dimanche 6 février 2011


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mercredi 2 février 2011

First steps in India

New Year’s Eve was spent in Pokhara, second city of the country, where a big festival was thrown. This festival is theoretically organized for the tourists as they do not have the same calendar as us –they are in 2068-, but the locals are definitely the one having the most fun! It was a great occasion for us to taste all kind of foods in the street for cheap; something we had missed while trekking around the Annapurnas. We were lucky enough to attend to a big concert with one of the best singer of Nepal, and I even managed to enter the VIP corner right in front of the stage (not complicated: I simply asked the bouncer/policeman at the entrance…).


We then headed back to Kathmandu where we spent one week relaxing, updating the blog and visiting a bit. Not mention being sick for the first time of course, and spending one day in bed. It also gave me the opportunity to meet with Anna Maria Forgione, a very interesting lady who owns a pizzeria in Kathmandu. Among the people we have met were 2 British militaries who wanted to become officers in one the most prestigious body of the British army: the Gurkhas. They will eventually find out in 3 months if they are among the lucky ones (the selection is really tough) and I wish them best of luck in succeeding (guys if you read this and are still willing to take vacations in April, you are still welcome)!

We left Kathmandu by bus, hoping our stomachs would not mess too much with us. As we arrived too late at the border, we decided to take advantage of the situation to pay a one day visit to Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha (Gotama Siddartha). The building raised to show the exact birthplace looks like a soulless bunker, and has absolutely no interest. The park itself is however huge, and very well preserved based on Nepal’s standards. There are plenty of temples built by many friends’ countries of Buddhism, including one offered by the French association of Buddhism (among the only if not the only European country to have built a temple there. Most of the countries are Asian representatives).

This time, we managed to cross the border without difficulties (if it was not for the mess around, you would anyway barely notice that there is a border, which is pretty strange when you consider how picky the Indians are regarding visas.). The border is a crazy place. You quickly got harassed to get into a private cab (which we did not want) and exchange our last Nepalese rupees (which we did not have). Yann jumped into the bus while I was bargaining/fighting to get some cash, which ended in me having to run behind the bus while he was leaving with both all my stuffs and Yann. Welcome in India! (The bus did even bother to stop to let me in)

We arrived in what we thought was the city center of Varanasi around 4 in the morning after an exhausting night in the bus, as the sleeping sits we were promised were only regular sits in the back and the roads of India are incredibly bumpy. As it turned out, we were actually 15 Kms away in a place called Sarnath (which is very famous among Buddhists as this is where the Buddha gave his first sermon), with basically no access to transportation, and above all no money to get a ride from anyone as the ATM were closed at this time of the day. We therefore decided to wait there until ATMs open, visit what had to be visited and then head to the city center in the early afternoon. Finding an ATM was not easy (4 tries before one actually worked), and the visit definitely not the most impressive we had done so far… but we eventually made it to the city center in the afternoon.

The small streets leading to the guest house we had identified (and basically all the streets along the Ganga river) are a labyrinth. It is (very) dirty, extremely narrow, colorful and full of smells from food to cow shit. It is incredibly hard to find your way as there is no indications and all streets look alike. Yann has extraordinary skills when it relates to finding his way home. Unfortunately I do not… and felt lost at least once a day. One of the trick is to follow the Ganga river (which was 50 meters from our guesthouse), and from there find something noticeable enough which would allow you to confidently jump back in the streets.


Varanasi is above all known for being one of the holiest places of India. People are brought from all over the country to be burnt along the Ganga River, in which the remaining of the bodies are then thrown. Between 200 and 300 bodies are burnt each day, every single day of the year. The funeral pyres were right below where we stayed, meaning we were walking pass them at least five times a day, and trust me the smell of human flesh is not the best one can experience (especially mixed with. It is a pretty amazing thing to see how many people attend to these funerals where bodies burn all day long. It is not uncommon to be obliged to leave space in the streets for the procession of people carrying dead bodies and singing all together to Rahma. The Ganga River is also known to welcome many people to take their baths, which will purify them on a daily basis (they do wash themselves in the river, but based on the aforementioned holy habit of throwing hundreds of thousands of burnt dead bodies in it added to the fact that it is a highly polluted river, I cannot refrain myself from thing that it is not water that can actually clean anyone.). All day long, you would therefore see people undressing almost fully (at least men) and swimming in the holy waters of Ganga. All of this gives a very particular atmosphere to Varanasi, which is strengthen by the absolute beauty of the banks of the Ganga river which are absolutely marvelous as you would find massive gahts all along.

This city is a nice place to stay and hang around for a while. Which is what we did for almost one week. Once you get over the thousands of Indian people who only want to sell you drugs (after Kathmandu and Varanasi, I will start thinking that I look like a junkie) or try to shake your hand to give you a “free” massage (as usual, give as much as you like…), you start sharing tea in the morning with nice people from the neighborhood, end up playing cricket with boatmen when the fog is too heavy to ride a boat (I do not understand the rules yet, but I can very proudly say that my team won ;-)), or simply enjoy the magnificent colors of the laundry drying all over the banks of the river. As there was a kite festival on the last day before I left, we bought both two kites and some string and tried to imitate the children (I need to mention: children of all age, as I have seen 4 to 77 years old playing with kites in the streets) we had seen playing for days. They have the most simple and cheap kite one could imagine, and without a breath of wind, they manage to take it dozens of meters high. What seemed so easy when watching them do it turned out to be a very subtle art. None of us mastered this, and we finally offered our equipment to our teachers (two boys probably not above 6 years old).

Varanasi was also a place for lucky meetings. Even though I did not find entrepreneurs there, I was lucky enough to walk into Han and Lu while booking my tickets at the train station. We had left them over 2 weeks ago in the Annapurnas, and it was with joy that I recognized Han and gave him a big hug. The four of us, plus another Chinese friend had dinner together for the next 3 evening, which was really refreshing.

I left Varanasi on the 14th, after a last beer with Yann on the roof top of our hotel, enjoying the sun and a marvelous view on thousands of kites in the sky, before heading to new adventures. Olivia was to join me on the 16th for two weeks of vacations in Rajasthan, which I will tell you about real soon!



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