Byebye Party

There’s been some idle talk about more yoga among us so in the morning Petra and I head out to find a place talked about in Lonely Planet. The place proves hard to find though and when we eventually find it it’s closed. Ah well, we decide to go visit the bat cave talked about in the guide books instead and arrange for a taxi posse to take us there.Odd dude The caves are just across town and the first one turns out to be rather boring and touristy, the exit is a bit fun though where we get to do some climbing and squeezing in order to get out.

The guide we’ve picked up promises the next cave to be better however so we decide to give it a shot. The next cave has actual bats in it, about 5000 of them, but there used to be lots more our guide says. It’s rather nice, but the real treat comes at the end as we get to climb some and eventually squeeze out through a narrow hole. I’ve always felt like I was a bit claustrophobic, but somehow this doesn’t trigger any, it’s just fun! I’m not sure what would trigger it, maybe it’s more the thought of tight spaces than the actual thing?

PetraOn the way back we stop at a sort of ravine with some water rushing by at the bottom, not that interesting actually. There lives a strange man right next to it though. He seems to collect bills of different currencies and is really disappointed when we don’t have any Swedish ones on us. We get some flowers and photos out of the deal at least. We pop back into town for lunch and then Petra, me and Lars make another go for the yoga. This time we have better luck and do end up getting one of the better sessions of the trip. It’s not a very high degree of difficulty though, so we manage to do quite well (with certain exceptions).

This evening there is also time for the going away party since roughly half of the gang is leaving the next day. Only us who are going for the trek are staying. We start out with a pre-party in our room so that we’re properly lubricated for the actual dinner. It’s a really nice buffet style dinner and when the mood is right, I break out the trusty dildo song, which of course is a roaring success! We make sure to get pictures with everyone and as the party winds down, we move on to Lasse’s room where I’m not exactly sure anymore what happened. Suffice to say it was a good party!

On to Pokhara

We’re leaving Kathmandu for Pokhara today which means going back on same snaking road we rode into town on in the first place. Mostly because this is the only real road in Nepal. We backtrack all the way to the T-crossing from before and take the other turn this time. The ride is really uneventful and we arrive in Pokhara in the afternoon.

The hotel is going through reconstruction but is really nice, situated right on the main street. We head out browsing the shops and find a tendency towards hiking shops, just like in Kathmandu. I’ve had this idea that I’m going to get one of those dust masks I’ve seen people wear and get it embroidered. This proves harder than I expected but finally I find one at the local drug store. I proceed to take it to one of the many t-shirt embroidery stores but the guy shakes his head and says it’s impossible.

Bummer… Well, at least I have a dust mask now, will probably come in handy later when we go hiking. Browsing some more I happen across a really cool bag, sewn from an old rice sack. That’s not the coolest thing about it however, printed on the original rice sack are, what looks like, a couple of old Ericsson GH388 phones! This is the sort of weird stuff I love, so after some half-hearted haggling I probably pay way more than I should have.

On the way back to the hotel I stop by another of the embroidery shops just to get a second opinion. The guy there shows it to one of the tailors who, after some careful examination, nods approvingly. Yay! I decide on a Buddha Eyes motif and off he goes sewing. The whole deal takes less than ten minutes and it’s absolutely fascinating watching them work.

Wrapped up the evening with a late supper at Moondance Restaurant, right next to our hotel. They had an extensive menu and in the end we settled for some nice pizza. The place was tastefully decorated and cozy, but I think the place has a good review in Lonely Planet, which meant that there aren’t that many locals there. Still, I’d certainly recommend it!


5:45 am we’re to meet the guy from the bungee-company in the lobby and I almost miss it again, since I forgot to adjust the clock yesterday… We walk over and hang around with all the other nervous people by the bungee office.

We are stuffed into a bus and are on our way. It’s a rather long ride but we befriend two aussie guys, Mal and Gary, who are just come back from a trek to the Everest base camp. They have a lot of stories about altitude sickness and extreme fatigue, apparently the entire trek takes about nine days – seven on the way up and only two down. You live at simple hostels all the way up, so there’s no need for tents, but you freeze a good bit anyway they assured us. Mal had promised himself that if they made it all the way up there he would go for the bungee as well, Gary wasn’t as keen on the idea though but tagged along for company.

Mal was working as a mechanic and when he heard we were swedes ha had a thing or two to tell us about the quality of SAABs… Not very good, if we are to sum it up, but certainly not as bad as TATAs, which were all hand welded and where you could often see where the welder had blown a hole through the metal and just welded a sheet to cover the hole.

Monica isn’t feeling well and has to stop the bus to throw up, turns out later that several others back at the hotel also were sick, so I guess it was something they ate. Ricard and I are unaffected though. After a while we come up on the gorge where the jumping is to take place. There is a long suspension bridge crossing it and we have to wait for the people already out on the bridge to finish jumping. Tension is building, and when we finally cross the bridge it’s on shaky legs. The bridge is 160 m over the riverbed below so you can bet I held on to the railing for dear life!

On the other side there is a really relaxed briefing hall with low tables and cushions all around. The briefing is short and to the point, and when one of the girls ask if they will push you if you’re too scared to walk off the ledge by yourself the answer is a cool “this is bungy jumping, not bungy pushing”. Then it’s time for weigh-in, and you get your weight written on the back of your hand. It all feels really professional so I’m not really worried about the safety aspects.

We’re up right away and once again trot out on the suspension bridge – just as scary as last time around! We’re a sizable group of about 25 people and we line up in ascending order according to weight, it’s theorized that the light ones go first while the cord isn’t fully warmed up but it’s mostly idle speculation. Anyway, this means since Ricard and I are among the heaviest we get to wait to almost last, and at 3-4 minutes a person this works out to a pretty long wait…

All that waiting means that the scariness is starting to wear off and suddenly the 160 m doesn’t seem all that scary anymore. Also helping is seeing many of the others not following the instructions we got at all and still being okay. Since both Ricard and Mal are going bungy they end up going before me, but right after it’s my turn, I actually miss Ricards jump as I get the harness on. By now all the courage I had developed standing around watching the others is but a fleeting memory and my pulse is racing. I manage to say a few words to the camera before walking up to where the ledge is. There I have a few moments to contemplate my mortality before they start attaching the snaplinks.

Edging out on the ledge where there is suddenly nothing to hold on to except the actual cord I’ll be swinging by it all becomes very real. The cord slips over the ledge with a gut wrenching tug, now it’s just me and the abyss (and the guy holding on to me I guess, but that wasn’t very comforting). As instructed earlier he started counting: “1, 2, 3, GO!”, it was all very calm, but also very authoritative. It felt only natural to step out into the void at that point.

WOOOOOOSH! It’s surprisingly lout I remember thinking, also there’s the feeling of “nogroudnogroundnoground” (as can be witnessed by my frantically pumping legs in the video). According to the homepage it’s a six second free fall, but knowing some basic physics that number seems off , since by five seconds you’ve fallen just over 120 m while they at the same time claim that there’s a 100 m free fall. Ah well, as the gentle tug of the cord says that it’s time for the swing portion I try to collect my body parts and assume the pose I had figured out while waiting around up on the bridge.

After a while the swinging stops and a guy on a platform to the side raises a rope over the river that I can grab on to and start pulling myself in. Back on the ground I go over to Ricard for a bear hug and to wait for Monica to jump. Her jump goes as planned and we come together for an adrenaline-fueled group hug before beginning the ascent from the gorge. This is probably the most dangerous part of the entire experience! You climb up the side of the gorge on precariously placed rocks with no railing to hold on to. It’s positively exhausting, so the delicious lunch waiting up top is certainly a welcome one!

Being still all riled up Ricard and I talk ourselves into a second jump (this had been advertised as an option before). But when we talk to them they give the same answer as the day before about the bungy – it’s full. Doing the exact same thing again isn’t as appealing though so we call it off. Meanwhile they’ve set up the videos of the jumps so that we can watch them before deciding if we want to buy them. Naturally we do buy them even though they’re ridiculously priced, about 200 sek, a third of the price for the entire thing. We also get a pretty cool t-shirt as a memory of it all.

Ride home is uneventful but late, and we manage to miss the walkthrough by the trekking company. Doesn’t seem to matter much though, according to the others he was mainly a pompous ass with not much useful to say.

Flying on top of the World

Today we go for a flight around Mount Everest! So as usual we’re up sinfully early (5:50 am) to go to the airport. I almost miss it because of the infernal 15 minute time zone adjustment Nepal has (srsly 15 minutes!?) but get down just in time.

The flight is rather short, 45 minutes all in all, and we’re not exactly flying around Mount Everest. Instead we fly just enough so that we can see it before turning back. The scenery is spectacular though since you can see much of the Himalayas as well as many of the 8000+ m peaks and I don’t regret spending 1000 sek on it. Back at the hotel we get a quick breakfast before going off on another guided tour. First stop is the monkey temple, probably the most famous sight in Kathmandu with the Buddha eyes gazing out over the world.

The temple is a rather nice place to just walk around but there aren’t that many monkeys around. Dogs are strewn about, but you can see a clear difference from India in that they’re not mangy, rather they look well. The upper courtyard where we enter is chock full of those colorful Buddhist prayer flags and you really wonder how some of them got up there! We move on up to the top where the actual temples are alongside the usual craft stores. The half an hour free time we get goes by quickly and we move on to Patan.

Patan is an older part of Kathmandu with even more temples, of which the coolest is dedicated to Kali (whom you all know from that Indiana Jones movie). Turns out she really is a bloodthirsty sucker as our guide points to rope-like things hanging over the entrance and tells us that they’re actually Buffalo guts! Once a year there is this festival where people bring all kinds of animals to sacrifice and the floor is covered by blood. Not so much now though, but there is lots of really nice carvings of angry god figures to look at.

We also get to visit one of those craft stores where they make those insanely detailed mandala paintings. They’re very beautiful but I settle for some detailed photos and we move on to catch some lunch before going back to the hotel. The rest of the day is unscheduled except for deciding to meet up for dinner. I do some shopping in the myriad of trekking stores and get away with some pirated North Face and Mammut. Since I seem to have lost the others I find a nice café to do some blogging and have an afternoon snack. I get this cool vegetarian specialty Momo together with Indian Tonic and end up spending a couple of hours watching people and writing.

Feeling a bit ursine I find myself a barber while exploring my way back to the hotel. As usual I gladly accept the accompanying offer of massage (my sixth this trip). Next door is one of those awesome stores where there’s just a guy and a sewing machine. They sit there and embroider t-shirts “by hand” – meaning that they use the sewing machine to embroider freehand directly onto the t-shirt. If you want you can just hand in any picture and an hour later you can collect the shirt for a really modest fee. (around 100 sek) I get a shirt with the Everest beer logo as a souvenir before heading back to the hotel.

Sitting in the pub at the hotel I spot Ricard and Monica looking all excited. I head over and it turns out that they’ve made good on their talk about bungee the other day and booked it for tomorrow. Shit, I wanted to do that as well! Coincidentally I passed the place they’d booked at and I head back in a mad dash and get there five minutes before closing! The spots for bungee are all filled though, but the guy tells me that I can do something called canyon swing instead. A little bummed I agree to do that, even though that it seems like a step down from bungee. All in all it’s a really good deal though with transport, lunch and jumping for a mere 600 sek.

Following dinner we go out looking for this bar that Elin has read about where sherpas are supposed to hang out. On the way there we drop off Petra which is actually going on a date with that handsome nepali hunk who served us at the bar yesterday, you go girl! =D A lot of walking on empty dark streets later we decide that we probably won’t find that place and settle for the really nice Namaste bar where we down cheap colorful drinks until they throw us out at closing time. Since it’s kindof late we find the really serious-looking gate closed up when we finally get back to the hotel and we have to bang it to get the guard to open it. A pretty good day I’d say!

What do you do in Kathmandu?

For the people who want it’s another early morning as we go bird watching. Not that I’m especially into birds, but I want one last chance to get out into the bushes before leaving for the city.

Mostly we see very common birds, but one of them is less common: a yellow oriole. As we head back the guide also spots a rhino on the other side of the river! We hustle up to higher ground to get a proper look, but only manage to see some of it as it heads back into the forest. Still really cool though as these are wild, almost Jurassic, animals weighing in at 2 tons. Further on back to camp we meet another guide that informs us that the rhino tracks we saw on the way down, a mere 100 m from camp, were in fact from 5:30 this morning. Talk about having the wilderness in our backyard!

After breakfast it’s time yet again to hop on the bus, this time to Kathmandu. I end up next to Petra this time and spend some time psychoanalyzing her trust issues. We’re really heading into the mountains now and the road is winding to and fro with the mountainside with us hanging out the window, trying to get good pictures. After a long while we’re at the only intersection in all of Nepal, to the left is Pokhara and to the right is Kathmandu. Being the only road in the country it’s just as bad as you’d expect, it’s more or less single file, so the edges are really frayed since every time you meet someone you have to drive out on the shoulder.

After yet another eternity we go down into Kathmandu valley, which is actually a collection of towns, where Kathmandu itself is the hub. The outskirts brings back memories of ugly India, even if the houses are a bit more colorful. But as we pull into our hotel, the perception changes. We live in some sort of touristy shopping district, filled with nice stores, bars and cafés of every variety. It’s actually very nice and we browse around the numerous trekking stores where the prices are at 10% compared to back home. These are of course copies, but most of them are really good copies and the merchants are rather open with that fact and can explain the quality differences between the price ranges. There is some room for haggling, but not much, maybe 10-15%. Something I personally like.

Tired of browsing, Me, Ricard, Sara and Elin eventually find a nice café where we sit down do get a snack. I order some kind of dried, marinated meat which is really weird tasting, but good. Later on we also run into Petra and Helena and we all decide to go to another café. This one turns out to have a drink menu so we decide to order some really fancy drinks. We’re served by a really good looking waiter and the girls are joking around a bit about him. We others don’t think much more of it, but Petra actually goes out and asks for him as we are leaving. He’s already off for the day though, but a friend of him gets ahold of him on the phone and Petra is able to arrange a date the following day. Say whatever you want about it, but it sure is a gutsy move! =D

Rhino hunt

The day starts with a safari ride from the back of an elephant. The elephants all have what can be described as an upside-down, low, table where you sit one person in each corner, straddling a table leg. I share an elephant with Monica, Piff and Puff. It’s a smaller, but speedier one and we’re off to a very bumpy ride.

The elephant goes wherever it likes, but most of the time there’s a little path they’re following. The elephants don’t necessarily stay together and often it happens that they choose to go off on an entirely different path. The drivers steer us in mostly the same route though so we meet the others every now and then. The forest is really incredible and everywhere is something to see. We see a large stork, monkeys and a large eagle before fording a river. The river crossing is exciting, especially climbing the really steep bank on the other side. But the elephants are really sure footed, so there’s never any real problem.

Going through really dense forest on an elephant means that sometimes you have to break stuff to get by. The drivers have special commands for that and on occasion we break down the odd decimeter-thick tree. We also see some spotted deer and really cool-looking ant hills. Suddenly the driver stops and points to some tracks in the mud: “Tiger, fresh from this morning” he says. So again the hunt is on, even though tiger is even more rare in these parts. We fail to find any tiger though and head back across the river. When we’re over on the other side, one of the other elephants starts tooting and brumming like mad. All the other elephants also start doing it and after a while one of the other elephants comes running out of the forest on the other side of the river, with its passengers holding on for dear life!

Turns out that they are sisters and don’t really like being separated for long. But once their back together we can move on. We see some more monkeys as well as beautiful scenery but the rhinos remain absent. A bit disappointed we head back to the hotel for some lunch. Just as we’re having coffee the guide announces that they’ve found rhinos nearby and we should hurry if we want to see them! We throw ourselves in the cars and head off to the river again. We arrive just in time to see a father and son team walk down into the river to cool off (something we could use as well, since it’s 35 °C and blistering sunlight. We take as many pictures as we can of the badass-looking creatures before heading back to the lodge.

There’s one more thing on the schedule this day, and it’s a boat ride along the river in hollowed out tree trunks. It certainly is peaceful and I almost fall asleep to the gentle rocking. We do manage to see two of the elusive crocodiles, as well as a suspicious-looking ripples on the water, almost certainly a swimming crocodile.

After a while we make landfall and start walking across the plains. The guide explains that there is a small possibility that we could run into rhino when walking, so we should stick close together. We don’t see any rhino but the guide shows us a large pile of rhino dung and explains that rhinos are solitary but not territorial animals and for some reason they like to poo in the same spot as other rhinos. Maybe it’s a form of communication or something.

We do see some deer on our walk, but at this point we aren’t too excited by that anymore. Last stop is a breeding facility for elephants where the elephants are tied to a pole standing on a hill. This is so that it’s easier for the elephants to lie down and get up. One of the elephants has gotten twins, something that’s apparently really unusual. The elephants are really fun and you can see that they clearly have different personalities. One of them is eating the packets of rice they’re getting and actually picking out the rice filling while discarding the straw cower! Smart guy! We also meet what must be one of the ugliest goats ever, he’s really charming though and a lot of people end up feeding him chips.

Back at the lodge we decide to go for drinks down by the river, it seems like the booze is cheaper than the soda though and the drinks are almost undrinkable. As it gets dark we gather back at the campfire with the Nepali staff. They say that they like us much more than the Japanese people that usually come here since we actually participate in the singing and dancing. The boss of the place has been calling me “Dancer Man” after last night so I guess I have to live up to the hype now…

We end up drinking Gin & Tonic, singing ABBA and teaching the Nepalese “Små Grodorna”, something they think is hysterically funny.

Chitwan Happens

Mahendranagar was only a stopover and we set off for Chitwan right away. We get to see Nepal in daylight now and boy is there a difference! Nepal is so much cleaner, the buildings look like they would actually withstand a hard kick, the roads are (mostly) nice and the people aren’t as pushy! This, and working suspension almost makes us forget the fact that there is no legroom whatsoever in the bus.

Ulrika buys grape juice at one of the stops but gives it away when she discovers that there are large pieces of grape in it. I take it and it’s a little bit like drinking tadpoles, but the taste is good so no problem really =)

Chitwan national park is reached in just three hours, a welcome change of pace. We’re staying in a little village called ???? at the Jungle Lodge. The staff welcomes us by drawing red marks on our foreheads, serving juice and giving us hibiscus flowers. The entire place is serene and as we have some free time before lunch we head down to the river. We’ve been cautioned no to do any bathing since there are more than a few crocodiles swimming around in there. Maria tells us that last year the entire group went swimming right away and instead of just telling them to get up the staff went and told Maria instead…

We don’t see any crocs, but three elephants are bathing just as we walk down. Their riders are scrubbing them with stones and thoroughly cleaning them. One of them, a younger one probably, has other plans however and is out in the middle of the river, spurting water, rolling around and playing submarine. It’s hysterical to watch and he’s obviously enjoying himself!

The lunch is great and to think that I read that the Nepali kitchen wasn’t much to bother with! Following lunch we all go down to the village and look around. The place is very laid back and even the salesmen are nice, there are also more or less fixed prices, which might be part of the reason. I find a painter that has some beautiful greyscale mountain paintings and I end up buying one with Anapurna mountain on it (especially fun since it’s there we will be trekking later on and in all likelihood we’ll see Anapurna for real). The price is only 1200 Nepali rupees (120 sek) which I gladly pay.

The whole village is filled with booze as well, which is a welcome change from the dried up India. I get a bottle of gin (550 rupees) and a few cans of tonic (much more expensive than the Gin). The schedule for the afternoon is a jungle walk where we hopefully get to see some wildlife. The most wild thing we get to see though is a stork and some beetles. The walk ends beautifully with drinks in the setting sun by the river. We are a few people who aren’t quite satisfied there though and Sara, Elin and me decide to go to one of the rooftop restaurants in town where there’s happy hour with two drinks for the price of one.

When we get there we discover that Fredrik and Thorstein are already there. The net result is that we’re all a bit tipsy come dinner. The staff line up the Everest beers and dinner is equally delicious as lunch. Following dinner is a Nepali dance show, naturally we were hoping to see some women but no such luck, the men seem to do the dancing here. They perform three dances before it’s time for a final one where they want us to join in. People aren’t too keen to begin with but by the time they get to Ulrika and Elin almost all of us are participating.

The staff are really happy that we joined in and we spend the rest of the evening drinking and singing around the fireplace. Håkan turns out to be a real dark horse and keeps coming up with weird songs that we all sing along to. The staff sings a couple of Nepali songs as well and all in all it’s a really pleasant evening.

To the Border

Time to leave Varanasi and head for the Nepali border. The drive is supposed to be 10 hours so we leave at 6 am. After a while we run into what seems like an accident and a bunch of people are having words. It never turns into a proper fight though and we’re soon on our way. The roads are really crappy here as well and at one time Ulrika actually hits her head on the ceiling on a particularly nasty bump.

Monto is getting more Swedish lessons from Monica and he tries to teach me some Hindi in return. I find the head band I bought in Ranthambore and put it on and for some reason Monto finds this absolutely hilarious! He can’t even look at me without bursting out into laughter. He tells me that I should say the phrase “Jai Ganesh, baba ki!” next time we get off the bus. He also draws a trident on my forehead since that is Ganesh’s weapon to complete the image. This is obviously very amusing to him so I play along.

The bad roads are making us late though and we have to skip lunch in order to get to the border on time. We do arrive in time though and it’s time to say goodbye to Monto, his father and the mechanic. Walking across the border I try the phrase Monto taught me and it’s met by cheering. I’m also offered some Marijuana on the mere 100 m we’re walking, that’s pretty fast! The visa procedure is not very onerous and we’re soon on our way again, this time in the smallest possible bus, exactly big enough to fit all of us. It has suspension and an actual motor though, so we’re happy.

A fifteen minute drive later we’re at Pawan hotel, we’re treated to some delicious Nepali food before we head out to explore the town. There isn’t much to see though but I manage to find a barber where I get a full shave and an upper body massage for a measly 200 Nepali rupees (20 sek)! Feeling like a new man I head back to our room, only to find that we’re having a nightcap with some domestic wine. Nurse Karlsson thought it was the worst wine she’d ever tasted, but it wasn’t quite that bad if you ask me.

The Varanasi Trifecta

Today we’re scheduled for a boat ride along the Ganga river at sunrise, but due to morning gridlock we don’t quite make it in time. Not a big problem though, the sunrise is still beautiful when we do get there and hop in the long row boat. Along is a little girl selling flower-filled floats with a little candle inside which you light and put in the river to commemorate loved ones recently passed. The girl deftly jumps off to another boat as we pull out from Dr. Rajendra Prasasa Ghat.

Morning is when most of the people are bathing in the river and we see a lot of them at the main Ghat. The light if beautiful and we we take lots of photos. We go all the way down to the burning Ghat we visited yesterday before turning around and going back. Our guide this morning is much worse than Raj though and we’re thankful that we’ve already been given a much better explanation of everything that is going on.

We hop off at the Manikarnika burning Ghat where an untouchable is giving us a short tour of the process. I knew most of it but still give a 50 rupee bill when he’s asking for donations to the hospice. This draws the attention of another one of the workers there and he demands a donation as well, I tell him no, why should I do that? He hasn’t show or told me anything. He then grabs my arm as I walk away, something that I haven’t seen so far. This is definitely over the line and shout at him while breaking loose. Nothing serious happens though, he just slinks away and I’m able to rejoin the group. Once again we navigate a labyrinth of alleys to reach the bus and I can’t stop being absolutely fascinated about them.

Nurse Karlsson has been on about a Yoga class she’s read about in Lonely Planet and Ulrika and I tag along after breakfast to find the place. The Yogi is supposedly giving lessons every other hour throughout the day. We’re a bit late and have to resort to one of those “I’ll show you the way and you look in my shop”-guys in order to get there in time. Unfortunately he shows us the wrong place, the Yogi has moved to Australia three years ago a guy says. Our “guide” says he knows this other place though and we agree to at least check it out. Turns out that the other place actually was the one we were looking for and we’re just in time for the class to start!

The Yogi suggests an hour’s class after quizzing us on our experience and we agree. Then he’s off to a flying start with a, very fast, sun salutation. After seeing that we have a hard time keeping up he takes it down a notch though and the rest of the class is really enjoyable. This guy is more of the real thing and keeps the mumbo jumbo stuff mostly to himself. We do get to recite some mantras though, but that’s really part of the experience. I’m sweating like a sinner in church and in the end we’ve all gotten a great workout.

The Yogi asks us what our plans are next and we tell him that we’re heading for the German Bakery (which Petra had also read about in Lonely Planet). He warns us not to try the hard bread, “it’s awful!” We pay the guy 300 rupees for the class and leave after signing the sizable guest book. Finding the bakery isn’t as easy as we’d hoped though, the alleys are really narrow and when asking for directions the answers are really vague. In the process I get headbutted by a cow as well, does that count as a religious experience? When we eventually find it we realize that we’ve passed it no less than three times already!

The German Bakery sure looks like a bona fide hippie place with rugs to sit on at low tables. We find the hard bread in the menu, only to see it described as “Knaeckebrod”. =P Sadly enough they don’t have any today and I order a capsicum omelet since I’m curious to find out exactly what capsicum is. Turns out that it’s regular green pepper, or paprika, depending on where you’re from.

The service is remarkably slow and forgetful but at least it’s a moment of peace and quiet, something you don’t get that often in India. Before going back to the hotel though I have one more thing to cross off my list, and that is a dip in the Ganga river.

So we head back down to the river at Dasaswamedh Ghat which is the main bathing Ghat with steps leading down into the river. On the way we’re pestered by yet another salesman, it seems like he wants to shake my hand and sometimes that’s enough to make them go away. So I take his hand and he proceeds to take me into some sort of police grip! …until I realize he’s massaging me. Petra and Ulrika don’t even try to contain their laughter while I’m being attack-massaged right there in the blistering sunshine! Fifteen minutes later and 100 rupees poorer we’re on our way again and it’s finally time to brave the Ganga river. I keep my fivefingers on since there’s no telling what’s down on the bottom and descend down the steps down into the river. It doesn’t smell bad or anything, it’s just the color that’s more or less like mud. Both Petra and Ulrika document the event so that the others will believe me.

I don’t stay in long, just enough to get wet all over before going back up and returning to the hotel for a serious shower. I add a dip in the pool to get some chlorine for good measure before hooking up with Sara to go check the movie schedule at the mall. Turns out that the movie Raj recommended isn’t showing there so we just grab the schedule and return to the hotel. We agree on a movie called Robot and agree to try the Indian specialties at McDonalds.

We get the most expensive seats, which are 150 rupees, and head over to McD. Just as in the US the prices are excluding VAT which is always a source of annoyance. They have the awesome-sounding Chicken Maharaja Mac on the menu, which I get. Elin, who’s a vegetarian, get the Paneer Wrap. Both are really nice, but we don’t really have time to enjoy them since we’re already late for the movie.

We head over to the theater where it’s showing. It’s closed though and the staff informs us that they’re still cleaning it. I decide that there’s still time to buy some popcorn and get the largest one they have (which is smaller than the smallest one in Swedish movie theaters). Eventually they let us in and the movie starts almost immediately without any commercial whatsoever. It’s freezing in the theater and I regret not bringing a sweater. The movie is great though, so much better than I could’ve ever hoped for! It’s sort of an sci-fi action Romcom, with all the elements Indian cinema is known for: Singing and dancing sequences, cheesy overacting and bad slapstick. The script isn’t half bad though, and you actually get something out of the movie. Towards the end I realize that I’ve actually seen a review about this movie from MovieBob! Seems like he liked it just as much as I did, and I would definitely recommend seeing it. The lack of subtitles never was an issue since the overacting made it really easy to follow the plot anyway.

One funny thing was in one of the sequences Monto throws his hands up in disgust saying “South Indian dance!” Apparently there’s something really wrong with that because he’s not very happy. The rest of the audience is also loudly participating in the movie, shouting, clapping and generally cheering when the hero does something good. Too bad the volume is turned up to eleven so that we can’t hear them half of the time.

A Smell of Burning

This is the first day we’re sleeping in, the bus leaves at 10 am for some sight seeing where Sarnath, the place of Buddhas first sermon is among the sights. First is the temple they built there and it is decorated with a lot of neat murals depicting the life of Buddha and his path to enlightenment. Petra buys a neat book with explanations of Buddhas teachings which I also end up getting: “What would Buddha do? 101 answers to life’s hard questions”.

Onwards to the monument Dhamek Stupa, raised over the place of the first sermon. The guide is very particular about pointing out that it really wasn’t a sermon at all, rather a conversation with people. Buddha really disliked the preaching going on elsewhere so he chose to converse with people instead. The monument itself is more or less a solid cylinder of bricks some fifty meters high! I’ve never seen anything like it and it was awesome. The way they know it was real is because the British dug a shaft down the center of the thing. They found that it was indeed solid and only at the very bottom did they find a stone tablet, naming the place Dhamek and marking it as the place of the initial sermon.

We also visit a museum with a lot of old statues, including the Lion Capital of Asoka, the national symbol of India, which is polished to a shine even though it’s only sandstone, a technique said to be lost today. I’m a bit of a skeptic myself, I mean, how hard could it be? It’s obviously been done before =)

On the way back we also stop at a silk factory. Varanasi is famous for its silks and here we get to see how the cloths are made. The thread arrives here after being extracted from the cocoons, the actual silk worms are cultivated down south. Here it’s woven, either using “modern” method which involves an awesome punch card-programmed loom. These are the cheapest ones to make, the other method involves people keeping patterns in their head where one controls the threads coming into the loom and the other is doing the actual weaving. The latter method produces approximately 2 cm of cloth per day, obviously making it somewhat expensive.

We’re then taken upstairs where we’re show some of the finished products. The largest thing they make are bedspreads which go up to 44000 rupees. Both Piff and Puff end up getting some silk and Nina realizes that she’s forgotten her credit card. Ricard saves her by letting her use his, something that the staff thinks nothing of. Seems to be the standard around here, the women buying and the men paying.

Back at the hotel we grab some lunch before Elin, Sara, Nina, Börje and I head back downtown to see some sort of ceremony down by the Ganga river. We’re not sure what to expect but get a rickshaw as close we can get (the area closest to the river is closed off from traffic) and start walking. Soon we meet a guy called Raj, speaking excellent English who wants to show us the ceremony in exchange for us coming to his store. Since none of us really know what the ceremony is about we decide that this is a good idea, especially since his English is so good. He then goes on to say that he can show us the burning ghat as well and if we hurry we’ll be able to see the ghat first and then go straight to the ceremony.

This sounds great and we set off at a brisk pace through winding alleys filled with cows, goats, dogs and people. It’s really cool to see these alleys, especially in the evening with all the commotion still going on there. After a while we arrive at Harishchandra ghat and he explains in great detail how the ceremony is performed. As a person dies, the family has 24 hours to bring the body to Varanasi and the Ganga river and burn it, if they fail the soul will not enter Moksha and instead be reborn. This goes for all of India, which obviously is problematic if you live far away, so there are also hospices where the old are cared for awaiting their demise.

Upon death the body is stripped, placed under open sky and rubbed with honey, yogurt, sandal powder, ghee and honey. The body is then wrapped in a white cloth if it’s a man and a red cloth if it’s a woman, a stretcher is fashioned from two bamboo sticks and the body is carried down to the river all the while the family is chanting a mantra. Women are forbidden to participate in this part of the ceremony as they are deemed overly emotional and not without cause; several times it has happened that women have jumped into the fire when their husband has been burning. They also tent to cry a lot, which makes the soul feel guilty about entering Moksha and instead staying with them. For the same reason the family must leave the fire and not turn around while doing so. After the three hours or so it takes to burn the body, the final step is taking a clay pot and filling it with Ganga water. This is used to douse the fire and the ashes are put into a large heap which is then sifted through during a couple of morning hours when no burning takes place searching for valuables such as rings and gold teeth.

The job of burning is for the untouchables, the very lowest caste, they also get to keep whatever valuables they find when sifting the ashes. I was surprised to see the young man tending the fire was very well dressed, I’d though that all the untouchables were really poor. Not the case says Raj, caste has nothing to do with money really, he is for instance brahmin, the highest caste, and if he where rich, he wouldn’t be here talking to us.

There are a few people who aren’t burned: Sadhus and children under five aren’t since they are already pure, lepers as they are they think that it would spread disease, people killed in accidents (unnatural deaths) are taken to the electrical crematorium, people bitten by cobras also get special treatment, I forget why.

We’re not allowed to linger too long, since the ceremony is about to start. Another brisk walk along the Ganga where we marvel at the fact that the river was about 10 meters higher just a month or so ago when it was monsoon season. It can be seen by the plentiful mud drying on the shore. We get a really good spot for the ceremony which really isn’t all that interesting but very good at setting the mood. It’s a lot of drumming and fire being passed around to honor the river.

It’s time to go visit Raj’s shop, and we all agree that he’s done a splendid job. Turns out that they have some very nice shawls and other doodahs so we end up shopping for a rather handsome amount. One of the guys working there are really happy about my cricket t-shirt since it’s his team, but he’s disappointed that I don’t really know anything about them.

On the way back to getting a rickshaw I ask Raj what movies he’d recommend seeing. He says that he doesn’t go to the movies because people are always shouting, cheering and clapping even making it hard to follow the movie. Since this is exactly what I’d been looking for I’m excited and he says that we’ll be able to catch a movie at the shopping mall right next to our hotel.

Back at the hotel the WiFi still isn’t okay, the guy tells me the technician is away buying antivirus to fix the connection. Good luck with that….