Long time, no writing at the blog... Short segments on each bit of the journey up to date, as follows.
Kathmandu to Varanasi
Booking bus tickets all the way, I assumed I'd be in for a smooth ride. Hell, it was anything but smooth! Bumpy for one, but the so-called change at the border was but a plain bad joke. The travel agent on the Nepal side handed me a ticket, a ticket I brought to the agent on the Indian side — to receive 172 rupees in cash for the bus ticket! A few hundred rupees were lost in pointless commissions, you could have just as well done everything yourself.
And the road from Gorakhpur to Varanasi is very, very, very bumpy. And coming down from the mountains, it was also pretty damned hot — I was sweating much more than my fair share during the 24 hours total that it took me to finally get to Varanasi.
The ghats at Varanasi were totally flooded after the rainy season. There was no more walking 'round the ghats, up and down, and even the burnings at Manikarnika took place primarily on the roofs of buildings! I staid at the Shanti Guesthouse, a charming place right atop the ghat with a beautiful view of the Ganga, spending much of my time hanging around at the rooftop restaurant, chatting away my time with heaps of beautiful people, to be mentioned some other time with a bit more time and attention at my hands.
Delhi, with the heat and the pollution, totally finished me off. I developed a mighty series of large boils atop my central belly and right collar bone, got a terrible dry cough, and spent 4-5 days in near 40 degree fever. In the magical Delhi, you get three seasons at once — the cold season of AC cooled subways and shops, the windy season of the cheap guesthouse fans with speed regulators defunct, and the humid and hot season in place otherwise. Does "floating pollutions" count for a season?
I spent the better part of a day at the Home Affairs Ministry extending my visa and entertaining the bureaucratic system with diverse curious forms and procedures, to be given a sealed letter at the end of the day, addressed to the Mathura F.R.O. office. Fortunately it contained a positive one-year extension decision, and made the visit to Mathura a very smooth and brief one.
My visit to Radhakund was pretty much a sneaking in and out, I really wasn't interested in any level of extended exchange with the folks there. Sakhicharan and Bisakha were kind enough to host me for a few nights, enough for me to get my practicalities done. And we enjoyed many a conversation, and we ate many platefuls of delicious kichari! To eat something plain and bland for change — what a tremendous pleasure and indulgence!
Curiously enough, on my way out I was greeted by Ishan who was on the way to the airport to pick up Babaji Maharaja, coming in from Kolkata, and got a ride to Delhi. (Obviously I left a generous donation for the gas.) How odd that our paths crossed so near without meeting — I had heard the other day that he'd be coming, but my schedule was just way too tight. I started writing a short letter in Bangla, but realized my written skills were just way too rusty to put anything intelligible together. For later, then.
The train from Delhi to Kolkata took a grand total of 38 hours!! Finally reaching Howrah at ten at night, I just floated to the first reasonable hotel listed at my Lonely Planet. Hotel Howrah — this old, grandiose building had evidently been at least a four star lounge back in its hay days, perhaps sometime in the fifties... Still offering rooms for decent prices — and excellent room service, meals to bed! — it's a pretty charming place, in fact. Charming enough to have kept me from hovering over to look for a place in the Park St. area where most folks seem to be staying.
Uma joined me on the 4th — without her luggage. One of those plane swaps had been just a little bit too tight, tight enough to leave the luggage stranded somewhere on the way. A few days of her goofing around with clothes I had in stock was worth the 4000 Rs. compensation, I suppose. It was fun all the same! We've been going around, visiting Kalighat and some of the other classic Kolkata sights, and much of the time just relaxing and enjoying each others' company — assuming it's mutual, that is!
Towards the Andamans
Tomorrow afternoon, a ship starts its 60 hour journey towards Port Blair. I am not expecting to have internet connections on the way, nor during most of the three weeks or thereabouts we'll be spending there, floating from island to island. Catch up with you a bit later — have good times!
And I am so going to be snorkling around the beaches!!