How incredibly stupid. The pink scarf’s “esteemed” standing is now in serious jeopardy. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Our last stop on this fast-paced vacation is to get-up-at-3:30am to leave Mussoorie and catch our 7:20 flight to Varanasi in the eastern part of India. The mood in the darkened van as we wind our way down from 7500 feet in darkness is beyond quiet. The difficulty of the hour can be felt amongst the vehicle’s occupants, especially two teenagers. Their box breakfasts of wonder-bread type sandwiches sit beside them on the seats. In the last two weeks, there have been a few too many of these kinds of starts in early morning darkness to get from one place to another, too many cream cheese and vegetable wonder-bread breakfasts with battered bananas. I think in the two hour drive down the mountain it was total silence. One child has a cold and the kleenex box is in constant use. The only sound are occasional sneezes and fumblings for the box of tissue.
We thankfully arrive at Varanasi airport without incident, although there was a delay for our guide (and therefore vehicle) and us to find each other. Since we are in such a different part of India, we had to say good-bye to Jagbir. The waiting around outside the airport for the van, while survived silently by my daughter, was not without stress. Airport security is an unusual affair in India (actually so is hotel security, but that’s another story). One cannot enter an airport without a passport and ticket. So going back inside the terminal is not an option and we must wait outside in the 38C heat that Mussoorie had given us a break from.
Unfortunately outside the airport was a bored herd of young Indian men who, like their compatriots around the country, found my daughter’s physical appearance worth staring and staring at. It’s beyond anything I’ve seen or experienced anywhere else in the world. Any stare elsewhere in the world…you catch the fellow’s eye, maybe the gaze lingers for a second, and then he knows he needs to stop and he looks away. Or he looks away the second he realizes you’ve caught him.
Not here. Staring is just the beginning…lewd gestures if you try to stare them down, or following you from place to place if you try to ignore them but move away. My daughter’s patience for this is completely gone and she’s fed up and angry…with the lack of sleep her patience ebbs away and she laments her gender loudly and with angry tears in our car trip into Varanasi. Yet again, as I hold her and listen, I wish I could fix her problems as I could when she was 3. Those who know me know how I value being polite, but in the last days of our trip I have taken to yelling in public spaces and dressing down a young man when I catch him trying to take her picture. My sun umbrella has also come in very handy as a shield that I can brandish horizontally to block a young man’s view. Another time my attempt to stare him down led to a change of allegiance on his part and he saw this as encouragement. Which caused me to launch into a loud “hasn’t your father (by his example) raised you better?” lecture. Sadly, his father has not and he really doesn’t care what this deranged white lady, who’s too old for him anyway, thinks.
After checking in at our hotel, which is a beautiful haveli (traditional townhouse or mansion) on the eastern banks of the river Ganges, we head out in the late afternoon. By this point in the afternoon I am literally staggering…my start time this day was actually 1:30am…or aka my husband’s bouncing attempts to find comfort on our cardboard mattress had wakened me. We go to see the largest university on the Asian continent in downtown Varanasi and we walk the narrow streets of the city near the central market. It’s very different from anywhere else we’ve been…more of the “chaos” of India that we had been expecting. Buddha came here to preach his message of the middle way to nirvana after he achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, and gave his famous first sermon here….or rather just outside Varanasi in the deer park at Sarnath.
The highlight of the day was the evening prayer service at 7 pm on the Ganges river. All I could think about at this point was “bed” /”sleep”…by this point I was “dead woman walking”. I wish I could have enjoyed it more. My husband was entranced watching the priests enact a hour long ceremony in front of thousands lined up on land and in boats on the water. Many believe that Varanasi has been inhabited for over 5,000 years and it is the most sacred city on the Ganges. It is one of the holiest cities period, and a centre for pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations.
Prayer services at the Ghat (apparently the Indian word for river bank, though each section of the river bank has a different name and only a few are sacred) occur for pilgrims every day of the year. There are five sacred Ghats along the the miles of the Ganges as it winds through Varanasi, and we are at the busiest, the “Main Ghat”. At non sacred spaces you will see cattle and people bathing, or washing clothes. I think the hotel washed MY clothes in the Ganges. 🙂
At the risk of doing an ancient religion a gross disservice, Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges at a sacred site remits sins and that dying in Varanasi ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigration (we walked by a cremation…aka a wooden pyre on the stone boardwalk…but for obvious reasons I have no photo to show you). Many come to Varanasi to die.
But now we are home. Which for me means starting my day at 4am (this is not so much a choice as it is a product of jet lag). By mid afternoon my choices and decision-making ability are questionable. I am doing a mound of laundry and as I work my way through it, I get to my “delicate” group. Things that must be washed gently in cold water. A very favourite (and expensive) t-shirt, a blouse, some things of my daughter’s, other precious things not worth mentioning. But as I pull them out of the washer they are PINK!!!!!! Deep, unwelcome pink where white or cream used to be.
Yes. My beloved pink scarf, which has been though countless washes of its own, I thought was safe by this point. Oh it is clearly not at all safe and at this moment, it’s future is very, very, very much in jeopardy. And it is very much “not safe” with me.
This has been an expensive trip…this last bit of ruined clothes, a lost phone of my son’s. A lost electric toothbrush of my son’s, and a lost pair of his leather sandals. Arrrrgh!!!