Well, it has been a long time since I last posted, so I am going to be writing a lot, the final complete post might take a day or two. and you might see it in a couple of different stages, or unfinished
Delhi was spectacular, probably the highlight of Delhi was visiting the NAZ center (an orphanage for AIDS stricken children). This wonderful orphanage is in charge of 31 children. This exceptionally clean orphanage provides English lessons, onsite medical help and a slew of other benefits many normal day street children wouldn't have access to. As Sarah said, "these children have been given a bad card in life but also they have a great card that many street kids might not have." Even though they are stricken with a life-threating sickness, there living and learning arrangements are truly un-parrelled in India, a country of extreme poverty. Interacting with the Manipurian kid, named Chopsticks was a thrill, his story was sad. Both his parents died from AIDS, so his grandpa but him in an outhouse to avoid interacting with him. Manipur's AIDS rate is so high that his grandpa thought it spread like a common day flu. Also there was a wonderful fat kid, that sat quietly on the floor gazing up with his big cheeks. According to Teresa, this child came into the orphange on the death bed from starvation, and now he is on a diet. And when asked about his name he sometimes calls himself fat ass. This was a wonderful and insightful experience, and I was very interested to hear that this was started by Indian American who lived in the USA working with AIDS in the Gay communities in the early 80's. NAZ has a strong focus on helping the Gay members of society, and many of the actual employees are gay. They also go to local gay hangout spots and pass out condoms. I was also extremly interested in hearing that NAZ works with the Hijra community (third-sex eunichs). This highly secretive society is linked to many religious texts and are considered good omens as well as bad omens. NAZ works with them a lot, and I have always been intriqued with them since I read Zia Jaffrey's "The Invisibles." Maybe I will volunteer one day to help out with Hijra community.
DOWN THE RIVER
We arrived in Allahabad on a 9 hour train. Coming into Allahabd was interesting, it is a much poorer city than Delhi, and a more cramped and dirty city compared to Varanasi. The actual city is uncharchteristic. Many tents where still erected from the Ardh Mela that occured very recently, though the presence of sadhus was centered down the river, a little further from where we would pick up the boat.
Coming closer into the ghats we approached this large expansive sand bank. Many kids with mangled looking snakes approached us, women making pakoras in front of a large scum pond that was being used probably for the cooking. The landscape was pretty broad as well as the ghat structure, very much like a plain. The defining features where the many boats all cramped together near the dock, the large fort that peered near our boat, and the heavy tension bridge as well as the floating bridge barge ( when ever I think of the Allahabad, I think of these large floating oil canisters that pilgrims drive over when they come to the Mela.)
Meeting our boat man didn't seem like that much of an event even though they would be some of the most wonderful guys I have met, during our 4 day trip. The crew consisted of a father, and two of his brother's sons.
At least that is what I thought I heard. The father spent most of his time, sitting up in front on the bow, chewing paan and enjoying the broad expansive scenery of the Ganges plain area that we traveled through. The darker boatman who almost looked South Indian, would become my smiling partner, we bonded well, mainly through smile, though once we started smiling we couldn't stop laughing. Santos, the suave boatman, was just pure class.
Leaving Allahabad we past a large boat filled with devotees and a loudspeaker, very interesting.
Arriving in Sitamarie was a real exciting trip. Because this portion of the trip had never been made, our actual arrival time was a little delayed. Instead of coming in before the sunset we arrived around 9:00 by the guidance of a small LED flashlight and a crew of impressive boatman. This kind of experience happened to me when I was in Venezuela. It was very peaceful though sitting on the bow of the boat, watching the stars and bugs flicker around, though it got pretty cold, and even the older boatman was wrapped up tightly in his white wool shawl. I was in my beanie and polar-fleece. We were told to look over the horizon on our left, for the glowing aura and blinking red light, this would be Sitamarie. We finally made it there, and this is when we began our first night-time village entry trek. It was a little scary, knowing that some of these smaller towns can be a little lawless, though we followed Santoush and Amit. We finally made it too our guest house, I could tell by the sight of the outside that it would be nice inside. Because there was this elaborate- pseudo wood, stucco work that must have taken a lot of time to make. We entered, and to our surprise the place was nothing less than a palace. The marble floor and extensive collection of Chinese furniture. It was so great to be at a clean hotel, and a really nice and new hotel.
THe next morning Sitamarie opened itself up to us. Yes the hotel was indeed beautiful on the outside but we were also surrounding by probably the worlds largest Hanuman statue as well as beautiful marble temple that represented the spot where Sita came out of the earth.
The first sight we saw of Mirzapur was large industrial concrete bridge, after this where many ghat like structures, I knew this would be a bigger place than Sitamarie. Though once we got to the main ghat area, it really was only one small unique bathing ghat, but once we entered the labyrinth of the city we really got a sense of what MIRZAPUR was all about. Mirzapur was probably one of the more interested cities we went, to, or at least the most interesting because our meeting with the aghori sadhu. Though Mirzapur has a feel that is very raw, this city is smaller than Varanasi though the infrastructure, chaos and garbage are more pronounced here. Once we got to Varanasi, Varanasi seemed real clean to Mirzapur, also Varanasi didn't seem as crazy, maybe the extreme presence of Western tourist impacted this interpretation.
AGHORI BABA SIGHTING:
This experience was probably one of the highlights of the trip thus far. Our group had the privilage to speak to an Aghori baba. This baba is a member of a secretive group of sadhus that are known as human-eaters. They spend most of their time trying to avoid being noticed by the mainstream society, because they spent most of their time near cremation sites. At these sites they worship Kali as well as Bhairva. In their akhara, (ashram) they are able to slaughter goats for Kali, meditate with their human skulls, and eat the occasional charred remains of a former Hindu village member. As Remy and Chris found out, some even eat fresh Muslim bodies from the burial ground. Though this sect is from 1000 AD, they are smaller in size from the roughly 4-5 million sadhus in India. Because of Mirzapur's strategic location on the Ganges, a handful of Aghori babas live within the city precincts. I believe they are able to thrive in smaller towns because the western values that can be seen in a large city like Varanasi are not seeing in these smaller towns as much. Also the lack of tourism keeps tradition alive, usually. We were lead by Amit up the river back toward the high-tension bridge, it was here that a family was getting ready to burn a family relative. Above them stood a large concrete stairway, and above that some type of tin-roofed structure. As we got out of the boat we did so thoughtfully, avoiding coming into contact with those busy with their family ceremony. Up near the top of the steps stood a small (5 0) extremely small boned man. His hair was long, greased back, he was wearing all black and his head was covered with ash, and in the center of his forehead was a black cross made of ash. He brought us to this alcove, dogs barking as we walked there. Inside this courtyard sat a tree, a small shrine consisting of a black head in a block of cement, and to our right was a red-rajasthani stone Akhara. It was here that we were guided up several small steps to the Aghori baba's domain. It was not until we got inside that I got my first glimpses of the tall, lanky, long-haired and bearded aghori baba.
HUMAN SKULL AND LUNCH ON A BEACH:
On our way to Chunar we had an amazing lunch on a stranded beach front. It was literally only a couple of hours from our Aghori baba sighting and I would be in contact with another human skeleton. We were lucky enough to hear villages playing drums and marching across the river, it seemed like they were march for a couple of miles.
It was about the time to leave this placid beachfront after a wonderful lunch, but first I had to use the bathroom, on the way to find a suitable spot on this plainier beach where everyone could see everyone, I stumbled on a human skeleton sitting there peacefully. Near by was straw human form, it looked like a Saraswati or Kali mannequin that they make for special pujas, though it looked like an effigy. I decided I would not go to the bathroom near these remains, the skull would be watching me as I went. But I did feel that it was the skeleton was worthy enough to show the group. I ran back and told Amit, Noah and Chris. At this point Amit and Noah ran to the skeleton, Amit picked it up swaying it around. Noah seemed a little scared to do so. But Chris himself picked it up for a one to one monologue, "for the one i never knew." Then after this Amit placed it back where he found it. I went over to this hay human figure doll (2 feet big) and asked Amit about it, he ripped it apart. I thought it was a human doll to mark where this body had died, though it was probably a Saraswati or Durga figure that floated down the river during the holiday. What bothered me about this interaction was that through telling my former trip mates about the skeleton, the natural peace of the skeleton was disturbed. THough after sometime thinking I realized that this body probably floated down the river, because this was low time and what we were standing on was once underwater. Though, this body was either a Naga sadhu, or maybe someone poor because it wasn't cremated.
What this interaction taught me was there is something cultural different from they way we view skeletons compared to the way Indians do. To me this spot was holy and should remain untouched, as well as the skeleton, but to Amit, there is no life-force left in the object or the space. It really had me thinking.
VISHNU BABA: On our way outside of Chunar, Amit again decided that we should visit a baba, this baba lived in a small town, though with a burning ghat. This baba lived.
VARANASI: We came into Varanasi towards Assi ghat.
My homestay in Varnasi is wonderful. I have two great sister, Baby-ji and Sema, and my Mom and Dad are wonderful. I live in a much more modest house than my last homestay family in Jaipur. My dad is older, has white hair, though he has a horrible cough that wakes me up at night. According to his sister this is from the paan chewing. He walks around sometime in his red loin cloth, with his rudraska necklaces. He is very religious and usually I hear him waking me up at 12:00 am, and 6:00 am to pray to the Krishna, and Ganesha objects in the room that I sleep in. Though there is a huge puja room in the room that Sema, Baby-ji and Mom sleep in. Though I guess he feels that it is important to pray to these figures even though they seem more kitschy. The posters in the main sleeping room are beautiful. Old Ravi Varma era prints. There is a squatting toliet, and bucket shower. The bottom of the floor kind of reminds me of a horses stable, because there is open access to the outside, this floor is not completly closed. My host brother lives upstairs on the second floor which consists of his room and a concrete area for cloth drying as well as