Anyway, after returning from Chendamangalam that night, I went to a welcome reception in Cochin where I met some amazing women who go to the University of Cochin. I wish I had the chance to spend more time with them. I would have loved to discuss India’s traditional perception of women and the state of Kerala’s changing views with them. While I love India with all my heart, I do admit it still has a lot of issues. But honestly, most countries do. Some just have more visible problems than others. I mean, look at the United States: We still have wage inequality, we’ve never had a female president, and rape culture is alive and thriving. But I digress—I don’t want to get into a political rant here so let’s get back to India.
My second day in India I took an airplane north to Delhi to explore the cities up there. I loved my time in northern India just as much as my time in southern India, although I did spend more time up north. I saw gorgeous architecture in Delhi and Agra (e.g. the Taj Mahal) but my favorite city was Varanassi, along the Ganges River.
Out of all the places I went on Semester at Sea, Varanasi is probably the first place I want to go back to. (Well, that or Cape Town.) I don’t have a solid explanation for why I loved it so much, I just did. When you think of India, stereotypical India, Varanasi is what you’re thinking of. Overcrowded and maybe a bit depressing, yet spilling over with religion and spirituality and color and life. There was something terribly fascinating and beautiful about it that I can’t quite articulate. Whatever that something was it drew me in and made me fall in love in less than the twenty-four hours we spent there.
We arrived in Varanassi just in time for the evening ritual, which I watched with delight. Even though I am not an organized religion person, I find religious rituals to be quite beautiful, and the one in Varanasi was stunning. There were hundreds of people on the Ghats along the Ganges observing and taking part in a ritual that involved incense, feather fans, and candles. The smoke that accumulated from the candles in conjuncture with the mass of people and the darkness of night gave the evening a very surreal feeling. Here I have to admit something: I do not actually know what the ritual was about. I couldn’t hear the guide when he was speaking and I don’t remember the name of the ritual. Whatever it was though was beautiful. After the ritual we took our rickshaws back (yes we rode in actual rickshaws) to the hotel. The rickshaws were both fun and terrifying with the traffic all around us. I kept worrying that I was going to fall out of the rickshaw as there was nothing keeping us in except about 1-2 inches of siding on our seats. Mostly though I felt bad about making the man bike us around like we were royalty or something.
The next morning we took a boat out onto the Ganges and observed the ritual morning washing. I have to say, while the water didn’t look as disgusting as I imagined, I still couldn’t stomach the idea of personally bathing in or drinking it. But I suppose that faith is an essential aspect of religion. I just don’t know if I could have that kind of faith. I’ve begun to wonder if it’s just something you are either born with or without.
So now we are on my last day in northern India, and my second to last day in India all together. On this day we went to Sarnath where the Buddha is said to have given his first sermon. It was a beautiful place with Tibetan prayer flags everywhere and a gorgeous tree in the middle of the courtyard. Other than that though, I don’t have too much to say about that day as after a brief period of time in Sarnath we flew back to Delhi and then back to Cochin.
I have to admit, it’s incredibly challenging to write about a place three years after leaving it, so I’m going to cut my writing short. Suffice to say that India is once of my favorite countries to explore and I cannot wait to go back and experience more of it. But before I end this, I have one last side note: there were monkeys everywhere. They were like squirrels in the U.S. It was crazy to walk out around and just see monkeys everywhere.
And, on that note, I’ll end with: Monkeys!