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August 8, 2005

Arrival in Varanasi

The driver in Delhi took me to the wrong train station, New Delhi (code NDLS). My train was leaving from the Old Delhi train station (code DLI). No one in Delhi seems to know the station codes, which is all that was written on my ticket. After 20 minutes of discourse with the porters at the New Delhi station, we took off to catch the train at the other station. On the way I had a cellphone coversation with my friends in Delhi that cost me 40 pounds! We got there a couple of minutes late and missed the train. The porter then took me off down the road to get another ticket and then, when I told him that's not what I wanted, to rent a taxi. Eventually, while being mobbed by a group of touts, I turned around and told my porter to go back to the station, where I knew my driver was waiting for me. We drove back to New Delhi station where it was total mayhem. I ended up dealing with a guy who was trying to charge me 3x for a ticket. I watched his calculator finger and figured out what he was paying for the ticket. So I got it for a reasonable amount.

I ended up on a faster train and got to Varanasi earlier than expected, even though I left 4 hours later than planned. I shared a cabin with a Indian man and his daughter. They were both very nice and friendly. They helped me and we talked about a lot of things. I even started learning Hindi from them. I also learned what a tongue scraper is and acquired one on arrival in Varanasi.

It's been a very tiring day here. People are always trying to get my attention. I also have to continually look where I am stepping, because of all the excrement and rotting stuff on the ground. They wouldn't let me into the golden temple, even though I'm a Hindu. I'm also a Buddhist, a Moslem, a Christian and a Jew, but it's neither here nor there. There are raised platforms around the temple, like in a prison camp, with armed guards looking down. I was able to view the temple from a nearby balcony with the other "tourists". My guide told me that these police won't just arrest you or beat you like in the West, he said that they'll f$%k you. I think he meant shoot-to-kill. If you touch the gold roof, 800kg of it, then they'll shoot you. Presumably they think that you're going to carry it off.

I narrowly escaped recieving a delivery from a goat which was hanging its rear end over the edge of a fourth floor balcony. I was also told by a guide that my mediating near the burning ghat was disturbing to the family of the deceased, but was then taken on a tour and asked for money.

At another temple, I was told that I could not go in. I was then asked for a donation for the temple. I said I would give a donation if they would let me go in. They asked how much I was going to give them. I told them that I didn't know yet, I wanted to see how I felt after going in. They then told me that for 50 rupees, I would get to see this thing and that thing (totally unrelated to the altar). Then the bell rang and they had to start a ritual, so we moved on. I didn't even want to look at the tourist things, I wanted to go in and do some puja.

I'm in a non-air-conditioned room right now. I have been trying to get one with air conditioning as it is very tiring not to get a break from the humid heat. Tomorrow at 10am, I'm visiting the yogi that I came to Varanasi to see. I'm nervous about that.


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