Uttar Pradesh and Holi

April 14, 2011

Uttar Pradesh. Often called the “Cow Belt,” an apt reference to America’s “Bible Belt,” is the heartland of Hinduism in India. It is the homeland of much of the country’s migrant workforce and some of India’s greatest history. And I got to see a bit of it all. I started in Varanasi, which is now one of my favorite places in India. It is one of the oldest living cities in the world and Hinduism’s holiest city. I was struck most by Varanasi’s truly harmonious relationship with the great River Ganges; life alongside the river is life at its most vibrant – people washing clothes, bathing, strolling, playing cricket, selling trinkets, making pujas, and burying dead. I often try to spend at least a half hour sitting in one spot in every city I visit, just to watch life go by for a while. In Varanasi, I spent seven hours sitting on one of the Ghats, and I could have done the same thing every day for the next week if I had the time. The people’s relationship with their river is something I am not sure how to describe; it is almost a familiar relationship, as if the river gives itself, and in return, its people give their love and respect. It sounds cheezy, but somehow, it’s true. There is only one other city in the world I have been to that has come close to this kind of relationship with nature, and that is Venice. But Venice somehow does not compare – it lacks the reverence that Varanasi has for its river. It lacks the love.

And as if it couldn’t get better, I was in Varanasi for Holi. India’s famous color festival, held every year in March (March 20th this year), is a full day of total colorful chaos. I spent the day getting attacked by kids, attacking kids, laughing with my friend Rob about the insanity of it, dancing like a madman with the other madmen in the street, and loving every second of it. I am not sure I can really do it justice, but the photos help a bit.

Unfortunately, I eventually had to leave Varanasi, so after four days I packed up and headed north to Kushinigar, a small dusty Buddhist town in the middle of nowhere. I had already spent an afternoon in Sarnath while in Varanasi, and this was the third of the three great Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. It is a small peaceful village sprinkled with some monasteries and the stupa where Buddha is cremated. It was a beautifully peaceful and spiritual way to spend a few days.

But with the good always comes the bad, and I guess fate decided I was having too much fun. So just before leaving Kushinigar for Agra, a trip that involved a two hour local-bus ride, a five hour train ride, and then another six hour night train, I got dreadfully sick. It was my first (and so far, only – knock on wood) bout with food poisoning, and let me tell you, 14 hours of fever-induced hallucination and intense stomach issues while traveling is not fun. Thankfully someone somehow gave me some paracetamol at the end of my train ride, so I got rid of the fever, but I was confined to my hotel room for the next two days straight. Luckily I made friends with Noel during one of my trips to try to eat some dal and rice in the hotel restaurant, and he gave me the push (and some herbal medicine) to get me out of the hotel. So, on my third day in Agra, I finally saw the great Taj Mahal. And it is everything it is described to be; a majestic, monolithic building, perfectly proportioned, with intricate detailing and a stunning landscape. Truly a masterpiece. A brilliant way to end my time in a beautiful part of the country.

2 Responses to “Uttar Pradesh and Holi”

  1. Priya Says:

    John,I love your blog. Not just because it shows your obvious interest (or is it love?) for my very strangely wow country, but also because you are a mad scientist, current farmer and, most importantly, you watch Hindi movies.

    I hope your experience with the upset tummy and fever didn’t have too lasting an impression to keep you away from exploring more here. And then writing about it.

  2. Mom Says:

    Happy Birthday, I haven’t read your blog in a while. Not realizing the date…I read your latest entries on the eve of the 21st. Odd how things work. So, glad you’re feeling better, I hate to think of you in such pain. Hope the B-day was memorable, but it sounds like they all are.
    Love you and miss you,

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