Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Leaving India, the hard way

Sunday and the end of India for us

It’s amazing how loud an Asian phone can be at 4 in the morning. Eyelids snap open so harshly that eyeballs pop out as if on springs. Awake we were and as stunned as if whacked upside the head with a cricket bat. So began our last day in India.

The bus arrived at 3 am though we were scheduled to depart at 5. Something upset the driver so he took off in a huff and we sat on the bus for almost an hour waiting for him to come back. Brahm made several phone calls during the time but when we asked him what was happening he only said, “No problem.”

That’s the universal answer around here, “No problem.”

Obviously there was a problem but while we waited we discovered that the bus is home to a mouse. I say a mouse because we saw one at a time but a lone mouse seems unlikely. Some drumming and clanging distracted us from the mouse. People were chanting and marching to the river for sunrise. We rode to the river for the festival night and it took 30 minutes to drive so those people would be lucky to get there for Monday’s sunrise.

Varanasi is on the Ganges River (Ganga). Every Hindu is supposed to bathe in the river but if they can’t actually go to the river, they can go to some temples with specially shaped arches which represent the river. Passing under the arches substitutes for the trip itself. When they die though their ashes must go into the river, a body of water seen as holy to drink and bathe in though swirling though the water are grandpa’s remains.

Hindus believe that they make no choices. Hindu gods (all 326 million of them) decide all matters so that people only endure. That’s the perfect attitude to teach people if you want to control them and use them and that’s the religious/superstitious/cultural package in this part of the world. As always, geography determines one’s take on god.

Two of the 326 million gods are the river and the sun or they live in the river and the sun. I’m not sure. The holiday honoring both of them is Chhath and we were there in time to see it celebrated.

The Hindus of Vananasi go to the river to celebrate sunrise every morning but on Chhath tens of thousands go and tens of thousands more go to other rivers. They bathe there and brush their teeth. They dip or splash their sons to give them long lives (daughters are on their own) and they put candles in little dishes with flowers in them and add to the pollution of the river.

At any rate, the bus did get underway in the morning but only went about 10 minutes with 75 horn beeps when we stopped for gas.

Have you ever been on a bus and stopped to buy gas? Apparently it’s not odd here because another bus was at the pumps too. We hoped the mouse would hop off while we were there.

Rick kept saying he was one with the…
One with the bus
One with the mouse
One with the horn
One with the music
One with the sauntering cows

In a way the bus was good because we each had two seats and could stretch out but in a way the bus was bad because there was no air conditioning and some windows wouldn’t open. The bus had no toilet but it was clean, ignoring the mouse.

I planned to work on my photos during the ride but it was so bumpy and jittery that it would have destroyed the hard drive to ask it to work under those conditions. Likewise I couldn’t read or write or even work on Suduko. It wasn’t possible to write legible numerals in the boxes. One spot on the road was so lumpy that if it was a river it would be white water or if it was a ski slope it would be serious washboard.

We often rolled along at a good rate but sometimes were slow enough that children could run along side and beg for food and pens. The 8 hour drive took 12 hours and it wasn’t a lot of fun though most of the people we passed probably thought we were living the good life.

The bus hit a small purple car and the two vehicles locked together. There was a lot of loud conversation and then a bunch of men picked up the car and jiggled it free of the bus and the bus moved down the road. While some people thought we had gotten away easily I reserved judgment and sure enough we stopped at the next wide area in the road. The car’s driver stormed over and all kinds of people were yelling and stomping and pointing and then they all left and we drove onward.

We stopped once tea and toilet though Rick and I declined the tea which had milk. The next toilet stop was at a brick wall. The gentlemen calmly waited while the ladies squatted in the grass providing entertainment to the Indian women walking across the fields with bundles of straw on their heads. Criminey.
When the men took their turn to pee, the women were uninterested. Indeed, I am surprised when a man with his back to the road is not peeing and I assume every puddle is urine.

Dinner was of slight servings but tasty and Rick took his drippy noise to bed. Up at 5:30 tomorrow but I’m ready for that phone.

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