Alright India, you win.
I’m tapping out. No Mas. I’m taking my ball and going home. You’ve beat me down. Good luck getting invited to my birthday party next year. Pffft.
We’re at the Delhi airport, having already flown up from Varanasi and waiting for our 1:00am connection to Hong Kong. I can’t wait to see what the boys look like at 1am!? Ugh. From there we’ll connect to Manilla and from Manilla we’ll eventually land in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. We’ll have been travelling for 36 hours by then and be a complete mess. But we’re hoping to find a piece of paradise to help wash away the chaos of India
We ended up here because over the past 2-3 days, I hit my breaking point. It’s been a slow build since we arrived, really. And the actual break began by taking a night train from Agra (Taj Mahal) to Varanasi. We’ve been on a few night trains (Vietnam & Thailand) and they were great. This one wasn’t. And ending up in Varanasi with next to no sleep wasn’t the ideal start I needed.
We were the first to take our steps off the train and were immediately surrounded by a crowd of people preventing us from going anywhere. I instinctively squeezed Max’s hand tighter and made sure Sully was close by. They were touts - street operators for the various guest houses. Aggressive and loud, wanting to secure more foreigners for their employers. We’re used to them by now. But this morning, they seemed particularly aggressive. Maybe it’s Varanasi…as everything there is way more intense. We had already booked a place, but our tuk-tuk driver was no where to be found. Because the train was early, we had the pleasure of being harassed until he arrived. And with little sleep, my patience wore thin.
Eventually our man arrived without much of an acknowledgement and with our luggage barely strapped to the roof of our tuk-tuk, we were off.
Traffic churns through the streets of India with a wondrous and mysterious efficiency. I don’t know how they do it!? It’s arandom dance of buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, bicycles, ox-carts and pedestrians (sidewalks don’t exist). The smell is almost always the same in any city/town, a steamy mixture of diesel fuel, spices, food, sewage and cow manure.
And as we were driving through Varanasi’s early morning streets, squished into the tuk-tuk, I almost felt like I was intruding on people’s regular morning routine. Everything happens on the street. Many of the residences don’t have modern amenities, never mind running water. A woman bent over, brushing out her morning hair. A man in his undershirt, shaving in a dirty, cracked mirror. Another woman bathing her kids using a large plastic basin. Another man brushing his teeth and spitting out onto the street. Scratching his belly and yawning after he was finished. Cows were roaming freely in the midst of traffic. 2 boys were carrying dead chickens upside down by their legs. An older white haired man was squatting (as they do in Asia) at the side of the road, watching the world go by, as cars and motorbikes came within a hair of probably ending his life. He was numb to it all. Probably had been for years. Children were playing everywhere. Some were in their school uniform already heading to class. All with bright, lovely smiles on their faces. And all the while, the annoying hum and horns of 100’s of cars/motorbikes/tuk-tuks were blaring in the background.
We arrived at what we thought was our guest house. But it was only just a stop. We had to walk another 500m through alleys to actually get there. Normally this wouldn’t bother us. But being India, nothing is as simple as it seems, and this was what eventually (combined with our yet to be discovered horrible room) made me decide that enough was enough. It reads like I’m whining, but the “hey guys, this is an adventure!…Isn’t it fun! insert ridiculous smiley face and 2 thumbs up” routine had worn off and was no longer working. The boys were a mess, full on grumps. And I had no energy or ambition to pull them out of it. FrankIy, I was on the same page. 10 days in and we were beat. I could sense it. The walk to our guest house was disgusting. We were constantly side stepping and lifting our luggage over cow manure, goat manure, dog crap, garbage, numerous puddles of unknown liquid substances and it all smelt like a latrine. It was already terribly hot and I was soaked in sweat. Plus, within the city, we had no idea where we were. Upon inspection of our room (which was nothing like it presented online) I was frustrated and announced we weren’t staying. Initially the boys were excited about not staying but that quickly wore off as they realized we had to walk back through the alley again. Ha. But we made it. And we found another spot. I spent the rest of the day trying to decompress, teaching/marking some math and looking for the easiest and cheapest way to get to the Philippines. skyscanner.com got a workout yesterday.
Today we woke up and knowing we had to be at the Varanasi airport by 4pm, I debated between just bunkering down in our hotel or getting out and taking a boat to see the Ganges River. It WAS the entire reason we were here. The Ganges. The debate is a familiar one. I have it with myself when we’re in some of these places, thinking that I should be making more of certain experiences/days and always going, going, going because who knows if I will ever get back. Ya, that one. And it won again. Through the hotel, we ended up hiring a random guide to take us on a boat down the Ganges. And once parked, getting there was the scariest time we’ve had all trip. Seriously. I’m not going to get into details, because Sully and Max sometimes read my blogs and while everything was happening, they were oblivious to it all. Caught up in the sights, the sounds and the smells, all classic descriptions of this country. Which was a thankful relief really. But if I had a teleporting machine, I would have used it. Anywhere else was where I wanted to be. We eventually made it to the boat and were able to cruise down the Ganges, see all of the Ghats and learn about the historical significance of the area (especially the Manikarnika Ghat - The famous Hindu cremation site. In the pictures, you can see all of the wood piled that they use for the cremations. And, wrapped in orange cloth, a dead body waiting on the steps, along with others still burning. They perform 200-300 cremations a day and Hindus believe cremation on the banks of the Ganges river frees the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth.) was very enlightening and a welcome respite. It was the walk from where we parked to get to the Ghats (and back) that was so crazy disappointing. Eventually, after we made it back to the vehicle in one piece and saw that all of our belongings were miraculously still there, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. For real. And couldn’t wait to get to the airport.
So here I am. Well a quick flight from Varanasi to Delhi, but here now.
Am I glad we came? Yes. Am I glad we’re leaving? Yes. It was an experience. No doubt. I'm sure many people who’ve travelled here (and maybe some that are reading this) have probably had an easier, more enjoyable time than I did. But those people probably didn’t have Imagination Nation to worry about. And their overall safety and health weighed heavily on me the entire time we were here. More so than any other part of the trip. As much as I tried to enjoy all I could and see the ‘real’ India for what it was, it was tough. My head was all over the place (many times thinking, ackkk I just want to fly home!), trying to constantly process everything that was going on. So I was very stressed and at the same time trying to avoid deflecting that stress onto Sully & Max or having them see me like that. In a few months I’ll look back on our time here and laugh. For sure. And be really happy I made the effort to see what we did. But I'll happily leave the rest to them. They can come back in 10-15 years and tell me all about everything we missed!
In my best Alanis Morissette voice, ‘Thank-you, India.’