Buddha Do?' in
On our sunset boat ride.
Taking getting suckered in stride.
October 27, 2007
No cancellations today. Lovely. We also had a whole new sense of calm when we arrived at the airport. Another nice thing to have
in this country. Sadly, we were both not ready to leave the Hyatt just yet. But duty called. Oh yeah - and another $450 night
wasn’t in our budget either.
It wasn’t hard to tell who was going to be on our flight when we were in line – all you had to do was pick out the spiritual-looking
people. We pointed them out to each other in line and noted how smiley, happy and friendly they looked. Like nothing in the
world could ever rattle them. We ended up chatting with a few a little bit later. Turned out it was a group of 20 or so Americans
doing a pilgrimage to India. I felt calmer just being in their presence. I told Christine our plane was in good hands due to all of the
good karma on-board (though they did have a bit of that ‘I just drank the Kool-Aid' look going on).
We took an immediate liking to Varanasi while on the drive from the airport to our hotel. After all, what’s not to love about
elephant-with-Hindi-writing graffiti? This drive reminded me of what I enjoyed about India during my last stint here – at every
turn there is a picture-perfect moment of the way life and the culture is out here.
Considering we are now in the most holy city in India, we decided to begin taking in the holiness right away. We went to the river
to watch the night puja rituals. It’s hard to describe exactly what these are (as I don’t really know what they are praying for) but
it quite a scene to watch. Certain people out here (like the Sadhus) look like they can’t be for real…but they are. Locals far
outnumbered tourists which kind of shocked me. Before coming, I had assumed while there would of course be some local people
here, it would really mostly be teeming with tourists. That didn’t seem to be the case. But maybe all those people in the boats
watching the ceremonies were tourists? I guess it will be more obvious tomorrow in daylight. The other shocking thing was that
there were no smells lurking in the air. Shouldn’t there be smells in a river where dead bodies are going? Wait. Why am I having a
problem about this?
But we had to leave because we were craving food in a bad way. We hadn’t eaten since having a snack at the airport in Delhi. But
nothing at the river was looking good. We ended up having a rickshaw take us to a mall that we saw. Yes, we were going to an
Indian mall that came complete with a McDonald’s, cinema and food court. But a food court wasn’t what we wanted. And we were
in luck – on the top floor of this random mall was a nice Indian restaurant that could have been right at home in America. The
food and service and atmosphere were so good, we are already in talks to go there again tomorrow night…
October 28, 2007
Who knew Buddhism was born out in this area of the world? I sure didn’t. Before today, that is. I found this out by going to
Sarnath – the birthplace of Buddhism.
And this is where the ‘What Would Buddha Do?’ theme kicked off for the day. It started when I spotted a book with this title at
the stand selling books. It covered everything from ‘What would Buddha do about ‘The American Dream’?’ to ‘What would
Buddha do about noisy neighbors?’ It was less than $4. It was too cute to pass up.
This led to me and Christine saying ‘What would Buddha do?’ every time we encountered a situation today that tested our
patience. At other times I would have already reacted (telling a rickshaw-wallah “What? Do you think I’m stupid?” when he tried
to offer up a ‘deal’ by charging us $2 for a ride when it really should have been 20 rupees - about 50 cents) I would just say to
Christine “Buddha definitely would not have done that.” (And I don’t think Buddha would repeatedly bark ‘No!’ after being
encountered by countless postcard-wallahs and little-Buddha-statue-wallahs while on the grounds of the birthplace of Buddhism.
Hey, we’re still in the ‘learning process’ of this whole thing.)
Another thing that happened while we were there: I overheard a group next to me who was being led by a guide who was
explaining about the temple. I am still amazed by one of the men in that group. An American probably in his 50s or 60s. As the
man was explaining this place to them, do you know what this guy said? He responded by saying ‘That’s stupid. I don’t buy it…’ I
don’t remember the rest. I just remember the look on the Indian’s face – a bit taken aback but stayed quiet and didn’t argue.
Hello??? Who would go to the birthplace of Buddhism to argue the beliefs of it??? I truly couldn’t believe my ears.
We spent the rest of our day down by the river. It started with just wanting to grab some lunch and seeing the river. It ended
with me and Christine carrying many o’ purchases home with us. Uh oh. I am predicting weight-of-luggage issues in the very near
future. But how many times can a person go shopping in India, right?
We sat in a shop with an incense man smelling his different scents of…duh!...incense. We sat in a music shop while a man played
us different songs from Bollywood soundtracks that he recommended (we both left with a CD). We sat in clothing stores and went
through piles and piles of different colored and designed t-shirts.
Then it was time to check out the scene at the river. Right off the bat, a man told me to come over to him. I was in a nice mood so
I did. After all, wouldn’t Buddha do that? He told me he was a Brahmin (the highest caste in the Hindu religion). How could I not
trust a Brahmin? Within seconds, he started dotting my forehead with some red dye. Then he started painted on my forehead
with more yellow dye. I kept telling him “I don’t have any rupees” but this wasn’t stopping him. Maybe he truly wasn’t expecting
any rupees for this? Maybe it was just a holy man showing his holiness to visitors? He led me down the stairs to the river where I
was to repeat after him while he said a prayer. I kept saying words (that most likely don’t even exist since I could barely
understand what he was saying). After lots of repeating, the prayer was finally over.
And this was the point when he told me that I just said I would pay 100 rupees to make my prayer come true. Christine was
watching this interaction and caught the look on my face with her camera upon hearing this. It wasn’t a look of irritation –
instead, I just started laughing. What an idiot I am! But I couldn’t argue with a holy man at a holy river. I think I did exactly what
Buddha would have done. I handed him a 100 rupee note. He then told me I am going to have a long and happy marriage. Yeah, I
am supposed to trust this from a man that just suckered me out of money in the name of prayer. Then it came time to try to get
the paint off my forehead. I already felt like a sucker; I didn’t need everybody else in Varanasi seeing that I was a sucker.
Christine took some water and a napkin to get it off. The look on her face when she did this was far from encouraging. She told me
my entire forehead was now yellow. Using more water wasn’t working. Using spit wasn’t working. Using her Vaseline wasn’t
working (hey, we were trying anything at this point). She kept telling me it wasn’t ‘that bad’…yet she kept trying to figure out a
way to resolve the issue – which led me to believe it really was that bad. I came up with one last idea. My anti-bacterial gel. And
what do you know…this stuff does more than just take care of unwanted germs – it also removes signs of holiness-fraud.
Now we could head to the ghats to go on our sunset boat ride. We met a sweetheart of a boat rower (Vijay) and decided we would
be put in the hands of his services (these things are a crapshoot as there are 1,000,001 people trying to sell you a boat ride). Our
first stop was at the burning ghats. Pictures are forbidden once you are close to the ghat. This was a good thing as it gave time to
pay close attention to what was going on. The bodies were wrapped in a yellow/orange/gold material. Most bodies come here on
the same day of their death. Family members carried the body down to the river and dipped it way in for the body’s last time in
the holy water. Then the family members took a drink from the river (one word…ewwww!). Before being cremated, the body sits
for about 30-60 minutes to dry. Then it is put over a natural fire – the entire cremation takes 200 kg of wood. Only men are now
allowed at the ghat because women used to lose it while there and the crying disturbed the spirit and prevented the soul from
being put to rest. So now it’s just men there. And it is not a sad, somber moment for these family members. After about three
hours, the body is completely burned. Well, almost completely burned. The largest bone of the male (the chest bone) and the
largest bone of the female (the hip bone) are all that remains – and those all get thrown in the river. The same river that the
family members…and many others…drink from.
After watching the sun set, we went back with Vijay to the shop where he works during the week. We actually volunteered going
tonight…and it was a good thing we did. They had some great stuff! Since this city is known for its silk, it only makes sense that
there was tons of it there. Didn’t need sarees. Didn’t need shirts. Didn’t need silk sarongs. But one thing I could find a use for was
a duvet cover with pillow and cushion covers. Especially when there was a color and pattern that was exactly suited to my taste.
Sold. And then we were shown some of the best quality pashminas that we have seen this entire trip. Originally I was going to
resist. But I have spent $40 on complete crap in my life; why wouldn’t I spend it on something that was of such great quality and
looked so beautiful? Once again…sold. Oh. And during the trip to this silk shop, we were also welcomed by mice. What would
Buddha do in this situation? I think he would remain calm and appreciate the cuteness of a mouse. This was much easier for me
than for Christine.
We actually went back to our old stomping grounds for dinner. Nothing else caught our eye and we don’t have a guidebook. So if it
ain’t broke, don’t fix it I say! When we got to the mall, we saw quite a commotion coming from McDonald’s. Ronald McDonald was
making a special appearance and speaking Hindi. And the majority of people there weren’t even kids – they were adults! Bizarre.
But then again, who I am to talk as I was the person taking pictures of Ronald McDonald.
Tonight we watched most of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (since Christine bought it today). Last year when I saw it there were no
subtitles. I was now able to see what the actual dialogue was (also the words for the songs that I love). What a beyond-cheesy
movie! I think I loved it so much because of the music and the fact that it was based in New York and at that time, it felt great to
see a piece of ‘home’. But I think Bollywood is all about the cheese-factor – probably why Bollywood isn’t seen very often back at
home. But it was at least good to see (or read) what was actually going on.
Time to head to bed. We have a date with our boat-rower on the Ganges for a sunrise ride.
A mural of my beloved Ganesh.