Shiva City

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Mother Ganges. Varanasi. City of fire and city of cows. Today I saw a body engulfed by flames. I saw another body, half burned, skull and torso. Today I sat with an old man who shared with me the sacred ritual of Hindu cremation. He told me that women are not allowed here because they are too emotional (I was close to tears, too), and because many women have jumped into their fire with their dead husband. He told me that your place of fire depends on what your cast is (middle class near the river & Brahmins – priests – on a pedestal). He told me how the oldest son dresses in white, and walks away never to look at the body again after throwing a pot of water over his shoulder on the burning body – a symbol of breaking family ties so that they can move forward. He told me of how many people come to die here. From the sacred waters they came, back to Mother Ganges they go. I knew this city was going to be spiritual, but that was something next level. Varanasi, Namaste.

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Oops

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Despite missing our stop after our overnight train and being stuck in another town waiting for a train back for 3 hours, then riding that train back for another hour… we had a really nice day. This spunky little girl and her family made it filled with laughter, stickers, and funny games. Definitely worth it.

Hey, Dan!

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Remember that time we arrived in the middle of the night in Kolkata? And when the taxi guy called our hostel to get directions but they claimed they had no booking? And so the taxi guy took us to a hotel that was waaaaaay too expensive, so he took us somewhere cheaper instead? But then when I went to check it out he took me around the back of a building and wanted me to follow him inside the side entrance into an elevator to an unmarked floor? But I ran away instead and you came to follow me? And then he took us to another expensive place? But then we decided it was too expensive and that we should go back to the sketchy place and check it out together? And then we did, and it was perfect? And the room even came with aryuvedic soap that isn’t tested on animals? And the room service menu was all vegetarian? And then we slept well and in the morning we went to get money? And then paid $0.40 for puri, dhal and chai? Yeah, that was fun.

Broken Mirrors & Inappropriate Sexual Comments

We arrived in Ninh Binh much in the same way as we had ended up in Mai Chau: complete luck. Again, there was little information on how to get to Ninh Binh from Mai Chau, but from what we had been told we knew we needed to be on the main highway at 730, 8 or 830. We arrived there at 750, and as soon as we set foot on the other side of the road a bus pulled up with a man hanging out shouting “WHERE YOU GO!” Turns out, it was the right bus… somehow! So we hopped on, and through a SERIOUSLY awful translator app, we were informed that we needed to switch busses at some point which would take us to Ninh Binh. We arrived in Man Duc, the transition place, and ended up in the middle of a traffic circle with three men waiting with us. (Why? I’m not sure… they never got on the bus!) At first, they were fine, fun even! Their banter with us started as harmless, but very quickly I felt VERY uncomfortable. They were looking at me in a really unsettling way, eyeing my up and down, and asking Dan if he has sex with me. But of course, they spoke no English so this was entirely through hand and body gestures. I was seriously hoping for that bus to get there NOW! It came eventually, but I really wish it had come sooner. Those men were disgusting. Anyways, the bus did indeed take us to Ninh Binh and soon enough we ended up at our hostel! It was a bit out of the city, but offered bike rentals and was surrounded by gorgeous limestone formations. The first evening we just walked around the local roads and watched the sun go down between the limestone and over the ricefields. Ah, Vietnam. SO BEAUTIFUL!

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The second day we took a tour of the rivers and caves of Tam Coc. It was not even on my radar at all before going to Vietnam, but a friend had told me it’s a must! He was not wrong. Over a few hours we were paddled through 6 or 7 caves, all within these amazing limestone formations. Nature is incredible, the way it can form this kind of beauty. We also went to this area that was recommended to us, a sort of lake with a path around it, and a Chinese Buddhist temple overlooking it!

 

We stopped shortly after that to get some sugarcane juice to go, but the woman at the shop insisted we sit there and have it. It was a whole ordeal to get the juice: the husband was called the get the machine out and wash it down first, then the wife had to go and get the sugar cane and peel it and chop it. Finally, we got our juice and we all sat down together. Again, they knew barely any English but we ended up having a full conversation. And again, they started asking us about sex and telling us that at their ripe age of 60, they still have sex! (I thought sex taboo-heavy in this country??) They also asked us if we were married and if we had any children. We had been asked this tons of times so far, and Dan answered with his “Not yet, maybe one day!” that maybe I have trained him to say. (Muahaha!)

Our third day here we rented a motorbike. We were both a bit nervous because it was Dan’s first time, and I had only done it a couple of times before. But, it turned out beautifully! We took it slow (I made sure of it!), were smart, and careful. Renting a bike allowed us to see so much more than we would have had we not. We ventured far to the other side of the area and visited some temples and some gorgeous viewpoints along the way. We were planning to go to Bird Valley, but decided that we would rather not spend the money to get in there, and just find our own way instead. This lead us to finding a very muddy, small path between some rice fields that – Dan, ahem – led us to bailing in some mud. We (Dan) were going quite slow, but due to some over confidence (Dan) we slipped and I hopped off the back as Dan went down with the bike! We (Dan) ended up breaking the side mirror, but everything else was fine. We were quite scared of how much we would have to pay for the repair when we returned it to the hostel, so we found a store to look for glue in so that we could try to fix it! Next thing we know, the store owner had called her husband in and he pulled out a sheet of mirror, measured the old one in pieces, and cut us an entirely new one. FOR $1.50. Can you believe that?!?!?!?! We got so lucky with that, and I guess since it turned out okay, it’s a funny story.

Shortly after that we headed back in the direction of our hostel, but we took a detour and ventured though some rural communities just outside of the city. It was so cool! Everyone was so so so excited to see us, and the kids that were just getting let out of school were hilariously interacting with us, although they were quite shy. We pulled in to a place to have a snack, and there was a lady with a baby who I went over to and she just plopped the baby into my arms! Dan, watching from a distance, said that as I walked over all these women just migrated towards us. Their babies were so cute (and shy!) and it was so endearing to interact with these women and their children.

Ninh Binh in a win in our books! That’s for sure.