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Hotel on the Edge of the World further travels in the Year of Corona

 

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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 have 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.

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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.

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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”.

Afterword

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.

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photo westcoastwoman 2020      early morning at the Temple

 

 

 

 

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Naked in Yalova (or don’t get caught with your pants down in a Turkish Bath)

 

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Women’s Hamam © photo westcoastwoman

I must be a Mermaid, I have no fear of depths, and a great fear of shallow living”
Anais Nin

Naked in Yalova

“You must have a Turkish Bath in Istanbul!” my well travelled friend advised me before I set out on my latest adventure. Upon arrival in Turkey I continued to hear about   Hamam ( Turkish Bath) as something one must experience and I resolved to book an appointment on my return to Istanbul from the small village where I would spend the next week.

My destination was the Turkish village of Gokcedere, Yalova where I was to attend a workshop.   One afternoon following a bus excursion my seat mate Caroline mentioned she was going to the local Hamam before dinner. I expressed interest and when we reached the hotel headed down together into an older part of town. As we walked and talked it was revealed that neither of us actually knew what was involved in Hamam but both naively agreed that this would no doubt be an ‘authentic’ experience.

Our first assignment was to actually locate the women Hamam, signage was minimal and even when located it was in Turkish. Once inside there was no doubt that this indeed was going to be an ‘authentic’ experience. No pampering North American  mood music or lush white robes offered here. We were confronted with two no nonsense local women.  Hanging on the wall behind them were numerous signs in Turkish that I assumed explained everything we needed to know.

Caroline took charge, held up her bathing suit and through sign language deciphered that we should put them on and head into the marble catacombs below. It was at this juncture I realized perhaps I should have done a little research as to what exactly was involved with Hamam. Caroline somehow deduced that we had not paid for a ‘full treatment’, more lira was exchanged and down we went to the pool area.

The building was ancient and the marble stained by years of running water and bathing bodies. There were two circular rooms attached by an archway, marble sinks located every six feet that contained bright plastic coloured bowls. The only other participant, a large voluptuous naked Turkish woman had filled her sink and was pouring water on herself as she sat on the floor.

Caroline and I sized up the situation and decided to take our cue from the only other customer and by the time one of the attendants had made her way down to check on us Caroline had her suit off and was filling her sink and I had mine down around my knees getting ready to fill mine.

Standing naked except for a tangled bathing suit at my knees we were  confronted by a loud angry attendant attempting to communicate to us in Turkish some transgression that was not obvious to either of us. Frustrated by our lack of comprehension she grabbed a Turkish sign off the wall, held it in front of her and continued to berate us.

Desperate to translate what was being said I searched the signs on the wall behind her looking for anything in English. The only English sign in the entire building said “No Photos or Videos”. Even in the heat of the moment I found it amusing that anyone would think it appropriate to take photos or videos in the baths and at the same time it crossed my mind what a priceless video this would make.

Out of the corner of my eye I observed our large naked companion had risen to her feet and it was revealed that she was not completely naked, she had some form of bikini bottom on.  It became clear this was our problem and we quickly remedied the situation.

Now, half-naked we attempted to soak in the too hot pool, lie on the burning hot marble that resisted cooling even when doused with buckets of cold water and breath in a sauna that was just this side of suffocating.

The large local woman was led away to have done to her whatever we had each paid an extra 30 Turkish lira to have done to us. It was decided I would go first and when the attendant (the same one who had scolded us) came to collect me, I followed dutifully  behind.

We travelled a narrow marble cave like opening to a small room and into a rather awkward situation. There were two marble sinks and our fellow bather was still in the room pouring water on herself. I was motioned to hoist myself on to what looked like a picnic table draped with a red plastic tablecloth. My look must have said “you got to be kidding me”  because she then threw a bucket of water over the plastic thinking  that should appease me.

I am not sure what words were exchanged between the two women but eventually the attendant and I were left alone in the room. What happened next would best be described as having your whole body scraped with sandpaper, totally, front, back and face. Unable to communicate with her verbally I mostly endured and sometimes used sign language as we navigated the procedure.  Grateful when it was over I positioned myself at the side of the table about to hop off when without warning a bucket of water was poured over my head leaving me gasping for air. I made my way back to the baths, gave Caroline a little smile and warning and off she went.

We were planning on a bit of shopping afterwards but Caroline’s comment as we left was “I would like to get back to the security of the hotel” which had us both chuckling. Authentic it certainly was, fodder for a great story and I must say my skin had never felt so soft.

So my well travelled friend, I did Hamam in Turkey and survived.