My last day there was very pleasant with a long walk looking for the tanks which are lakes with steps all round where the people do their washing and bathe. Some are shit holes in which the thought of washing is most unpalatable (but somehow clothes come out sparkling), some are ok, and occasionally one finds a treat as I did this time, tucked away behind the Jagannath temple and in little side streets which had Google Maps foiled. It has a Ladies Changing Room all freshly painted in blue, flower pots and flowers growing all around it and lots of fish. On the way I had met a delightful 72-year old who invited me back to his house for chai which we had sitting on his verandah. His daughter made it but all I saw of her was a hand. He told me some things of interest: India is beginning to get out-of-town supermarkets and this will create enormous problems for all the millions of little stall holders in the bazaars; the banks and mortgage companies are doing what the West so foolishly did by giving 100 percent loans to poor people who will often have no chance to pay it back; more women are working and they are therefore getting their own money and this will have profound affects on Indian society; the reason so many Hindu temples are closed to non-Hindus is because they got sick of the mostly-Muslim vandalism (but plenty of Hindu vandalism as well he said with a twinkle); the tremendous amount of education being rolled out in the cities and villages is taking away all their imagination (we used them for programming in Deloitte and you had to specify exactly what you wanted and they never questioned it); the standard of living is not going up for the middle classes because prices are rising so fast; the painting I and Shari had bought in the village should have cost 2R per square inch and that we missed by a country mile! he thought I was in my early 50s so you can imagine how much I warmed to him! A lovely hour.
I found the cremation site down by the beach and watched one happening. i won’t go into details but moving and horrific. Down on the beach itself was the Indian tourist area and right jolly it was: packed with people and all the ladies bathing in their colourful sarees. I walked back along the beach (about 4 miles) to my lodging on gorgeous sand, past an Institute of Sand Carving with a couple doing their stuff (reasonably well but not outstanding).Back in the hotel I got talking to a lady who I had been told was ascerbic but very interesting .. and so she was. I misheard her say that she had been taking to the hotel staff instead of the locals and when I asked if she had managed to get out today she was withering! Well, after that things got a lot better. She must be in her 80s, has had the Yuppee Disease (her words – ME) for 30 years. cracked a rib two days before she came out here, travels alone for six months and gives money away to charities. Without pushing the Venkat Trust at all she told me to wait, went up to her room and came back with 5,000 rupees (£50) then went back up again and came back with a fifty pound note! When she left for an early night she asked for a really good hug, What a wonderful person.
Well, I am fairly competent at getting around this country but catching trains freaks me out. I am told that they are really hard to book and if I miss my connection what will I do? (I heard this morning that for foreigners it is actually quite easy.) I needed to catch the local bus the next morning for a ninety minute trip to Bhubaneswar to catch the train at 12:20. The end result was that I did not sleep a wink, arrived at the station with four hours to spare, was terrified I would fall asleep, the platform was only announced with five minutes to spare and I got on the train a complete wreck .. but had a great window seat, a Lee Child thriller to calm me down and at last felt relaxed. Slept ok … with a little chemical help. Met Simon and Denise on the train and my initial impressions that he was charming and interesting and she was frumpy. First impressions are not always right! She is gorgeous; he never stops talking and turns every conversation back to some story about himself. They have taken a year off to marry in Thailand and travel the world.The first encounter with Varanasi was annoying but quite humorous. Dave had recommended a guest house on a ghat and I thought I had booked it but was not sure because for various good reasons I did not have an email trail. They had no record of my booking and no spare rooms so the three of us found somewhere else (with a nice rooftop restaurant and a good room for a tenner) but at 3 pm Dave’s guest house phoned me asking where I was!!
i was warned that Vanarasi (Benares to them) was chaotic like nowhere else in India but I beg to differ. Imagine a river with 3 kilometres of massive steps down to it, full of Hindus taking the holy waters, men in pants, women fully clothed, old people being helped to immerse themselves three or five or seven time (may depend on how fit you are?). Holy men, some covered from head to toe in ash, staring wisely about and sometimes asking for money especially if you photograph them which some seem to love and smile gloriously. Hundreds of boats, rowing and motor, taking people up and down or across to the other side, some packed with people, others gently rowing a loving couple. Lots of games of cricket on the narrow steps with the ball having to be retrieved by climbing from boat to boat. Then you look up behind you are to see buildings perhaps a 100 feet high most in not good repair and then someone tells you that In the worst flood some decades ago the water was OVER those buildings. How can there possibly be so much water? I walked the three kms to the last ghat then looked for a nice rooftop restaurant for a Kingfisher and some grub. It was really hard to find (I am told that people have tried to set more up but tourists are idle and aren’t interested in walking up four floors (especially the Indian tourists!)). I had a superb massage at the Dashashwadedh ghat out in the open which was promised to cost only 50R but ended up much more after about 40 minutes. A very strong guy who knew his job. Spent forty minutes chatting to a chai vendor, 22 years old, spoke seven languages, left school early but is going back now and, with two of his sisters, helps poor children to become educated with extra tuition. What a lovely story.
Went to the first night of a four-day music festival (Drupath Mela) which promised to be excellent but the most enjoyable part of the evening was watching a workman with a fixed step ladder getting amongst the audience to unscrew light bulbs which were attracting a million insects which were driving everyone nuts! The first act was a singer who was not really up to snuff and then when he saw a really famous singer arrive looked unnerved and got even worse. The next was a guy with a quaint slide sitar but he seemed to play the same thing over and over again. It was due to go on until 3 am but by 10:30 Simon, Denise and I decided to call it a day.Yesterday in Varanasi to follow when I get to Khajuraho tomorrow. Today I need only 30 minutes to the train station so am relaxed!
Lots of love