Sunday, December 13, 2009

My very first experience with a squat toilet was on a moving train

The train from Mumbai to Varanasi wasn't too bad, but I definitely felt every hour of it. I wiled away the time reading, playing cards, listening to my ipod, sleeping, and chatting with a guy from Varanasi named Prashant who was on his way home for a wedding reception. Upon arrival at the train station in Varanasi, Prashant helped me get a rickshaw to the guesthouse that I wanted to stay at. At first he was just gonna put me on the rick and send me off, but after he realized that the rick couldn't take me directly to the guesthouse and I'd have to walk part of the way, he decided to join me so that he could walk me to where I was going. This was very nice of him and very much appreciated because the galis (alleyways) of Varanasi are truly maze-like and somewhat confusing to navigate. Prashant and I found a guesthouse with a room (not the one I was trying for originally) and we parted ways; he was off to play with his 1 1/2 year old nephew, and I was headed for a nap. Somehow, even after all the sleeping I did on the train, I was still exhausted!

After my nap and bucket shower and gearing up for what the Lonely Planet describes as "unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet," I headed out. My first stop was the Brown Bread Bakery, a place I sought out because 20% of all of their proceeds go to women's and children's charitable foundations, including the school that is right next to my guesthouse. It also happens to be pretty well known in the traveler's community which turned out to be a good thing because I sat myself down next to three guys and we started chatting. Turns out that Denton and Travis are teaching Spanish in southern India and are traveling northern India for five weeks. Their friend Justin used to be college roommates with Denton and was in town to join them. The conversation was good, so I asked if I could pal around with them for the day since we were all planning on doing the same thing - walking, exploring, and checking out the ghats (steps or landings on a river, in this case, the Ganges).

We set out and indeed spent the whole day together, from about 11:30am until about 9pm. I feel like the day I ended up having was "a day in the life of Indians" through and through. We navigated the busy streets, we negotiated rickshaw fares, Travis got a traditional style shave, riverside. We said 'no thank you' to a bajillion boatmen offering boat rides and we stepped around more than a bajillion piles of poo. We saw family members carrying their dead loved ones through town and toward the river for the burning ceremony, which we also saw. I was headbutted by a cow in the street (that Justin had managed to avoid, so it got me instead) and Denton was nearly whacked by a fast moving cricket ball. Travis joined the locals to wash his clothes in the Ganges and then, later when it was dark outside and he stepped with his flip-flopped foot into one of the aforementioned piles of poo, decided to wash his foot in the river, too. Justin, Denton, and I had what was probably one of the more unusual conversations I've had on my trip thus far: deciding whether we'd rather fight off one of the monkeys that hang out on the boys' balcony, or a ginormous wild pig that we'd just passed eating trash in the street.

Throughout the day, there were a number of ways we amused ourselves. 1) We played a game in which the goal was to guess the number of boat rides offered to us during our walk along the river. It was Price-Is-Right style (closest without going over) and Denton won with his guess of 27 (actual number, 30). 2) Denton, Travis, and I incessantly teased Justin about his interactions with the touts, those people who were trying to sell everything from boat rides and hand massages, to bindi colors and lotus flowers. The three of us mostly ignored the touts, but Justin just couldn't NOT talk to them. Conversations would go something like this: Tout - boat ride? Justin - No, thanks. But how many boats do you have? Tout - 50 rupees for one hour. Justin - That's okay, no thanks. So are you from here originally? Oh my god, it was painful to listen to, but also hilarious at the same time. Every time there was a pause in conversation and the tout was just about to (finally) go away, Justin would open his mouth and ask another question. The other guys and I were dying laughing and Justin just looked miserable even though he did it to himself. 3) The last way we amused ourselves was by making up answers to the commonly asked questions of "Where are you from?" and "What's your name?" The name question didn't warrant too many funny answers, but when we started saying things like Uzbekistan, China, and Pakistan when answering where we were from, we got a good laugh. The response back to us was always, "oh, very nice." I'm sure it almost sounds like a callous way to go about things, but if you were here, seeing what we're seeing, smelling what we're smelling, experiencing what we're experiencing, I'm sure you'd eventually find ways to deal with things, too.

The boys and I went our separate ways last night. I was to join them for an early morning boat ride today, but when my alarm went off at 5am, I just couldn't bear to get out of bed. I went to the train station today to try to book a ticket on the 11:20pm train to Satna, but no such luck. :-( I'll have to stay an extra day in Varanasi (the guesthouse is 60 rupees per night) and leave for Satna tomorrow night instead. From there, I'll take a bus to Khajuraho. In the meantime, I'd like to take a yoga class, go on a boat ride, finally finish the book that I've been reading since Athens, and go to an internet cafe a second time (I forgot my camera connection and flash drive this time). I'll have pictures uploaded soon; perhaps they will give you just a peek into the craziness that I've been experiencing over the last two days.


  1. Wow. I'll read more and comment later. I need to hurry up and upload some pics so Brianna and I can do an Alaska word search puzzle. Then we are going to make vegetable soup. After that, we're sewing dog clothes! That's a different kind of day, eh? Not as different as yours, but good anyway. (-:

  2. I thought I taught you how to use the toilets on Indian trains :-(.
    Aaah, but then again, you've learnt the joys of a bucket 'bath' (not 'shower'!) :-)
    And, I know the brown bread bakery...from long gone days of insistent bring back memories...or, if I were to pronounce the word 'Indian' -- 'mammaries'