Thursday, September 29, 2005

On the Ganges

We've spent the last couple of days next to the Ganges River in Varanasi. The boat ride yesterday down the river at dawn was one of the most special experiences I've had during my two trips to India. Life is out there on the river and it's not afraid to show it's face. Death is there too, bodies burning at the cremation ghats and a dead goat floating along in the holy waters.

Varanasi has been surprisingly tranquil compared to what we expected. We are staying in the very quiet Assi Ghat part of town. We are in a beautiful and inexpensive hotel that overlooks the river. There is a restaurant serving Middle Eastern food around the corner. Any place with a supply of pita and labnah has to have it's good points.

Tomorrow we make our last long-distance move across India. Varanasi to Calcutta. Unbelievable that that's it. Transportation in India has been an energy depleting venture. Crowded buses, dirty trains, men who take liberties, crazy drivers... you name it. The stand out good moments have been the car driver who took us to Fatehpur Sikri outside of Agra. He did not speed. He did not try to run over small children in the street. When it began to pour rain his windshield-wipers worked. He did not try to bring us to places we did not want o go. We loved him.

We also loved a bicycle rickshaw driver who is stationed outside Hotel Sheela in Agra. Sometimes he sports a Spiderman shirt. He is a superhero in his own right, cycling with such energy that it's hard to believe he's not on massive quantities of steriods. He will proudly shout his name as he cycles through the streets, "Bobby! Bobby A-cha-cha!" And he throws in Hindi lessons for free. "Chalo chalo! Let's go! Tata! Hello!" We loved him. He got massive tips.

Anyway, night train. Tomorrow. Last one. Hooray.

Speaking to my mother last night, it sounds like my parents have regressed somehow into their teenage years. Not missing curfew is of utmost importance. They were out on the other side of New Orleans a couple of days ago, trying to cross the Huey P. Long Bridge. Traffic was gridlocked and it took them a couple of hours to make it home. Curfew had passed and they thought they might be shut out of their part of the city. They wouldn't be the first people to spend the night in their car. Luckily my dad found a backway home with no check point.

Where they are living, life in a damaged city has started to feel normal. They don't notice the walls of dead trees anymore. Blue tarped roofs are becoming usual sights. They have adopted an old friend who is an "evacuee" from her home in Lakeview. They are visiting and eating a lot more often with friends who have crept back into the city.

It's the small things they miss. Mail. Bananas. Their pets in exile. The sight of children.


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