photo westcoastwoman 2020. street scene Varanasi
Hotel on the Edge of the World
A mother has set up a tightrope for her young daughter to walk and balance upon. There is no net…..not for the daughter or the mother. We are all walking a tightrope here, no net. I find it difficult to look or to look away at this point, some things I have seen I find it hard to find context for.
Illusion of safety no longer exists on any level, unsure of when I surrendered to that fact. One by one we all surrendered in our own time and in our own individual ways. The travelling road show we have been a part of for the last two weeks has arrived at our last place of shelter ‘The Ganges View’ in Varanasi. The Hotel on the Edge of the World is how it feels to me. In reality it is a converted palace full of treasures and art and secrets from the past.
We have heard stories along the way of Varanasi (our final destination) they ranged anywhere from descriptions that portrayed either ‘Pearly gates, Mordor or Oz’ others described it as an LSD trip. It is all of those things and none of them. Varanasi will change you forever but only from the place you are when you arrive. We were warned it could shatter you, I was suitably shattered by the time we arrived ……in some indescribable way this would bring it together.
photo westcoastwoman 2020 one side of the river ‘everything’ the other ‘nothing’
Those who know Varanasi need no explanation, those like myself who knew little of the city before this voyage will need some introduction. Kashi/Benares/Varanasi is India’s holiest city. The Mecca of the Hindu world , the city where every Hindu wants to come to die. Hindu scriptures state that dying here and being cremated along the banks of the Holy Ganges (Ganga) river allows you to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation. Up to 150 bodies are publicly cremated every day, 24 hours a day on the banks of the Ganges. The remains are offered into the river.
Every morning and throughout the day there is the life, people bathing, washing clothing and living their life on the banks of Mother Ganga. Everything playing out all at once.
On our last evening we headed out as a group for dinner. Our walking route took us past one of the cremation ghats on the river………four bodies were burning, in attendance were family members, passing public and various other onlookers. Bodies are burned in a wooden pyre and all four were at various stages of disintegration. I saw a foot hanging out of the fire, I looked at my walking companion and she had also seen it. We walked on in silence for a while, finally she said “only in India would you see such a sight on your way to dinner and it would just be part of a day in a life”. She was right.
My experience of death in North America has been hidden or more usually “celebrated” without the celebrant. Life and death in India is just business as usual no safety net or illusion of safety. Raw in your face life and death playing out second by second.
photo westcoastwoman 2020 train station Jaipur our luggage being portaged
I have been changed in ways I have not begun to process and as difficult as some of it has been there has been great strength and love I have felt and assimilated from the people I met. I have been taught about religion by Swamis and scholars and shown a way of life I did not know existed. Visited Tantric Temples, Buddhist Temples, Hindu Temples and the Temple of the ‘Street’.
Someone told me before I left that “When it is your time to go to India, you go to India”
It was my time and I went. It is with much gratitude that I put my hands together in prayer position bend forward and with more understanding and from a deeper place in my heart say to both the country and the people “Namaste”.
A note about the Corona Virus, in order for the group of us to get through this journey we had all personally assessed the risk we were taking from the news reports at the time and decided to go forward. We had access to WiFi off and on during the journey and sometimes we would get the ‘Corona report’ as I came to call it. Carnivale in Venice cancelled, outbreak in Italy, bits and pieces of the outside world getting through. We criss crossed paths with others …Germans….Brits in planes, hotels and temples along the way. It seems we were all wanting minimal information, nothing we could do about it anyway. Turns out we were a week ahead of the Italian travel group that tested positive 16 out of 22 members that are now quarantined somewhere north of Delhi. ( a truly terrifying thought) Timing, decisions, being in the right or wrong place at any moment in time…….illusion of safety, no net.
I am not sure given the current situation I would be choosing to head out on a tour of India today but I am grateful I did when the time seemed right. The wild and sometimes eccentric group of merry travellers I shared the experience with will always be close to my heart.