Because of a religious holiday called Navratri, the school was closed on Wednesday. Kamala decided we should take a trip into Varanasi to see the city. When I woke up my stomach wasn’t any better, but I decided to tough it out and make the bumpy ride. I was hoping we would get away with skipping breakfast, but Kamala would have none of that. She served us a fresh omelet with white bread.
The ride back to Varanasi was rough and full of traffic. Jesse and I both enjoyed watching all of the activities outside our window – getting a real glimpse into village life. Houses, shops, markets, barbershops and more lined the side of the road. We also had a deep conversation with Viren, a man who had joined us for the trip. He was curious about my motivation to work in the nonprofit field. He went on to explain how most Indians think of happiness as being rich and having nice things – not as helping others or making change happen. I asked why he thought this was and Viren told me that most of the misperceptions about life and careers comes from the government and media.
When we reached the city our driver bribed a guard with 100 rupees to let us drive through a pedestrian area. We got out of the car and were led down a narrow passageway that ended up over looking the Ganges River. After some debate between Kamala and Viren, we walked down to the water and hopped on an old boat. The water near the shore was full of debris and I was happy not to get my feet wet. The boat driver used an old wrench to get the motor going, “It’s an old lawn mower engine,” Kamala yelled to me over the loud roar. Pulling away from the shore, the ancient city of Varanasi was in full view along the shoreline. Wow – it was really incredible! The old buildings were all so unique and colorful – beautiful combination. People waded into the water along the shore and we watched them bathe, wash their clothes or go for a little swim.
Most fascinating of all was the ash-stained building with smoke from its fires emanating into the sky. This scene is one of the more famous on the Ganges – the cremation of bodies whose ashes are then disposed of into the river. A body covered in beautiful red material lay on the ground awaiting it’s turn for this holy and honorable ceremony.
It was hot out on the boat, and we finished our ride about an hour later. We hopped back into the car and went to see a temple and a university in the city. Both were impressive! We stopped for lunch on the way back to town. I opted for some vegetable broth to play it safe J. We then stopped and went in search of the doctor to get antibiotics for my stomach. The doctors office was hidden back behind some other shops. A few men sat around out front smoking cigarettes. We took our shoes off and walked into a tiny room where the doctor and Kamala exchanged words before he handed over to sets of pills. Despite my relentless efforts to find out exactly what they were, I gave in to Kamala’s reassurance that they were just what I needed.
I drifted in and out of sleep on the way back, but I woke up feeling like I had whiplash from the bumps in the road. I was also achy from being sick and when we finally made it home I went to take a nap before dinner. After eating another elaborate and delicious veggie meal, we all went straight back to bed exhausted from the day.