A Chronicle of Amy and Sean's World Travels

Holiness

Assi Ghat, shortly before dawn. This might be my favorite photograph of the whole year. The colors really did look like that.

Out of all of the holy places in a very holy country, Varanasi may well be the holiest. Varanasi lies on the Ganges River southeast of Delhi. The Ganges River is considered to be holy by the Hindu faith, so devout pilgrims make their way to Varanasi to immerse themselves in the waters. They bathe, dip, swim, pray, splash, launder, and wash in the river. Some even die there. Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi liberates the soul from the endless birth/death cycles they’d otherwise be subjected to if they died elsewhere. Cremations occur at the burning ghats on the side of the river, and bodies are carried down to the Ganges to their final resting place.  The thing is, thanks to the mix of garbage, sludge, sewage, and creamated bodies that enter its waters, the Ganges is actually septic. Some uneducated people don’t know. Other people know and don’t care.

As you could imagine, Varanasi was a whole new level of intensity for us. To be surrounded by so much faith and so many private moments that are lived out loud in public was fascinating and overwhelming. The septic waters may not be scientifically capable of creating new life, and people may be dying all around, but Varanasi is one of the most alive places I’ve ever been.

Even though Varanasi is a holy place, above all else it is an actual city. This school bus rickshaw made us smile.

We typically took the auto-rickshaws and passed up the ones that are pulled by bicycle because it just seemed so uncomfortable to force another human to pull our weight around by his own.. This guy looked so crestfallen when we first refused the ride that we reconsidered and decided we should give him an opportunity to earn a living too. Although the slow ride made us miss the beginning of the night ceremony at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, riding on the cycle rickshaw gave us a totally different perspective than the noisy, exhaust spewing auto-rickshaws.

Candle selling in Varanasi appeared to be a big business.

All around, Hindu pilgrims make their offering to the Ganges.

Dasaswamedh Ghat, around 7:30 p.m.

This man looked very solitary despite all of the fervor behind him.

Varanasi is one of those places where you struggle over whether you should really be there, paying to observe real life, but in the end you participate like everyone else and try to make yourself feel better by saying, well at least I'm just observing, not intruding. We paid this man to row a boat down the Ganges at dawn like so many other tourists. The rowing is hard work and he was quick to let us know it, playing on our heartstrings with tales of his children in broken English to ensure a tip. Travel. It's complicated.

Sunrise on the Ganges. The light created is one of the most incredible things I've seen in my whole life. It makes the brown waters luminescent.

It also makes the ghats on the side of the river glow.

Lighting candles to offer to the Ganges.

Everyone is doing their own thing in close proximity as if the others aren't there. Bathing, laundry, praying, sitting.


Happy New Year! (and 9-month update)

Interrupting your regularly scheduled India posts to wish everyone Happy New Year from Laos. We rang in the new year with new friends from Germany and some Beer Lao, which we can confirm is Asia’s tastiest and cheapest brew.

The new year also marks 9 months on the road for us. All of a sudden, we feel like our trip is coming to an end.  Our plan is to return home around April, 12 months after we left, but we just can’t bear buying a return ticket home yet.  3 months sounds so much shorter than 4 months, and more likely than not we will be spending the bulk of that time in Southeast Asia. Our original plan was to be here for 11 weeks. We’ve already been here for 5 weeks, and still have lots to see. At this point in our trip, we lack the motivation to move around a ton (especially because moving around in SE Asia often requires long windy bus rides or slow boats down the river). We’re currently in Luang Prabang, Laos. We plan to head south into southern Laos and Cambodia, then make our way north through Vietnam. We’ll fly from Hanoi back to Bangkok, and then will head south, stat, to the Thai beaches. From there, we’ll just have to see how much time and money we have left. Because we are over budget due to spending an extra month in Europe and the expensiveness of Japan, we realized a while back that Australia is just not in the cards for us on this trip. I’m not ready to admit that we probably will be cutting New Zealand too.  I’m still holding out hope that money will drop down from the sky.

At this point in our trip, we used to the constant packing and repacking, wearing the same clothes OVER and OVER again, and the perpetual motion. We’re still enjoying ourselves, but I must admit we were checking Craiglist for apartments the other day. It is strange – I am so ready to come home in some ways, but there is still so much more to see…plus there’s that whole pesky working thing that we’ll be needing to do at some point.  I’m very grateful we had the opportunity to travel for a year straight, but I’ve decided that it is not my preferred way to travel.  I think the ideal travel situation would be a couple of months at home, a couple of months on the road.  If only someone would pay me to do this…any takers?

Hope you are enjoying your first day of the year.  We’re off to see what I hear is a gorgeous waterfall, so I think it is going to be a good day.  And also, hopefully, a good year.  I’m not making any resolutions other than to enjoy and appreciate the rest of our trip, and to find a job I don’t hate this year.  What are your resolutions?  If you’ve been wanting to travel, make it happen in some way, shape or form this year.

And with that, wishing you…


Taking Pictures of People Taking Pictures

Look closely; we didn't even realize what we captured in the shot until after we took it.

Probably one of the best parts of visiting the Taj Mahal, maybe even better than viewing the building itself, was watching the many sideshows circling round the Taj. Every day, visitors from around the world and India itself stream in and out of the Taj Mahal, all posing for a multitude of pictures with themselves and their favorite building.

We spent a good hour or two people watching and taking pictures of people taking pictures. Western tourists seemed to prefer the solitary poses, while the massive group shots with you and 30 of your closest friends were the fortay of the Indian tourists.

We watched two giggly Japanese girls pay a local to follow them around and snap photo after photo of them flashing peace signs, while not far away a group of at least thirty Indian women streamed by with a rainbow collection of saris to contrast with the Taj’s creaminess. People even wanted to take photos of ME.

Hope they cropped the dorky shoe covers out of their photo. What do people do with these pictures? Am I on a blog somewhere?

I’m not sure exactly how many of the tourists pretend to pinch the Taj Mahal between their fingers, but it seemed like it was the rare person who could stifle the impulse.

We may have refrained from engaging in that particular optical illusion, but I did succumb to the need to sit in a Princess Diana pose.

Hands down, our favorite sideshow was watching the more athletic and persistent tourists who entertained us (and a gawking crowd of Indians) by repeatedly trying out their best yoga pose or going for the money jump shot. Hope they captured it, because we did.


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