clear here. But then of course the train was 2 hours late. It was due in at 10.30pm but was announced at 12.20am that the train was running late and be arriving at 12am. Oh it’s India everyone says, but why is it accepted? I suppose there are just too many people and so where to begin, it is overwhelming. The priority is food on the table for the children then yourself, everything else was way down the list. So it comes down to the Indian bureaucracy which needs to be shaken out of its numb dumb stupid sleep but who and how to give it its first shake. I was saddened but I was out of there and I’m sorry if I appear harsh.
I found my carriage and bunk after the mad scramble when the train arrived, people literally climbing over one another to get on to seats that were booked. A man appeared out of the crowd as he’d spotted two other Europeans and myself trying to find our carriage after we’d been told it was a non sleeper, my blood had risen but luckily he cooled it right back down again and pointed us to the end carriage. I was genuinely very grateful to him. I sat down on the bottom bunk and staked my place like an angry dog. People came in and out of the carriage looking bewildered some sat on my bunk.
“This is my bed” I said with obvious an obvious no nonsense in my tone
I wasn’t having anybody ‘taking’ anything from me again. Two guys had taken the top bunks, I said hello and held out my hand, they recoiled like I was a leper, then I checked their clothes they were wealthy, it explained a lot. A few minutes later an older man and a man about my age entered the carriage looking flustered, they asked me if it was my bed.
I said sarcastically “Yes, that is why I’m sitting on it” he looked wounded but I was definitely not moving for anybody. He called the guard and after much huffing and puffing it seemed the two guys above were in the wrong carriage.
Once that was all sorted I came to regret my hostility. It turned out they were Nepalese though the old guy ‘Punket was now an Australian citizen for over 20years and returning home via Varanasi to put his wife’s ashes in the Ganges then on to visist his relatives in Nepal. They were absolutely lovely, kind, warm and open. I was truly humbled and after a few minutes, I apologized to them sincerely for my bad manners and explained why I had acted like that. They both generously understood, it was another lesson for me, as you never know who will come to visit. Punket told me on that journey that he had been to Varanasi about 40 years ago he said he was saddened buy what he saw this time, that the city had definitely deteriorated since he was last there, they made me feel better and I was glad of their company.
It was a wrestles nights sleep and though we had fist class their was no air conditioning, except open windows but at least we could have the door locked so I never felt I had to chain my things up. We arrived into Gorukpur at approximately10am which was 2 and ¾ hours late, not too bad. Punket tried to get together around 12 Europeans which there were precisely on the train for a mini bus he had talked to, it would be cheaper and faster than the bus but a few of them slunk off so we couldn’t do it. Punket really didn’t want to be squashed up on the bus, so I said I’d shared the cab with him, I felt I owed him, and it was a pleasant journey to the border where we both got jostled and physically knocked about by the Indian rickshaw drivers, they were mental and it was only a 2 minute walk. Once there we filled out our forms got our stamps and crossed through the arch into no mans land at the Nepalese border where we paid our 30 US dollars visa fee (which would allow me 15 days stay) and we were over.
From there Punket got us a rickshaw to a cross road about 2 miles further away from the border where I would get a bus easier, he ew the situation here and spoke the language, I tipped the straining rickshaw guy who had peddled us there I stepped out paid my half punket pointed me to the buses we said our goodbyes, they were genuine and warm then we let go and I was out there in Nepal.
I was instantly hustled aboard the bus with raised voices and lashings of stress then sat there with everybody else sweating in the sun. The bus driver allowed the bus to fill beyond Dharamshala limits and so I volunteered to sit on the roof. To my surprise the driver nodded and just as I was getting off two girls I’d met at a chai stall along the way were trying to get on. So I said
“Come on we have to get on the roof” they didn’t seem to pleased at first but it turned out to be great fun. I tried to make room for them all but they were a little uptight, so I just left them too it and sat at the front zooming along with the wind and the dust blasting right at me, I felt my Dad up there with me as the bus rumbled along
“Bloody great Micky boy, hold on tight”
I was in my element again, riding on the top of a bus, on the move, adventure, things happening, making good choices. It was fantastic. I was on the way to the birth place of Buddha and I had time to spare. As we pulled in to lumbini an hour later the silly bus conductor had said the fare was 200r which I chocked at, he then dropped down to 50r then 40r which turned out to be correct, but one of the girls stood him down and wouldn’t pay past 30 I gave in at 35r we stood it off and in the end he got back on the bus very upset, it didn’t feel right and we were told by an old man stood there that
“Nepalese pay 40r you come here you pay 40r too” I was shamed, the girls didn’t care, but the conductor had tried to trick us and so we didn’t believe any price. The girls also knocked the hotel right down too beyond what felt good to me. Next day I went and paid the extra 50r that I felt was actually reasonable. Lots of Europeans get into the mind set of knocking the people in these tiny places right down because they can and have the money, if feels a little gross to me. I supposed that you get used to it in India as you have to fight to hang onto your money there and you never really know the correct price and so fresh from India people have their guards up and I suppose have got into the habit of not believing what price is quoted them. After I had settled into town and my room it really did feel so much more relaxed.
I went for a walk through the village later it was pitch dark on account that there is only electricity between 10am & 4pm. So the road was pitch black apart from candle light and head lamps, a wonderful fairy tale feel, though the reality of course is no fairy tale at all. The people were so different too. Nobody hassled me all the time I was there. Just hello’s and what is your name, sweet and beautiful looking people.
I slept deeply that night. I really enjoyed it woke once or twice but just went back off, I felt myself recharging, comfortable bed, clean room, people with manners, very nice feel indeed.
Next day I was up early ate and went across to see where Siddhartha was born. I was a peaceful day, just wandering along the different temples out in the sunshine, peaceful like you’d expect a Buddhist world to be. It was wonderful to see where he was born, the pool where his mother bathed in the before the birth and see the actual marker stone showing the exact spot, I was really touched. Then visiting all the different temples from around the world, some grander than others. The Buddhist theme but with the particular countries feel who had dedicated it. It is an unfinished work in progress, many of the temples are not complete yet, but the notable ones I saw were the Nepalese temple, the German temple which was quite a surprise and beautifully done, I sat in there for a service and watched all the young kids sat cross legged in their robes playing around just like kids in a choir would in a Christian church, there was a sense of fun, then a big high ranking Buddhist came and looked over the service. Everyone was on best behavior, they gave us tea in the break as a young monk went around and paid all the monks their pocket money which really opened my eyes to the reality of the monastery. During the next half of the service I went deep into a meditation and had to be nudged awake as the old boy was going. They were all waving him off from the steps out front. When he gone around the corner I saw a young monk draw his hand up in a mock military salute and stamp his foot down at the same time, they all burst out laughing, I was laughing too. I liked them. I’d also been up to the huge white domed World Peace Stupa at the far end of the place which is really impressive and so I have called it the “Supa Dupa Stupa” as it is huge, though honestly at that point I was wilting in the sun.
I had rented a bike and got some lunch and just pottered around through this semi wilderness that surrounds the place ridding up and down the long avenue. I nosed in just about every place and temple there as you can imagine I would, when the whole place is finished it will be amazing. It had been such a lovely day, nobody tried to sell me a thing, nobody followed me repeating the same thing over and over, I was even allowed to just stand and look at a stall, it is the simple things isn’t it, it had been a peaceful pleasure.
The little dusty and raw town still feels like there is a little bit of purity there, still manners and greetings, open and smiley. The people so far in Nepal are beautiful and seem to mix openly we shall see. There was a power cut just as I asked to see the menu in a café/restaurant. The lad had said there is no menu and then spoke the 3 things that they had ready, I bristled, I was still raw, so I went to another café, but it was the same there. I was again humiliated by my own rawness and would have to do a little work on myself to lower my defenses and open up again. There is so much to loose in a misunderstanding and the people here seem to be sweet people. I am looking forward to the rest of Nepal.