Varanasi, India

I thought Delhi was crazy until we got to Varanasi. Varanasi is considered a holy city and it blessed me with the holy shits. Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_01I don’t even know where to begin but I think I was starting to miss the quiet and emptiness of Mongolia. India can be overwhelming and Varanasi is no exception. Here there is no escaping the filth or the large-scale poverty. The sights can be difficult to stomach as malnourished children and animals populate your view. You become pregnant with ambivalence, guilt, sadness, and soon the thoughts go inward. Who am I to turn from such sights? How am I any different as a person? Do I think I am above this? We’ve been traveling externally for months and now I feel the path shift inward. The journey takes a different shape as I begin excavating my insides, trekking through all my gut reactions. I have seen poverty and therefore thought I was prepared but was surprised at the melting pot of emotions. They were bubbling over.

With that being said, Varanasi is also quite amazing. You are probably wondering how it can be amazing after a paragraph like that. But it is. There is no other place like it. Beauty takes on different shapes and it’s not just the clean and objectively beautiful places that are worth seeing.Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_02 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_03 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_04 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_05 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_06 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_07 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_08 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_09 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_10 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_11Our first day was quite insane. We didn’t realize it was a ceremonial holiday and the main ghat was packed, swarming with activity. We got lost in some alleyways where we encountered a man who showed us to the main burning ghat. And there we stood, watching bodies being cremated next to the Ganges River with the ashes of many latching onto our faces and clothes. Who are these people? What are their stories? Such a sight left an impression on me that hasn’t quite fully formed and I’m not sure when or if it will.

We left the burning ghat and found a tiny nook of a Lassi Shop with homemade lassies that are delicious.

(We went back every day). Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_49 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_50We sat, sipping lassis watching bodies being carried past us towards the burning ghat with ceremonious chanting. Nourishing myself as those that needn’t be nourished anymore traveled towards their salvation. Not your usual out the window visual.

So our first day included cremations, lassis, madness, and sights that left my heart both sore and swollen with beautifully haunting memories.Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_48 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_51The rest of the week we spent exploring the alleys, sitting at the ghats, and watching people bathe in the Ganges. The Ganges by the way is not the holy water you would imagine. When you think holy water you think pristine, clear, sparkling water that glitters in the sunlight as it tends to your internal and external wounds. This is what it is not. Think muddy swamp mixed in with corpses, probable diseases looking for hosts, wading trash, and who knows what else. As holy as it is, I couldn’t imagine bathing in the Ganges in good conscious. Swimming the East River in NYC is about as adventurous as I get when it comes to questionable waters.Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_12 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_13 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_14 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_15 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_16 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_17 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_18 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_19 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_20 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_21 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_22 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_23 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_24Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_25 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_26 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_27 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_28 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_29 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_30 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_31 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_32 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_33 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_34 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_35 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_36 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_37 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_38 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_39 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_40 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_41 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_42 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_43 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_44 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_45 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_46 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_47One night we took a boat tour downstream to the main ghat where they hold a nightly ceremony where people and boats alike gather. Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_52 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_53 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_54 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_55 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_56 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_57 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_58 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_59 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_60 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_61 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_62 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_63 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_64 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_65As it ended, boats all in a traffic jam headed back upstream. Or tried to. We got about halfway upstream when we realized other boats were passing us, as we were fighting against the current and bitterly loosing. We end up drifting away from shore and back downstream in the dark and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to know what bathing in the Ganges is actually like. The guide gets on his cell phone and the driver gets out of the boat and into the water (we think he is anchoring the boat in shallow waters with himself). In the distance we see another boat try to traverse the same spot with the same results. The Ganges wins. We try again. It takes us 30 minutes to get through the rough patch of water. Phew. Made it.Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_66 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_67 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_68 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_69 Varanasi_Marianna_Jamadi_70

The last two days I spent in bed as a stomach bug held me hostage. It was only a matter of time.

Rick got sick in the first week, I followed suit the second week.

Welcome to India.


Taj Mahal | Agra, India

I’m beginning to understand why our hotel wifi password is “Grand Theft Auto…” Because Delhi drivers think they are playing this video game in real time. We arranged for a driver, which we later found out has some serious road rage for a day trip out to Agra. It takes a good 3 hours to get there via the expressway and he first takes us to the back side of the Taj Mahal. This is clearly the “wrong side of the tracks” or in this case, “the wrong side of the river.” This view is complete with barbed wire. Agra_Taj_Mahal001 Agra_Taj_Mahal002 Agra_Taj_Mahal003 Agra_Taj_Mahal004Not far from this vantage point is a community of people who recycle fabric and clothes for a living.

They wash, dry, mend them, and resell them. My camera was loving it.Agra_Taj_Mahal005 Agra_Taj_Mahal006 Agra_Taj_Mahal007 Agra_Taj_Mahal008 Agra_Taj_Mahal009 Agra_Taj_Mahal010 Agra_Taj_Mahal011 Agra_Taj_Mahal012 Agra_Taj_Mahal013 Agra_Taj_Mahal014 Agra_Taj_Mahal015 Agra_Taj_Mahal016 Agra_Taj_Mahal017 Agra_Taj_Mahal018We finally make our way to the Taj Mahal and it’s as impressive as you would imagine. Agra_Taj_Mahal019 Agra_Taj_Mahal020 Agra_Taj_Mahal021 Agra_Taj_Mahal022 Agra_Taj_Mahal023 Agra_Taj_Mahal024 Agra_Taj_Mahal025 Agra_Taj_Mahal026 Agra_Taj_Mahal027 Agra_Taj_Mahal028 Agra_Taj_Mahal029 Agra_Taj_Mahal030 Agra_Taj_Mahal031 Agra_Taj_Mahal032 Agra_Taj_Mahal033Here people were taking pictures of us, wanted us to take pictures of them, or wanted to be in pictures with us, so somewhere in the world I may be someone’s girlfriend on facebook and Rick may be someone’s best friend.

Of course it can’t be a tour without scamming you into some sort of shop where they want to dive into your wallet. They of course never tell you this and before you know it, you find yourself corralled into an artisan shop, sipping chai, learning about pietra dura, in the dark with a flashlight viewing how light passes through different stones, being shown all sorts of marble items which are probably the worst items you could buy as a backpacker. Yes, I’ll take a 10 pound marble table top please. I have plenty of room and it’s easy on the back. When you try your best to kindly say you are not interested you are lead onto another floor of the building with textiles. Sari. No thanks. Oh but wait, there’s one more room with postcards and magnets and things of that nature. How many rooms does this building have??? I am beginning to feel like a mouse lost in a maze.Agra_Taj_Mahal034We finally escape and we were exhausted by now and still had the 3 hour ride home. Which by the way, included an incident where our driver got out of the car in the middle of the road to accost a motorcyclist and I thought they were going to throw down right there in traffic. He got back in the car without a word and we Grand Theft Auto’d all the way home. Seat belts fastened. Agra_Taj_Mahal035 Agra_Taj_Mahal036 Agra_Taj_Mahal037 Agra_Taj_Mahal038 Agra_Taj_Mahal039 Agra_Taj_Mahal040 Agra_Taj_Mahal041 Agra_Taj_Mahal042 Agra_Taj_Mahal043 Agra_Taj_Mahal044 Agra_Taj_Mahal045 Agra_Taj_Mahal046 Agra_Taj_Mahal047 Agra_Taj_Mahal048 Agra_Taj_Mahal049 Agra_Taj_Mahal050Taj Mahal. Check.

Paharganj - Delhi, India

The pictures in the last post were all taken from a car because I hadn't quite mustered up the courage to walk around with my camera. Once I flexed my shutter muscles, Rick and I took to the alleys for an intimate look at Paharganj. Notice the lack of women in the photos.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33Get excited for the next post which will feature Agra + The Taj Mahal !

We are off to Varanasi tomorrow for a week where internet may be a pipe dream so posts may be delayed.


First Impressions | Delhi, India

After feeling a bit stagnant in Ulaanbaatar, we were ready to get moving again. Mongolian immigration however, felt they hadn't sucked us dry yet. We were pulled aside at immigration because we didn't have a registration stamp in our passports. Not this registration crap again! Our diligence in Russia over our visa registration yielded nothing. They wouldn't even take our registration and now we were in Mongolia, where American citizens don't even need a visa, yet we were being fined for not registering. WHAT? They hand us a piece of paper that says if we were planning to stay in Mongolia for over 30 days, we had to register at the immigration within 7 days of entering the country. Mongolia allows for a 90 day stay for Americans, so we had no idea. This paper is conveniently not given to you when you enter the country, so we had no idea. But just like any good corruption scheme, they write down a number that is just pulled out of thin air and we find ourselves at an ATM taking out what equates to about $125 each. So then we get our registration stamp so we can get our stamp to exit Mongolia. We just paid $125 for a stamp so that we could get another stamp. Makes perfect sense. By this time, we are more than ready to get on a plane. We arrive in Delhi around 2am and had arranged for a driver to pick us up. It's probably good that we arrived at such an odd hour so that we weren't thrown into the madness of Delhi traffic. Save that for tomorrow. We get to our hostel around 3am. The area we are staying in— Paharganj, is known as "backpacker ghetto" and lives up to the name. We are too tired to think too much about it and we check into our room which does not live up to expectations but is livable given the $17/night price. At least the AC works. Phew.

The next day, we venture out. _MG_0641_MG_0730So we left Mongolia which is the least densely populated country in the world to one of the most densely populated countries in the world and somehow we thought this was a good idea. Stepping onto the main road the first time is overwhelming. A complete assault on the senses. I can only concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other without getting hit or run over by a car, tuk-tuk, bicycle, or other various modes of transportation. The haggling is exhausting and the 90+ degree heat isn't helping. _MG_0644After day 1 I become more acclimated to the surroundings.

The madness is still madness, but I am less overwhelmed.

A cow over there, a stray dog over there, men peeing over there, the usual._MG_0647_MG_0728One thing to note is the male to female population disparity. It is palpable. It feels like a country of men. Groups of men. It can be intimidating as a women to feel these waves of testosterone. I stay close to Rick, and luckily most people will address him and not me in this very male dominated society.

(Ironically, while perusing CNN, I came across this article about the imbalanced male to female ratio)_MG_0734While we've explored our area a bit, we've conquered and mastered the Delhi metro system and found there are several different areas in Delhi. We've also discovered that the Delhi metro system is surprisingly the best metro system we've come across on this trip. It puts the NYC subway system to shame. Just a few blocks from us is metro station that is modern, clean, fast, and cheap. It's around 50 cents a ride depending on where you are going, many stations have safety rails, trains have a women only car, and the longest we've waited for a train is 2 minutes. You have to go through security at every station and I think the NY MTA could learn a thing or two.

The juxtaposition of the modern and the impoverished live next to each other here in India.

Just under the very modern metro are sights like this... _MG_0724So India is nuts.

But it is never boring.

More madness to come...