Sunday, October 13, 2013

"I can't imagine Monsieur Monet blushing"/"He does landscapes"

(If you don't understand the title's quotation, get offa my blog.  Just go.)

After my parents left, I hit up three more cities—Khajuraho, Allahabad, and Varanasi—before returning back to Mussoorie for the second semester.

To begin with, I would like to extend a hearty “fuck you” to 99% of the men I encountered in Khajuraho.

Now, I’ve been waiting to unleash the f-bomb for a while now, but this is a perfectly punny time to do so.

Get it?  Khajuraho is known for its erotic temple carvings, dating back to 950 AD.  

I overheard a guide nonchalantly say, "The soldiers were away from home so  they used animals instead of wives."  Sure.  NBD.

Glad I didn't take my parents here.

Fittingly, the male population I encountered there was particularly seedy.  In fact, I changed guesthouses three times in order to avoid certain shady characters.  I also faked a death in the family.  It was not my proudest moment.

At the second guesthouse, I thought I made friends with the cook, who taught me some Hindi while I was sitting on the balcony.  After a while, he invited me to his house for dinner.  He lived with his mother and two sisters—totally normal for an unmarried man, even grown as he was—and he called his mother for permission.  I could pick up enough of the conversation, on both ends, to know that it was a legit invitation. 

Later that night, he took me on the back of his motorbike to his house, just about a 10-minute drive away.  His mother and youngest sister were very warm and welcoming.  His other sister (younger than me, but with a toddler on her hip) looked at me suspiciously.  I felt a bit silly.

I felt even sillier when, after the food was finished, I was ushered into a separate room with CB (Cooking Buddy) while his mother prepared roti.  With a smile, he unveiled the oh-so-American appetizers: pizza and beer.  I thought it was bit odd that beer would be served in a rural Hindu home, and I didn’t partake—primarily because I would rather drink my own urine than ingest beer, regardless of the location or company present.

CB insisted on documenting our dinner with my camera.

Do you see how, in those photos, the contents of his beer mug are rapidly depleting while mine remains full?  Though he was pretty relentless about getting me to drink, he ended up drinking enough for the both of us. 

And then driving me home, while swerving and cackling like a maniac as my arms were pinned around his waist.

Prior to getting back on his motorbike, CB got a call from his boss.  Apparently, he was missing work in order to cook me dinner at his home; the guesthouse was left without a chef.  I also witnessed a weird interaction between CB and his mother before we left.  She seemed angry.  Back at the guesthouse, he told me that it was because she found the beer bottles in the trash.  He told her that I brought them.

After that, I changed hotels and, as soon as possible, cities.

I hopped onto a train to Allahabad, where I had planned to stay a couple of days in order to see the beginning of the Kumbh Mela.  Holy Cow, a travel memoir by Sarah Macdonald, does a good job of explaining the origin of this once-every-twelve-years festival:

“Once upon a time in a Hindu legend the Devas (the gods of heaven responsible for sun, wind, rain and fire) were weakened by a curse.  They cooperated with the demons to stir the cosmic ocean of existence and from the milky depths a pot, or a kumbh, containing amrit, the nectar of immortality, emerged.  The Devas decided they didn’t want to share with the demons and a chase across the heavens began.  During the battle (equivalent to twelve human years) four drops of nectar fell to earth and at each spot they landed, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated.  Allahabad is the most special of places because here the three holy rivers of Hinduism meet—the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.  So, every twelve years this town hosts the Maha Kumbh Mela, literally translated as ‘The Big Post Festival.’”

I did not stay a couple of days in Allahabad because it was absolutely overrun by pilgrims.  A completely shady hotel room with a bathroom pit in the corner would have run me $100/night.  So, I decided to lug my backpack and sleeping bag onto a bicycle rickshaw.  I told the driver I wanted to go to Sangam—the name of the holy meeting of the three rivers—before he threw back his head and gave a cackle that was frighteningly similar to CB’s.  Then he started pedaling.  Every time I asked a question—how long?  how much?—he would turn around, laugh, and pat my face as if I were a puppy. 

Once I got to the shore of the river, I needed to get onto a boat that would paddle to the rivers’ meeting point.  Here, I encountered an uncomfortable Catch-22.  Should I join a boat full of people going out to Sangam and risk inadvertently mocking their beliefs or devaluing their experience?  Should I get my own boat and risk appearing like I’m too good to share a boat, or insulting people who would like to go to Sangam but didn’t have the money to purchase even one seat?

I ended up taking my own boat.

Sangam- the water changed color at the meeting point
a very crowded shoreline
fellow boaters

Just a few hours after arriving in Allahabad, after seeing what I had gone there to see, I found a bus on its way to Varanasi.

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