Staying with a tea estate family, nice house, with a biogas stove, fresh milk from cows outside and they have more servants than I can count.
Covering the Distance
On good roads, I’ve covered on average about 350km in a day. But I haven’t had many good roads lately. On bad roads, trials, paths, swamps and rivers, maybe 150km, or way less.
Today, I did 500km. I’m driving through Bihar, infamous for most bad things you ever hear of India on the news. Seems like people commonly carry rifles with them here and although it seems peaceful enough, it’d be good if I didn’t get stranded here in the dark.
By evening, Patna, the state capital. The city feels like a mess. “Inviting” is likely not the word I’d use.
I’m staying with the only foreign expat in town. And I’m right in time, he just installed wooden security braces to bar his doors from intruders. But he’s not afraid of thugs, he’s been tipped off that cops are headed to visit him for a little dose of their daily ‘extortion’, everyday business here apparently.
Benares. It’s all of India condensed into one riverside. Fat guy in speedos whacking laundry on a rock in filthy water. Surprisingly unobtrusive (I don’t hang around long enough to find otherwise) sadhus all around. Raja-types lounging behind big, cloth umbrellas. A fit, young dude pushing a charred human corpse with a stick, deeper into the fire. Cows shitting all around.
“Hello, boat sir?” is the ever-present echo. A smell of incense, a smell of piss. Statues of Hanuman, murals of Shiva and others. And families bathing. Why are they all so darn fat? They don’t even eat beef here. One old lady’s boob spills out from under her sari, another yells at her to cover up.
And the ‘massage-guy’ trap; a “friendly” handshake, enough to lock you into a suspiciously cheap 10-rupee massage. And this city feels so darn old. Mark Twain once said Varanasi was “older than history…”
Guess I’m not selling it very well, to someone who doesn’t already ‘understand’ Vanarasi. Whatever, I feel happy here.
Drove 400km to Lucknow and eight guesthouses in a row give me the same answer: “Full.” ... but there’s nobody here. Ugh.
Dark night. I’m drained and one place finally takes pity on me, lets me in. And it’s a dungeon. Used condoms in the corner and I think they bled out a pig from the window, don’t dare to guess what else those red streaks on the walls could be. I hope I don’t need to use the toilet, I don’t even dare peek inside. And at the least I know that I won’t be tempted to sleep in. First light of morning and I’m gone.
I’ve seen the Pyramids, the Great Wall, the Eiffel Tower and so on, but none has ever made an impression on me as much as the Taj Mahal. And eight years since my first visit, I hesitate to go again. What if I don’t feel the same this time? Will it dispel the magic?
But despite terrible food poisoning, I drag myself up by 5am, pay the exorbitant, racist fee and make my way to the gates. And just like the first time, this place simply makes me smile.
It’s a Bollywood Disneyland. What a treat! A live-action Indian fantasy happening right in front of me. Crowds dancing, video projections all around, awesome costumes, wicked witches flying overhead next to princesses in swan boats dropping flower petals into the audience. And naturally, a cocky prince who dumps his awesome ex-girlfriend for a bimbo princess, “cause that was their fate.” Ah, poor girl, come to me, I’ll comfort you. But whatever, in the end everybody and their mothers are all happy and dancing wildly to Jai Ho.
For more on Matt’s films and travels, check out the Etherium Sky production blog at www.EtheriumSky.com/ProdBlog