Tue 04 Sept
They say this isn’t the easiest of cities to visit.
Usually you should save it for later on in your visit to india.
It’s one of the oldest cities in the world.
My introduction to the ganges.
A spiritual river that is supposed to wash away all of your sins.
The pollution keeps no pilgrims away.
Full of cremated and half-cremated bodies.
They are burned here riverside daily.
In numbers so large it’s taxing the local hardwood population.
Pictures of this stuff is pretty much off limits.
It’s not necessarily something I’m here to document or take pictures of.
This is more so about a way of life.
A way that life has been.
Today is an important day for a lot of people.
I mostly want to be invisible.
Let the people do what they are here for.
I’ll be tentatively at a distance.
India isn’t exactly the easiest place to visit.
The cultural shock can be enough even in the places that I already visited like mumbai, udaipur, and jaipur.
This is supposed to be more than that.
Give me death.
Give me life.
Hold me under.
Cleans me of my sins.
I don’t really know what just happened.
I was just taken out on a docked boat on the ganges.
There was some sort of fire and song ceremony.
I happened to walk out of my hotel and the manager showed me what was the ganga aarti.
Just pure luck.
Going with the flow.
The taxi from the airport was a hassle.
I had to walk the last mile because of some sort of road closure.
I’m like the tallest person here.
Apparently I have jacked arms too.
Some kid asked if I go to the gym.
I get to my hotel and I don’t think it has air conditioning.
Summer in india.
I think it’s 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity.
Apparently it feels like 98 degrees.
The outside of the hotel has cages.
Apparently to keep the monkeys out who run around the rooftops causing mischief.
I book a flight and a hotel for the next day.
Varanasi is a lot.
Taj mahal is up next for tomorrow.
I haven’t eaten.
Sleep has been more a combination of naps at random hours.
All of those trivialities are gone.
That ceremony was dope.
Just me and a whole bunch of other people, on the banks, and on these boats.
But it’s mostly just me.
I close my eyes to meditate.
More of a meditation thing I picked up from yoga.
Certainly not hindu.
But all of that is ok.
The boat rocks back and forth slightly from people getting on or off.
The entire world is kind of surrounding me.
I guess in some ways this is always the case.
But for everything that is here, I am.
It’s as if all of it is kind of there and gone at the same time.
The ceremony ends and I get off the boat.
This entire trip out here to varanasi has been worth it.
I no longer care about the stuff and the worries.
There is a calming peace.
I didn’t come here for my own spirituality.
I’m here more so to be around it and get a feel for what it means to other people.
But that was just rather nice.
I swing back to my hotel to drop off a couple bottles of water.
I was going to go for a stroll but I was talking with the hotel manager.
He was answering questions I had.
He put me in touch with my boy mukesh.
And from there the rest of the night was a wild venture around the city.
I have a single picture from this entire time.
It starts with me and mukesh sitting on the back of his friend’s motorbike.
We’re off to see some cremations.
Varanasi is a town of tiny, busy, colorful alleyways.
We fly down them.
I always thought these bikes with a handful of people on them seemed like an uncomfortable ride.
But it’s actually rather pleasant.
I would hate to be the driver.
With all of that weight on these narrow alleyways there’s not much room for error.
There’s about enough room for two bikes to squeeze past each other.
Throw in a bunch of people and animals, some rather large cows, and it’s not the easiest place to maneuver.
After winding and winding through a sea of sound and color, we get to our first place.
It’s a smaller fire compared to the one we will go to later.
Some guy wants a hundred rupees from me to see.
This upsets mukesh.
He says it’s bad karma.
I don’t mind, but mukesh isn’t happy.
We get to the area and it’s a pretty somber affair.
Or maybe not so somber.
Just a process.
There are three pyres burning at various levels.
One seems like it’s close to the end.
Another seems like it has just begun.
The cloth wrapped outline of a body is discernible.
Mukesh explains everything to me.
How there’s different versions depending on your societal importance.
When the families come for this they spend a week going through the process.
Getting the wood.
Preparing the body.
Burning it to ash.
Then throwing the ashes into the ganges which is a couple feet away.
That’s supposed to release you to nirvana.
After it’s over the family has a two-day celebration.
Certain beings don’t get cremated.
Pregnant women, children, animals, the holy babas, people who committed suicide, and I think maybe the most important people in society (I could be misremembering on the last one).
I’m pretty sure they get taken out on the river and have stones tied to them and they descend downwards that way.
There’s surprisingly not much emotion for me here.
More so thinking.
Taking it in.
Today has hit on a lot of experiences and emotions.
And this just seems natural.
It’s a bit mechanical, like a lot of human processes are out here.
But it’s also kind of more like you have a campfire going with people you’re close to.
It’s probably been a long week for people.
This is just how things are.
We walk out of there.
Mukesh still has issue with the guy charging me money.
Things seem to escalate a bit.
I’m kind of saying it’s ok and we can just head out.
Mukesh insists on the conversation.
I’m not exactly looking to get into a fight.
It would seem rather inappropriate given the area.
And I also assume it would be me against a hundred people.
Thankfully all ends well.
Mukesh tells me again it was wrong.
And that he’s a crazy boy.
Before long it’s behind us.
The winding alleyways cleanse him of the memory.
This time on foot.
Throughout the journey he stops to point something out.
Some religious statue or temple that he has a quick prayer at.
He seems to be pretty well known in town.
Saying hi to a bunch of people that we pass.
We run into his mom.
We say hi.
I tell her she has a crazy boy.
We swing into a family run silk shop.
They have some nice things but I’m not interested in buying nice things.
Eventually we make our way out to the bigger cremation area.
It’s hot up here.
There are six hot pyres burning.
The smell is almost non-existent.
Just a bit of smoke.
This area handles both important people and lower class people who don’t have any family to send them off.
Today they are burning in the same higher up area because the ganges is higher than normal.
I follow another guide who explains all of this. He takes me past several prepared bodies which are lying on the ground, waiting their turn for their final release.
He shows me the guys who are tending to the shiva fire. It’s a fire that has been continuously lit for 3000 years that all cremations start with.
In this entire area there are no women. “It’s because women are too emotional, you know?”
Actually, I don’t know.
Emotions are what makes us human beings.
For as mechanical as we are, especially out this way, we are not machines.
We are human beings.
Not human machines.
To be is to emote.
For both men and for women.
Otherwise we are just human matter.
And at that point no different from any other inanimate material.
I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to convince an entire country to change their stance on the issue, so I don’t say anything.
We have trouble emoting in the usa.
And in countries that are more emotionally advanced than our own.
I give a donation of a couple rupees for the wood.
It’s supposed to go for the people who can’t afford it.
In india (and pretty much everywhere) people look at you as a source of income, or a source of some other need or want.
What can I get from this person?
What can I take?
We have lost genuine interaction.
Gone is community.
Gone is interaction without a motive.
Gone are all of our beautiful emotions.
Replaced with a life that lacks passion.
And if I was preaching I would say purpose.
But I’m just out here trying to observe.
To reverse the tides of the way the world has chosen to go.
If I can’t save the world, maybe I can still save myself.
Holding your hand out to me is fine.
I owe my dues.
But to operate amongst these interactions holds us back from greater experiences.
Mukesh and I head back to the hotel.
He tries to bring me back to the fabric place.
We don’t go.
I give him money for showing me around.
But he asks for me.
Can I just have a little more?
I understand I’m in a tourist area.
Doing tourist things.
For now, and probably forever, I’ll have to settle for interactions that always will have a motive behind them.
Maybe I’m being a bit gloomy.
Maybe I’m emoting too much.
I loved varanasi.
It was a whirlwind that exceeded whatever I thought it was going to be.
The pictures are sparse because this location took a hold of me.
As much as I love taking pictures, this was something more.
I just wanted to be.
A human being.
Wed 05 Sept
I went to go see the taj mahal.
It’s one of those iconic places.
If you have to see it, then I’d recommend seeing it.
But if it’s something you think is a waste to see then I wouldn’t recommend it.
I’m not sure how many pictures of it I’ve seen up to this point.
The size of it is kind of what I expected.
Both larger and smaller than the mental model that I have built over time. Part of this is because of the optical illusion of its architecture.
I know it is detailed and used the best materials available at the time, but in person it feels a bit flat.
It is most beautiful on a larger scale.
There have been times in my life where I’ve probably had more of an appreciation for it.
But I think something maybe about seeing so many pictures before experiencing it kind of took away from its beauty.
It’s a beautiful building.
And for me it was and is worth making the journey to see.
Maybe it was just my desire to take more detailed up close pictures and those elements weren’t as present as I thought they might be.
The taj has changed a bit over time.
People have stolen things.
It’s fallen a bit into and out of disrepair.
It’s been restored.
The british replaced the origin gardens with their own style, which is still present today.
Environmental issues have led to acid rain yellowing the white walls.
There have been concerns during recent wars of someone bombing it.
The inner tomb is cracked and there are concerns of it collapsing soon due to receding water levels.
It’s still hanging in there for the moment.
The taj was built by a moghul emperor as a resting place for him and his favorite wife.
He was obsessed with symmetry.
And the taj certainly is an example of that.
The taj was built out of love for a dead wife.
The emperor’s cenotaph is besides his wife.
But I think the least loving thing about the entire thing is the breaking of symmetry in the size of his cenotaph.
His is bigger.
His has a taller base.
His is an extremely large statement of how he is more important.
He is better.
And not even love will prevent that declaration.
For me that is not love.
If you love someone it should be equal.
Build them the same size and height.
Or better yet, build your lover’s resting place slightly bigger and slightly higher.
It’s like you knew it would be this way.
You have to be a maniacal person to build this thing.
You have to think you’re better than everyone.
Even the person you love the most.
But really you don’t have to.
You can be great but still be humble.
You can be insane but still love someone equally, or give everything you can to them.
You don’t always have to have the tragedy destroy your entire work in the end.
Thu 06 Sep
It’s been six flights in six days.
Definitely a beautiful grind.
But a grind.
Taxi or tuktuk (you would think it’s a rickshaw, but the majority of people selling them here say sir! Sir please tuktuk!) to the airport. Flight. Hang out. Sleep. Then taxi or tuktuk to the airport. Repeat.
I need some time to relax.
I’m very tempted to go to leh.
It’s a town that would allow me to see the himalayas.
I have just enough time.
I’m about fifty-fifty on it.
What better way to end the trip then to check out that beautiful range.
But it’s wayyy up.
You need a day just to acclimate to that height.
Laying around doing nothing but breathing.
I know my body at altitude.
Even getting out at denver airport at 5400 you can feel a difference in breath.
10k is way up.
I’m going to have issues there.
I’ve been grinding.
I have a bit of a headache as is.
In the end I opt out because I think it wouldn’t have been a good decision to push it.
I’ve been using my heart to guide me lately.
But on this one I have to defer to my brain.
Eleven and a half is just way too high for me for only two days.
As tempting as that beautiful range is I have to pass.
I’ve been eyeing up goa all trip.
It’s been raining there every day.
Kerala is under water. Hundreds are dead there from the floods.
In the end I opt to just chill out in delhi.
Rest a bit.
Relax a bit.
Even amongst the chaos.
Take some time to sightsee but also do a bit more of the everyday life.
For me that’s swinging into an art museum.
The national gallery of modern art.
This isn’t my first experience with an art gallery here.
There was one at the exit of the fort in jaipur.
I assumed it would be a tourist trap.
But a sign saying contemporary art museum lured me in.
That was a great little spot.
Unfortunately no pictures allowed.
There were some pieces I would have loved to show.
I spoke with one of the guys working there.
We agree the art is too traditional.
That’s slowly changing.
There were examples of it there.
Even a slightly provactive piece or two.
A nipple here or there.
India is very sexually repressed country.
I mean the states are as well.
But this is another level.
People in nyc throw down behind closed blinds.
India, not so much
Which is sad.
Because they pretty much taught the world how to make love.
The kama sutra came from here.
Thousands of years have passed.
Things have changed.
We used to love each other.
Now we’re scared.
Hiding behind all of whatever it is that has happened.
Art has the ability to change a lot of important things here.
Not just tackling sexual repression. But rape. Politics. Post contemporary.
I understand the time and money should be spent on the essentials.
This is a very long list.
But a pinch of efforts should be spent on art.
And it is.
Things will take time here.
Things will take time back in the states.
Slowly we are all moving forward in a world where things feel like they’re moving backward.
But they’re not.
There’s too much inertia behind it.
But back to delhi.
Like in jaipur there’s no cameras allowed.
You are allowed to take pictures on your phone though here.
It’s a frustrating deal.
I really wish I could have taken better pictures here.
But you get what a pretty bad phone is capable of taking.
It’s supposed to be a 5mb camera but it’s making jpegs at 1-2 mbs.
I did my best to get some reason pictures.
While I’m in the museum it decides to downpour.
It’s monsoon season everywhere.
I must have lucked out because I avoided rain almost everywhere I went.
A wicked lighting and rain storm proceeds.
I’m able to grab a tuktuk back to the hotel, where I end up chilling for the night.
The food at the hotel ends up being great.
Chicken in a tomato and yogurt sauce.
All is well.
Fri 07 Sep
I decide to post up in delhi for another night.
I spend the time getting some sleep and relaxing.
At least until I decide to hit the street in karol bagh.
There’s a wild market here.
Everything is for sale.
Knock off nikes for $3 usd.
Everything you could imagine.
I go out in search of some street food.
I spend two hours strolling around and eating.
Chicken fried rice.
I think food travel coverage, and food coverage in general is a bit overdone these days.
So I won’t document it much here.
There’s a mess of different cuisines available.
And they’re all delicious.
Sat 08 Sep
Another day in delhi.
The chill and relaxation and getting ready for heading back to the city is in full force.
I swing out to the red fort.
It’s one of the places to see out this way.
It provides for some much needed picture opportunities.
In all of my chilling I mostly put the camera down.
Sometimes you just need to relax.
Sometimes your heart just wants to lay down.
Or be in the moment.
But now is a chance to go through and get some final snaps of the trip.
It’s a cool place to check out.
And like everything in india it’s a bit under construction.
I take what I assume will be my final pictures of the trip with random strangers.
This time with someone’s brother and wife and baby child.
I’m mostly conflicted with these pictures.
Oh look a white boy, let’s get a picture with him.
But if it makes someone happy then I’m all for it.
They’ll probably realize in a decade or two or three how ludicrous it all was.
Until then if it brings someone a pinch of happiness then I’m about it.
I will be your exotic attraction.
It’s weird how skin color works sometimes.
Like we’re the same people.
But everywhere people see color.
I understand the importance of it.
But I’m still allowed to think it’s all stupid.
There’s a lot of stray dogs here.
There’s a lot of pet dogs back home.
But never do you look at a dog and think oh that’s a black one.
Oh that’s a white dog.
Oh that dog is brown.
And then have some kind of reaction to it.
It’s just a dog.
We haven’t been conditioned to think there’s any difference in the skin (or fur) color of a dog.
And yes, I get it.
Various people have weaponized skin color for their personal gains.
I’m not denying any of that.
It’s obviously a very powerful tool to use to get things that you want.
I’m just saying it’s stupid.
And maybe at this point we as a people can start rejecting the devices that the higher ups are using to control us.
Instead of fighting amongst each other like idiots.
I’ll be out here doing my thing regardless.
I’ll be here looking to grow and explore and learn and experience this world.
It’s interesting to see how much things have changed over the years.
And how they’ve remained the same.
Progress is ebbing and flowing.
At times we reach our pinnacles and potentials.
At times we go backwards and lose everything that we have learned and fought to achieve.
The current time is one somewhere between being more advanced than we ever have been, and having completely lost our way.
I guess this is how it always has been.
And how it always will be.
We’re making steps forward.
And we’re making steps backward.
I’ve always been willing to bet on humanity.
I’m still willing to take that bet.
On the way out of the fort I swing over to chandni chowk.
It’s another market are with winding alleys with all sorts of stuff and food for sale.
I make my way back to the hotel were the tuktuk driver tries to rip me off.
I had planned to give him some extra money and I do anyway, but not the 5x price he asked for when we got to the destination.
Sun 09 Sep
I’m going home.
Delhi has been fun.
As has the rest of india.
It was fast.
It was a whirlwind.
Sound and color.
Ancient intertwined with new.
India has been a top five destination for me.
It was great to find a pinch of time to squeeze out here.
It will be nice to head home to a place that doesn’t have some of the things that I disliked here.
But I think those things that I disliked will be things that I look back on and miss.
It’s mostly been a pleasurable time.
Even those people who’ve tried to rip me off, or push their product onto me.
When a company does it, it’s fine.
When an individual does it, we take issue with it.
I can’t fault anyone for trying to make a better life for themselves.
Or to make money for food.
We all have to survive.
India is in a great position to go beyond surviving.
It is a great country.
It will be one of the best in the history of the world.
It’s probably not the place to visit for everyone.
And that’s ok.
Not everyone has the desire to experience everything that the world has to offer.
It’s ok to be boring.
Just don’t be miserable.
And hopefully explore.
Tell yourself that you love yourself.
Then go and tell someone else that you love them too.
We’re all on this ride together.