Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Last Day In India

Today was another sick day. We were up for a lot of the night, me with blocked sinuses and Michael with the news that he has sulphur burps, a telltale sign that he has giardia. During a conversation at 4.30am we decided to skip the sunrise today and turn our alarms off. In the event we didn't actually get any extra sleep, and were wide awake again at 6.30.

After lemon pancakes outside our room we set off in search of 'Pharma World' to get some medication for Michael. Still surprised at how cheap and easy it is to get what would be prescription medicines back home.

Michael punctuated the day by pulling a sour face every time he did one of those sulphur burps. Bones aching from the effects of the parasite, Michael heads back to bed for a few hours while I enjoy the peace and shade of our guest house's roof and a thali for lunch.

In the evening we set out for one last walk along the ghats, and Michael has one last packet of biscuits to feed the dogs. I had been reluctant to return to Varanasi, but have actually really enjoyed it. Sure it is hectic and busy, but there is something special about being by the Ganges. Every ten meters we are offered a boat trip or opium or hash or we are asked for money by children or babas. It is really annoying to be hassled like this, but it must be more annoying to be the one who has to do the asking in order to get some money. A few of them have tried to stop us every day since we have been here and greet Michael as 'my friend' today; he knows that we will decline his boat and he just wants to talk. We pass a couple of groups of boys playing cricket and try to avoid their stray balls, and then we come across a group of children who have set up a bamboo barrier across one of the ghats and are charging tourists 20 rupees to pass. It is actually quite a sophisticated system with a weight at one end to lift the gate.

Some how we wander as far as the Dashashwamegh ghat and find a spot to watch the aarti. It is really crowded and there are women men and children selling postcards and paints and pictures and glow in the dark toys. We decline everything and sit, watching the crowd as much as we are watching the priests going through their rituals. We watch, not really understanding the significance of everything; it is amazing to think that this happens everyday, and that the steps are always covered in spectators.

A slow walk home, sad that this is our last time. And then a goodbye to the doggy mum and her five puppies, who we have named one, two, three, four and five. An aloo gobi and nan in the guesthouse and we settle our bill for the last three days. A quick lie down, then up at 11pm to take a tuktuk back to Varanasi Junction once more. It's late, but the streets are filled with people, mostly men and I wonder what they are all doing. And when I think of the cities I have lived in for the last three years, and how anyone out on the streets at this time of night would either probably be drunk, rushing to get home, or working. I'm guessing that most people still up here are working, in fact the streets are abuzz with activity, I just can't tell what they are doing. For some it's also time to bed down for the night. Dogs are curled together in little ditches or in piles of rubbish, and people covered from head to toe in blankets and are settling down in doorways or on the back of carts. At the station people are bedding down too, outside in the dust and on every available inch of platform. I wonder whether they can all be waiting for trains, or if some bed down here every night.

Of course we are here far too early and our train isn't due for almost an hour; we find a quiet spot on some steps by our platform and a Nepali woman wants to talk and ultimately ask for money. While we sit there is a commotion amongst the sleepers below as a huge bull appears and saunters between them before being encouraged out of the station.  

On the train at half past midnight and the carriage is in darkness, and many people are already asleep, including someone in my allocated top bunk. I am really annoyed, as we had deliberately both booked the top bunk; Michael is more accepting and offers to take the middle one which is still free. A young man appears and explains that he would like to swap if I don't mind. I think it's a bit late as his wife or girlfriend already appears to be asleep. We accept the situation, Michael more gracefully than me, and it turns out the reason they wanted the top bunk is that it offers more privacy, something they obviously need as the man climbs in to join his partner. I am trying not to be annoyed and am actually impressed as the bunk is barely wide enough for me let alone another person. An hour or so later the ticket inspector arrives, he doesn't look at our tickets despite shouting out our seat numbers, he is more occupied with disapproval of the young lovers!

A very uncomfortable night being jostled around near the roof of this compartment, trying to ignore the red and green lights of some electronics flashing all night in my eye line.