Today we leave early for a tour of the Karma Sutra temples…we fly out today for Varanasi- from the large new air port here in Kharjado. Funny thing is that Jet Airways went under bankruptcy protection last week- so this airport, that used to have a whopping 10-15 flights per week, now has 3. That’s Per week. One on Saturday, one Tuesday and one Thursday. So, if for some reason this flight gets cancelled, we are on our own-we’ll have to rent a car to take us there- and that will be a 12 hour drive. My nerves can’t take it. So we better catch this flight. I’m sure there’s someone at that Airport this morning, chasing out all the cows and starting up the one security scanner-which probably consists of a large microwave and a stick with foil at the end of it for the “hand scan”.
The temple tour is really cool, Hindu temples with carvings in sand stone so detailed that they would make Hugh Hefner blush-these are known, as I said, as the karma sutra temples….and wow were those hindu’s…creative….. our tour guide is a kind gentleman who is excited to hear we are canadian’s, and gives us alllllllllll the details about the carvings. I feel like a kid in sex ed class-except now I have a husband-and he’s looking at these carvings like they’re a catalogue he can order from.- sorry buddy. Subscription denied. Because-India. Its so hot that if his hand brushes up against mine it feels like we are going to spontaneously combust. I’m not looking to start any fires in any bedrooms.
As we walk around the temples we see monkeys jumping and playing at the tops, monkeying around and pushing each other. The colors here are so vibrant that I realize that our camera’s are not coming close to capturing the light and the color of the temple and the women’s sarees. So at some point I just put the camera away and enjoy the sights. And then I notice the chanting and the bells, these temples are all “active”, meaning they are being used for worship by those entering them and choosing to do so. As we move out of the way for one large group of men and women, we notice we are getting stared at-which isn’t unusual- this has happened throughout our trip, but this time one of the women comes up to us-she is lovely in her bright orange attire, and asks so gently if she can touch me….she puts out her hand for what I think will be a hand shake, so I put out mine-our guide explains that these people are from the country, they have NEVER in their lives, apart from the limited TV they have viewed, seen white people or people dressed like us. He says they are not making fun of us, they are fascinated by us, and if we chose we can let them shake our hand-although most westerners that he brings through chose not to….he says that allowing this may start a whole procession of people as curious as these. I don’t see why this is an issue? So I put my hand out to meet hers, and as I go to shake her hand, she instead turns mine over and embraces it with both of hers. I’m not sure why I find this so emotional. I start to tear up, her eyes digging deep into mine, asking me if we can be friends. I squeeze her hand the slightest bit, and the smile she gives back to me is the smile only women can impart to each other. She takes my hand and brings it to her face and lets me touch her cheek. And then kisses my hand, Very tenderly, as if her way of reaching across time and circumstance and telling me she loves me simply because we are both women and have had the same core experiences. I am almost in full tears when she gives me back my hand and asks if she can have a “pic pic”. I say yes, and before I know it her mother, father, sisters, brothers, husband, grandmother, children, cousins on her mothers side, her gardener, her sisters best friend…..I feel like everyone she’s ever known, is gathered around Nicole and I. The grandmother (I’m assuming) stands in the middle of Nic and I and grabs on to our waists, pulling us closer in a hug, tight like my grandmother gives. We take many many pictures, each time these women thanking us and smiling and hugging us. Finally I ask if I can do the same, can we get a selfie? And they ALL gather around- smiling and so excited that we too will have pictures of them.
This is the thing that has shocked me about India. The people. These are hands down the friendliest people I have ever met in all our travels. Their kind eyes are so comforting it is mesmerizing, and their eagerness to help, I’m ashamed to say, has been hard for me to feel comfortable with. The first thing they ask each time you meet them or even come into any contact with them is, “where are you from”, and I thought at first this was a way to find out personal information from me. As if this info would give them some insight into my life so they can steal something or get a foot hold on how to steal something from me. But I’ve come to realize that this isn’t the case at all. They just want to know. And the fact that I distrust sickens me. We have had absolutely not one bad experience with anyone here, more times then not our guide has had to look at us and give us a nod, “its okay….” And prod us to enjoy something or accept some gift or allow a touch or picture. I understand that call centers and television are to blame here. And if I ever come across Kumar, that calls me at 2am to tell me there is a problem with a credit card I don’t even own, I’ll give him a piece of my mind….but don’t we have that at home too? We like to put a foreign face on those scams, but I’ve gotten many calls from good old fashioned Canadians and Americans telling me that I owe extra money on my taxes, or that I have a tax refund I need to claim with my bank account information. So why do I trust the everyday Canadian, and not these people….and then I realize I don’t….I don’t trust the everyday Canadian. I lock my car the minute I get out of it, even just to go into the post office. Our western world has made us very leery people. And we take that with us everywhere we go. One is example is just yesterday when I went to take out money at an ATM here. There was a man waiting to help us, and I was so scared to let him-I just ignored his hello and pretended he wasn’t there. To the point where he started to ask me in other languages. Italian, I think German, possibly Spanish. I ignored it all. But when we were done and I went to walk away, he came running and called me back. Apparently with these machines after you are done, instead of just handing you your money when you take your card out, and closing the session, it asks if you would like to withdraw any more money, or open a bank account or credit card. You have to hit CANCEL on the transaction for the session to be over. I just walked away. He called me back and said “Hit cancel. Or get out more money? But you must hit cancel to end.”. He could have CLEANED me out. It was a credit card that I used and he could have gotten more money off of it then he has probably seen in years. Without having to reenter my pin. But he didn’t. and I was so rude to him. I thanked him and thanked him. (PS: yes I have an app that texts me every time any money is taken off the card or the card is used. I am 100% sure he didn’t take anything).
Anyway. I digress- back to the tour. So after we take pictures with 30 of our new closest friends, we continue on- seeing all 4 temples in this area, and people and monkey watching.
We board our SUV for another area and more temples, this time temples used by the Jan people- a group of devoted offshooters of Buddhism who believe in leaving the world better the you arrived in it. They won’t wear clothes because of how the fabrics are made- most of the time hurting plants or animals (cotton or silk). They are barefoot so they don’t hurt bugs with bulky shoes. They hold a natural fiber cloth up to their mouths so they don’t accidentally breathe in an insect and kill it. These guys are hard core. I try to feel bad about the small rodent sized spider Chris killed in our bathroom this morning but nope. Zero regrets. I appreciate the dedication, but spiders need to die. They are furry eight legged little assassins. And the ones here in India jump, they don’t crawl. That alone makes them top of my hit list.
After a visit to a carving studio (yes. We bought. Elephants. They are beautiful, and I figure if I sell my car when we get home We will be able to keep the house) we arrive back at the hotel for a nice swim and relaxation session before we catch our flight in 3 hours. When we get there though we see that the pool is teaming with men- all Saudi’s. Now I have no issues with any race of people, and I’m realizing that I need to be even more open then I am. But, we’ve seen the way these men treat women over the past week- even the Indian men warning us to keep a distance- and we’re about to come out Drover-Hersey style- in our littlest swimsuits. And either we are going to blow their minds, or they are going to shame and destroy us. And we are two women who are up for that challenge. Nicole arrives first and takes off her top and pants to reveal her bikini. Immediately 10 men get out of the pool and leave. Next she gets in the pool and 10 more men get out of the pool- but stick around, staring and I’m sure making crude comments in their language. Then I arrive. Boob compartments emptied, locked and loaded. When I get in the pool and start to swim- the rest stick around for a few minutes, but get up and out of the water within 5- and sit on the side of the pool- AND TAKE PICTURES. And my sister, my lunatic sister, smirks at one of them a mere 10 feet from us, and waves- conveying in her mind that she knows what they are doing- and she’s not happy about it.
And Gary and I lose our crap. This is a group of about 20 men, clearly drinking, and have proven themselves to have zero to no respect for women. And Nicole just tried to pick a fight with them. The man she is motioning to does back down, looking embarrassed. Meanwhile the man we have the tip to yesterday has shown up- and he’s ready to defend the honor of these rich white money givers to the bitter end. He starts to hang around- sets us up a table at the other end of the pool, and generally just makes himself known. And next thing we know they are all packing up- and we see a few of them stop in the bushes to take a few more pics. That’s right fellas, bonafide warm blooded independent women. Eat your hearts out. Our two non violent couldn’t swing a punch if they were being paid men and this one 70 year old pool dude here- they’ll protect us……anyway,…. we finally have the pool to ourselves and we take advantage and Spread out, ordering beers and taking turns yelling at Nicole.
We leave and arrive at the airport for the sole flight scheduled for the next 3 days, And I’m shocked to see that everyone is here- fully staffed for the 30-40 people who are boarding this one flight. And security is very tight. You have to show your plane ticket information and passport just to get in the airport-the authorities at the door thoroughly checking the names and marking on the ticket. If your not boarding a plane, your not allowed in the airport. Then you have to have your checked luggage scanned-you load the bags on the belt and it goes through xray machines, once on the other side if there is anything they deem worthy, you have to open the bags and let them go though them. And shocker, Chris and I have both of our bags opened and searched further- they saw 2 AAA batteries on the xray machine, and we now have to find them and put them in our hand luggage- keeping in mind these bags traveled with us this whole time, all our flights, and no one ever noticed the batteries. So I open the bag and the officer says, “find the batteries”. HAHAHA like its that easy. I start taking out candles, toilet paper, vinegar, Pringles, a small family from Jaipur, 16 packets of oatmeal, a monkey, 12 days worth of dirty underwear (each in separate baggies), about 43 tubes of afterbite, salt packets, ketchup packets, soy sauce packets, just all the condiments…. And finally at the bottom inside my toiletries bag, under 6 bottles of fabreeze and a wheel of cheese, are the two batteries. I take them out and put them in my hand luggage as instructed. Then Chris’s bag is opened. They saw liquid and they want to make sure it is in a sealed container. We have a 1/75 ltr of rum, a pint of rum, a pint of gin and about 5 waters. All sealed, so they are fine with that. Meanwhile, Nicole is off to the side and basically has an entire all inclusive resort in her bags, rum, rum and more rum, wine-most of which is in little water bottles so that it would fit better in her suitcase. There’s probably some prison hooch in there that she’s been making from fruit juice at the resort. But no, not checked at all. Good to go. Good thing we got my batteries out.
You can read about my flight experience in the last posted blog. It turned out to be just fine, but the plane looked a little sketchy-very old and dirty, which for some reason freaked me out. And the way they board planes here is hysterical….just a free for all, basically making an announcement “y’all-get on the sky bus. We gots to get going”. SO we do, and I am basically terrified for no reason the whole flight.
We arrive in Varanasi, and we meet our tour guide for the next 3 days. He is very charming and good looking- with an easy laugh and a huge smile, and starts to ask us questions right away, curious about us. We have a ½ hour drive to our hotel in the heart of the city of 3 million. It is just as busy as the other cities we’ve been in, but there’s a different feeling to this one. This city is considered their holy city- and you can tell right away that Pulkit is very proud of living here- having been born here and lived here ever since-and I’d say he’s about 25? Maybe 28. But I could be wrong. He could be 84. The people here don’t seem to age at all-perfect skin and great hair.
We reach the hotel and as driving up the drive way we see a lot of police and military presence…we are staying in the area of the city controlled by the military and he says that even though this city is very safe, we are particularly safe in this area-but then the presence ramps up even further-our guide talking back and forth with our driver in Punjabi?- then rolling down his window for a security check that he clearly wasn’t expecting. When he finishes with the officer, he explains to us that there are more police here then normal apparently because the Minister of State is showing up here at this very hotel tonight for an interview. He just brushes it off and tells us that we are very fortunate that we will most likely be able to see him from our balcony when he arrives. I mean dinner AND a show…I can handle that.
So we unload and are brought to our rooms, each with a nice balcony overlooking the courtyard of the facility…and we look around. It seems that there are at least 50-75 police stationed around the garden below….and then we look up, more on the roofs of this and all the buildings that look onto this courtyard. More on various balcony locations around the complex…more still in windows. This should be interesting. We decide that with all this going on, we will just stay here for dinner. So we pour drinks, order room service and settle in on Nicole and Gary’s deck- ready to watch this guy show up. We’re starting to realize that the men on the roof, etc, have guns. Pointed around the complex…..snipers….how big of a deal is this guy??? We start to freak out…trying to make sure they don’t think we are watching too closly….could they see us as a threat??? At one point we are talking about what to order from the menu when someone says, “They have chicken wings!” and I put my hands up in the air, evangelical prayer style, because: chicken wings. And all the snipers turn in my direction……we realize that sudden movements should be avoided. And also, now I need to visit the little girls room.
First we get a knock on the door to not use our phones or cameras while on the deck. This is okay for about 30 minutes, when we get another knock….they need us to stop drinking on the deck- so we pull our drinks inside and go back out to watch. Then we get the third knock on the door. They need us off our deck with door closed immediately. I think that they may be burring the lead here…….if they are worried about some sort of threat, I’m not sure the 4 Canadian’s drinking rum and excitedly eating chicken wings is it? But whatever. They seem convinced for some reason that we are really scary. So in we go. Nicole is running around trying to get all the lights off and the candles lit. The light switch system here is crazy as its been all over India….SO MANY SWITCHES!! So Nicole sets to work trying to get the light over her bed out. Turning on and off switches over and over. And as I stand at the other end of the bed and watch her turn one switch in particular on and off 15-20 times in rapid succession, confused look on her face, “I don’t think this switch even does anything”…..I realize that this group of peaceful stupid Canadians looks like its signaling our spy partners for attack…as I see she’s actually turning on and off the light on the balcony over and over….like Morris code… and I hit the deck. MY GOD NICOLE STOP WITH THE LIGHT!!!!!! “What light??, this one doesn’t do anything…see…” **flicks it on and off 6 more times**…and that’s how the Muppets almost got shot in Varanasi.
We sit in the dark finally, with the metal tray from room service set up like a shield, for about 2 hours waiting for the guy to show. When he finally does, he comes in with 4 decoy vehicles ahead of him, then his with 8 men running along side it, then 4 more cars behind. This guy would be comparable to our premiere…. But I’m not sure why all the crazy security. At this point all the snipers are guns at their eyes, ready to shoot anyone or any Muppet who say, flicks on and off the lights to signal an attack. He gets out, goes into the hotel, and everyone stares at the door he came through. Like he’s Indian Elvis.
He is here for 30 minutes, then he comes out, hops into his car, 4 in the front, his car with the 8 running armed men, 4 cars behind…and he’s’ gone. And the Muppets descend on the balcony with their booze faster then a Canadian on curry for a week descends on the bathroom. I’m not sure what just happened,….but for some reason I have a feeling this is the closest we will ever get to an actual threat to our safety…..
Tomorrow is an EXTREEMLY early start-we are visiting the ghats in Varanasi, where people, especially people of the Hindu faith, descend to bring their dead for cremation. I think it will be an emotional day, so off to bed for lots of rest-this place was the reason we wanted to visit India to begin with. I am equally looking forward to it, and bracing myself for the emotion.