August 25, 2010
Dear Mum, Dad, Mandla, Nicki and Shawnrey,
How do you five like to be the folks that I send off my brief note about arriving in Varanasi? How are you all? J and I had a bit of a funny time leaving Orissa. We actually missed our train because we had changed the date of our ticket to a couple of days early and assumed that we were on the same train leaving at the same time and didn’t bother looking at our tickets (I know – stupid) until we actually got to the train station at 11:30 for our 12:15 train and Jon took out the tickets and asked, “Why does it say departure 1055? Wry smile. Anyway, we decided to turn our lemon into the best lemonade ever, sucked it up and paid for tickets for the next train out of Puri at 9:50pm, giving us the entire day to bum around the town. We checked our bags at the train station and headed to the old part of town and the Sun Temple to check it out again. Good times and some cool photos taken of all the pilgrims there. We had some lunch then decided, upon my request, to splurge and spend the beautiful day at a swimming pool where I could swim in a bathing suit (as opposed to the full-length mumu/nighty/dress that I wore in to swim in the ocean near Konark). So we went to a hotel we’d read about in a guide book, but their pool was being cleaned. They recommended another place called Hotel Hans Coco Palms (I know, hilarious name!) that was across town. We hopped into a rickshaw and headed over there. It turned out, we had missed half of Puri!!!! The area the rickshaw drove us through was jam packed full of hotel upon hotel built for Indian (primarily Bengali, I think) tourists! There must have been 2 solid miles of hotels two or three deep across from a promenade and the beach. The hotels were generally larger, shinier and overall more expensive looking than the backpackers’ lodgings over on the side of town where we had stayed. Saari shops boasting Orissa hand-woven saaris and men’s churidars filled in the spaces between the hotels, and the restaurants clearly catered to an Indian clientele. As we drove in, the beach was lined with covered carts, and I mused as to their opening in the evening. We figured the swim was going to be worth it just to have witnessed this other part of town which, so it seemed, most westerners (including us, almost) missed entirely.
The pool was beautiful – a bit of a splurge, but for an afternoon of utter escape and relaxation (in a bathing suit, no less), it was well worth it! The water was about the same temperature as the air, aqua blue with frangipani trees leaning over it in some places and spreading its flowers’ sweet aroma over the water. It turns out J loves water as long as it is warm, so he and I had a blast paddling around, reading Kipling’s “Kim” (a brilliant book for any of you who hasn’t read it and is interested in a delightful look into India 100 years ago, with surprisingly much still the same now) and simply lounging.
We ventured back out around 7:15 pm, after it was already dark, and the streets that had previously been cleared by the blazing afternoon sun was now mobbed with people and stalls selling all sorts of knick-knacks, pearl (fake or otherwise?) jewelry, light-up and noise-making toys, brick-a-brack and tons of snacks (including deep-fried, soft-shell crab, which J and I had to give a try!). The beach had taken on a carnavalesque atmosphere with people’s conversation, venders calling out wares, lights, the smell of fried foods. Hm! Smile. Jon and I had stepped into another world, the Indian beach resort side of Puri, otherwise mostly an Indian pilgrimage site. And what a world it was! Grin!
Anyway, we DID catch our 9:50 pm train out of Puri and arrived in Bodhgaya the day before yesterday at 2:00pm. I’m glad to have gone to Bodhgaya, but have to say that of all the Buddhist spots I’ve hit so far, it is probably my least favorite. Im sure it would be different in the winter time when Buddhists come from all over the world in great numbers to spend time there. The Mahabodhi temple is certainly worth seeing, but neither Jon nor I were charmed by anything else.
And then Varanasi….. We got dropped off (we took an auto rickshaw from the train station to the heart of the city) near the ghats – they are mostly covered by the river, swollen in the monsoon rains – and walked down toward them and the guest house that had been recommended us by J and my friend Davey. It was a little bit of a challenge to find, and we ended up following signs through a dingy corridor littered with paper and bricks and debris, up some dark stairs to a little awning where sat a roundish and jolly man. He showed us a small room – sparse by any standards but that lets out onto a little balcony that overlooks the river. J and I, immediately charmed, agreed to stay.
The proprieter and his wife are lovely! And I think J and I will feel quite at home at the little guest house (whose name has changed from “sun view hotel” to “river view hotel”). We stepped out after a very little bit of unpacking to get some dinner and had an incredibly delicious thali (meal) of rice, papadam, a daal with greens cooked in (make my day!), some sort of sauteed green bell peppers, okra and yogurt. We shared an Indian sweet and paan for desert and came a-searching for the internet, which J has been needing to use for a few days. I will soon try to get inspired and work on a blog that I have decided to begin: it will consist of my mass emails and perhaps some other random writings from when I first started sending out the emails 5 1/2 years ago, on my first trip to India. It should be fun to put together and hopefully fun for folks to read as well. Speaking of which, Mum, Dad and Shawnrey, do you have any of those first emails I sent out? I sent them from my Pomona account and don’t have access to that account anymore. It would be lovely if you would forward them my way. I’ll send you the link to the blog as soon as I have anything up on it!
Anyway, this email turned much longer than I expected. Perhaps I’ll send it out to my email list as well – there are tons of stories from Sikkim and Orissa that I have yet to tell. Oh my.
I love you all lots and can’t wait to see each of you soon, I hope.
Much much love,