Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Ganges

After a short flight and hours of driving, our charter bus obnoxiously pulled up on the side of the road in a smaller village of Varanasi. About a hundred rickshaws lined the roads- skinny men sat ready to pull two people of any weight on the leather seats attached to their bikes. I jumped on a bearded-mans rickshaw and set-off on a crazy ride to the Ganges River. There are no rules of the road, only anticipation… of the cars and bikes coming from every direction. As we whizzed passed lit up stores and stands of street food the sun set behind us and the town quieted, ready for the daily rituals.

            By the time we pulled up to the “parking lot,” it was dark. We had come to see the sunset ceremonies by the sacred Ganges (the Indians pronounce it as Ganga-es). The ritual was the most memorable and beautiful experience of my life. It started when I left our larger group. I went with one friend down to the edge of the river, led by a little girl who brought us to an old man praying. Smiling, he taught us his Hindu prayer, half-singing and half-chanting and then stamped our foreheads with his orange paint. As the custom goes, we said our prayer, placed a candle-lit flower in the Ganges and watched it float away.

            Now that it was completely dark music drifted toward us and we drifted toward it. My friend innocently asked a man dressed in a beautiful orange robe if we could sit near the singers. We were led right up to the front and plopped next to the musicians. The man who sat us there ended up being the head Brahman priest. His six young students stepped to their positions on decorated platforms. They looked about my age, maybe younger. But when they started to sing and circle the pots of incense over their heads, stepping to the drumbeat, they became much, much older. My friend and I were both crying when our guide found us and told us it was time to go.


This sure isn’t jersey because… thousands of people gather in one place for a ceremony that happens every day.


Friday, October 17, 2008


Everyone knows the photo of the Taj Mahal, but this place is an incredible tribute to love. The Shah Jahan used his absurd power to build the incredible tomb for his favorite wife… the others are buried in smaller tombs around the vicinity- I’m assuming they didn’t get along.

            The tomb is symmetrically perfect, the marble changes color with the sun and hundreds of people are dressed in beautiful saris or suits to honor one of the seven wonders of the man-made world.

            We all took off our shoes and padded into the tomb. Chiseled marble screens were the only source of light so we felt our way around the mausoleum. Jahan had designed the place down to the last details in the chiseled marble flowers that bordered the rooms’ entryways. Outside, black marble calligraphy along the walls quoted the Koran and painted marble zigzags crawled up the sides of the windows. It’s a tomb, it’s a mosque, but mostly it’s a beautiful work of art. 

This sure isn’t jersey because… in the entrance-line, men are sent straight through the gates while women wait 30 minutes so they can be frisked.