Thursday, December 25, 2008

Varanasi and the glorious Ganges River

So... The overnight train last night was really nice- first class! Fresh sheets and surprisingly clean bathrooms! And I met two really nice girls also traveling alone, and we were all in the same compartment, which was cool because the worst case scenario is being in the same compartment with a bunch of creepy Indian men. I slept great, and I still feel like I'm on the train, everything slightly in motion, gravity feeling a little bit off.

I went on a boat ride on the Ganges river. Where people come to be cremated and thrown into the river. And yes it's true, people do bathe here too, rub-a-dub, soapin' up at the side of the river! They wash their clothes here as well. And their water buffaloes. And dump their trash in it, along with their prayers. This river is sacred, all is forgiven, all is purified, who bathes in the Ganges river.

Not everybody bathes in it though. The guy who works here at the hotel told me what happened to him- he said it is tradition when a relative dies and they burn the body, you have to bathe in the Ganges too. So he had to get in the water- the weather was cold and he really wasn't into it, then when he did get in there, a dead body surfaced right next to him- completely freaked him out- he said the eyes were falling out of the head...!!! He had nightmares for months. Amazing, what happens in the name of religion.

I'm reading a book called The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. It's very good- so well-written, and introduces ideas about integrity, happiness, self-respect, um... so much I haven't digested it all yet. But it makes me think about how India is so dirty- but people persist in the name of religion- their temples and things they worship seem to put personal health at risk- you have to go barefoot in most temples, avoiding cow shit, and probably human shit, people's nasty spitting on the ground... Why doesn't someone just say- look, this is nasty, we gotta clean it up! But no- somehow it's ok because cows are sacred, and it would insult the gods to wear shoes in the presence of their temples... I don't mean to disrespect, but I prefer to think for myself instead of following some tradition just because it's always been done. Of course I have a different perspective... But I think many modern developments (and improvements) came about because somebody questioned the way "it's always been done."

Tomorrow I wake up for a 5:30am boat trip to watch the sun rise over morning prayers. It should be beautiful. Then it's a whirlwind tour of some temples, and off to Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first lecture. When I get back, I'll board the train for another overnight to wake up in Kolkata... I wish I could spend more time and get lost in Varanasi- there just isn't enough time!

Oh yeah, and it's Christmas today! Merry Christmas everyone!

There were a bunch of people celebrating in the streets today, I don't know why!

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