And now its time to go. After 24 nights in Varanasi I am leaving tomorrow to go to a city named Jaipur, a place I have no idea about. I dont know whats there or anything about it. All I know is that Im going to pick up a ticket at 2pm for a train that leaves at 6.15 tomorrow either from here in Varanasi or from another station called Mughalsarai which is 17km from here and an additional 500rupee taxi ride. Preferably I get the train from Varanasi because its a slightly higher class carriage 2ACs which means Class 2 Air Conditioning Sleeper, which equates to double layer bunks. If I get the other train its a 3ACs which means its 500rupees less and there are triple layer bunks or not very comfortable and more people to potentially steal you shit. I know that 2AC has food onboard and its less likely that the train will have as much human traffic on the ‘relatively’ short trip Im taking. The ride will be approximately 17 hours heading West, most of it at night and so I can in theory lay back and struggle with a book.
The concept was that I leave here to go to ultimately Pushkar which is a beside Ajmer a small city. Pushkar is very attractive, built on a sacred Hindu lake with lots of hills surrounding it, and it’ll be like a tiny Varanasi with ghat’s encompassing the lake edge. My plan was to be there for about four days and then move on up north past Delhi and into the foothills of the Himalaya to a place called Rishikesh which is the spiritual home of Yoga, but Im not a Yogi so Id be going there for a few days and then on to Dharmsala where Dalai Lama lives, and again not to visit him but to just experience the place. Typically its cold, but its mid spring here and everything is getting hotter. India gets hot in the summer then then breaks into Monsoon . Hot means 40c. Delhi get to be 50c in the summer before Monsoon.
originally the plan was to go to Udaipur a gorgeous city In Rajasthan, which is supposedly one of the most attractive states in northern India, its 5 seconds of fame was that James Bond Octopussy was partially filmed there. Its also famous for many lakes and temples built on islands in the middle of the lakes.
However.. Im not going to Udaipur because I couldn’t get a ticket there. So instead I go 2/3 the distance and get off at Jaipur and have to find another way to get to Ajmer and then on to Pushkar. But theres one caveat now, and that is I am being asked to go to Delhi to record sound for some project my colleague has up his sleeve and to be honest I don’t really want to go to Delhi unless I have to be there, because its massive and congested and polluted. However there are opportunities and I get to meet a world famous Seattleite Tabla player and sound recordist. And Ill at least have someone there to hold my hand a bit. I just suspect that its going to a very expensive endeavor to be there.
This has been a test, for me to learn the definitive answer about decision making. The last three years have been a steady challenge of overcoming my fear about trusting yourself and trusting that I have the capability to make a decision knowing that its the right one. I haven’t been very good at it all my life, and I definitely have not been good about it here in Varanasi. I was sick for a period and then sick again, and they were my excuses for not getting out sooner, but now after being here for so long, Im actually glad I stayed because I got to see Varanasi as the Maha Kumbh Mela after-party city, and then the tourists left and it got quiet for a moment and then Shivaratri happened which brought in devout Indian pilgrims from the south by the train and truckload, party like only Indians can and then get right back on their transports for the 49 hour train ride south to the hellishly hot temperatures. And then Varanasi becomes quiet again and the long term tourists peek out from the doors of their guesthouses and a few familiar faces reappear. Its great to experience a city so surreal and unbelievable for an extended period because you get to build up relationships with locals and ultimately get a much better feel for how the place works. No doubt about it when I leave it will seem like a truly surreal experience having existed there within those ancient caverns and deep rich spiritual traditions.
Leaving a place in India requires forethought and planning, because nothing happens when you want it to. Five minutes is not five minutes, its Indian five minutes. This is how India works. If you want to go somewhere then you have to think ahead and book now, because you wont get a ticket (even if you pay ever increasing bribe prices), so thinking ahead is quite the psychological quagmire. I have to figure out where Im going, and its never that easy, because you have to think about the place, and then the next place after that and the place after that, so that you can leave go there and then move on and then on and use the momentum to keep you motivated alert and inspired. Otherwise you get stuck in a place and its hard to move on because its cheap, comfortable and easy. Traveling is hard, its hard on the body and on the mind. An Oasis in travel is a base or a stop. Varanasi just has possibly the worst case scenario for access in and out of the city as Indian cities go. Its ancient and designed for human access only, despite the livestock which meander through the Tola’s and the fat Indian ladies that squabble and gossip and stop every three seconds to argue a price on a bag or a design on a Saree, and then usually not buy anything at all, did I mention the millions of stray dogs, the cow shit, dog shit, man shit and rivulets piss, at least the Red Faced monkeys are smart enough to stay on the rooftops. And then theres the shrines everywhere, every corner ledge, doorway and stair harbors a shrine to any number of gods, Varanasi is the Hindu city and its the fulcrum for an incredible amount of worship activity. Personal space is diminished by about 90% for the most part.
Thats haircut number five now, for me, in India. I can count them because they are all unforgettable experiences. You get a haircut and then you get a shave and then you get a face massage and then you get a head massage and then you get a spinal adjustment and then you get arm alignment and muscle relaxing hand massages. These barbers work very hard, and spend time with you, they know your body and your head and how they relate. They take care of you sometimes you get a mid break chai. And then he meditates on your head and you can fucking feel energy between you and him. Electrical harmonic energy on some very distinct level.
Like a tailor he wields a scissors with accuracy and precision, imagining my hair was a piece of finely woven linen and his scissors a piece of cheese chalk gliding and stroking like Morse code on my head. The sound of scissors (not shears) these are well polished and honed pig iron twisted to form the blades of a sheers the blades never snag or rip, they are razor sharp and the boy fidgets with his scissor hand to keep the momentum going. Fast like a motor the hand shimmers over the grey and clips the cuts like a line of formation, and the forest falls away.
Then theres the shave, the shave is in three parts; the application of the foam. Some places make it from a shaving soap bar, some places use it in a tube. Either way its brushed up into a lather and slapped like whitewash over your face, the brush glides and glitches as it mops your face like pouring melted ice cream on your skin and then its done. You have a moment while the barber opens his blade box pulls out a brand new razor peels the individual white paper envelope from the flat and pierced piece of metal and drops it in to his blade vice and drops the cinching lever down on it. He pushes your head back into the head rest you forgot was there and stretches your skin with the side of his thumb and runs a fine edge over your face you can hear the crackle of roots as they snap with the blade. The picture he paints with his razor brush is one of experience and knowing how hair grows and the best way to make it disappear. Drawing short sweeps away from your ears, down along your jawline and up from your neck to your chin, he completes the edge with a bevel run along the ridge of your jawline to your chin and back toe our other ear. From the edge of your lips to the center, lifting your nose to get the Maharaja of all shaves. He runs the blade straight on not as at angle, to clear the woods before he can actually get on to the second round.
The second round is faster but its all business. The whitewash is reapplied and the blade sits at 90 degrees and is drawn like a portcullis over the skin while stretching your face to accommodate the blade. The sensation is different, there is less resistance and there is a mild burning sensation trailing the blade but is gone in the same instant. The towel comes and gently maps your face with two strong hands inside it, opening your face from the center along the line of your nose. Your eyes are rubbed, your ears are cleaned and your nose is squeezed and there is no hiding the contents of your nose from these guys; they clean your face.
The face massage starts instantly with a cool barrage of viscus gel rubbed into every area of your face, ears, eyes and around all corners and is applied with the symmetry of two fast hands, your skin soaks it up and he wipes it off and then applies aftershave, the ultra cleansing pore cleaner and nervous system wakeup call. He rubs it in with rough hands, his skin is professional grade labor quality texture, and the warmth of his hands belies the capability of the tools.
The towel is removed and replaced with something smoother, like the curtains of intermission, a chai comes you open your eyes and the mirrors of the room show more boys in the room now because theres a white guy getting the works so theres curiosity. Someone puts their phone on the table and puts on a pop song with religious lyrics, they can all sing the lyrics and jesus can they sing and know how to make their voices change pitch mid refrain. The heat of the masala chai wafts up your nose and you can smell the ginger accents. The sweet milk offsets the ginger and tea to make a quick charge down your throat and into the realm of satisfaction.
The face massage begins, by mapping the shape of your head with his thumb and forefinger on each hand and acts out an Art Nouveau ribbon line in gold and green on your skull mapping the pulse points, the shape, the symmetry, and the metaphysical currents of electrical elements and their points of congestion. More pressure is applied at certain meridian points and intersecting crossroads, like thumbs in latex, re-routing and redirecting the bioelectrical traffic. Clearing your mind, and vacuuming out the static.
You are put in a trance and the hands go to work: fingernails rattle across the cobblestones on top of your head, the roots of your hair are manipulated and woven back to life, Oils are applied, poured into the hand and rubbed together until heated to the right temperature to affect the most amount of effectiveness. There is a heavy clapping on the crown of your head like the sound of shoed hooves on stone, a clopping sound is made and the hollow drop of the heal of the hand is applied heaviest at the back of the crown and the break of air inside the hand make for an wide echo in your entranced brain. It also serves to release something in your brain, like a spell and suddenly you are aware of your other senses. Sound becomes clear as crystal and the clanging of the Shiva bells for temple arrest you with gentle awareness because you’ve been hearing them the whole way through but didnt fully realize it. And so begins a slow but serious breakdown of your sinuses, through pinching up of the eyebrows and gentle eyelid rotations followed by pinching the soft skin of the lid and lifting it off your eyeballs and dropping it back a few times, and instantly your eyesight is improved. The smells of the shop and of your own clothes come back to you like a snap. A single hum of an electrical box finds you and takes to you an extended state, your neck and shoulder are braces and gripped by strong clamping hands biting your sinews and awakening muscle, the mass is manipulated and your head is separated from your shoulder in a powerful fanning of ligament.
The shoulder is clopped softly and your arm is taken by the barber and put on his shoulder and from the arm pit the muscle is tenderized and the arm is twisted all the way along its trajectory and up in to the hand until your palm faces the wrong way and your fingers are gripped like a bundle of twigs and rotated, your wrist pops first, then your lower thumb joint then your knuckles, the hand is rotated the other way, and the shoulder pops. your hands are placed by your sides and there is a water spritz on your face, the towel comes back and your are truly worshipped.
It is also amazing to see the face to the barber when he is working on you. There is nothing but dedication and a most amazing sense of ultimate concentration. There is much physical effort put in to a ‘haircut’ here; the barber will cut your hair with scissors not an electric clipper and the momentum kept in the hand that operates the scissor is non stop. I know from my stylist friends how hard that is on your hands, and then there is the massage element on top of that also. The experience is nothing but stellar.