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"You cannot imagine the smells, the noises, the vibrant colours, the beauty of the people. Or the violent contrasts between enormous wealth and devastating poverty. Nothing can prepare you for that."
- Ingunn Gjoerva

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India

India is an addiction
by Ingunn Gjoerva, 32, Oslo, Norway
Mar 9, 2000

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It was my first trip to India, actually my first trip ever outside my safe homeground Europe. Due to this inexperience, and the fact that I was travelling alone, I chose to travel organised along with a group. India was the natural choice for me for my first venture outside the borders of Europe. I had dreamt of going there ever since the age of nine when I read a book called "The road to Agra". Since then I have read a lot more, and felt I was well prepared. But nothing can prepare you adequately for the experience that is India. You cannot imagine the smells, the noises, the vibrant colours, the beauty of the people. Or the violent contrasts between enormous wealth and devastating poverty. Nothing can prepare you for that.

India

My trip started in New Delhi, and from there it went on to Agra, Jaipur, Khajuraho and then to Varanasi, before the trip would end in Kathmandu in Nepal. Our last day in India was hence spent in Varanasi, this remarkable and sacred city by the banks of the holy river Ganges. Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world, and it is the place where Shiva is said to have made his permanent home since the dawn of creation. This city attracts pilgrims from all over India, with many old people going there to die. Due to the pilgrims, Varanasi also attracts plenty of beggars.

In Varanasi everyone - pilgrims and tourists and "natives" alike - gravitates towards the river and the many ghats. We went there first before daybreak, to see the sun rise over Ganges. What a sight to see! Pilgrims performing their rituals in the holy water. Sadhus in deep meditation. Women washing clothes. Women mysteriously managing to change their saris under water while staying modest. Children playing.

We went back in the late afternoon, this time renting a boat. The boat was steered by an old man with a white moustache and white flowing garments, standing erect at the back of the boat. A family business - his son and son in law was rowing the boat, of which they owned 8. With them was two young boys, helping out the best they could. The youngest was no more than four years of age, more of a nuisance than of help, but persevering with a magnificent stubbornness.

This time we watched the sun set, lulled by the gentle sway of the boat. It was getting dark pretty fast, but we stayed out there, watching the buzzing life on the ghats. Soon it was pitch dark, and the only lights were the ones from the houses, shops and neon-temples. We steered towards another kind of light - to the ghat of the dead. To the lights from the fires. Bonfire of the dead. You could smell it from far away, the smell of burning flesh. At this part of the river there were no other lights than the fires. Our boat stopped only about 30 meters away. I didn't want to be there, it didn't feel right. It was an intrusion. I turned away, and stared out into the darkness. But imprinted on my mind was the sight of the fires, the burning bodies, the moving shadows of the living, the faces caught in the light from the flames, hunched backs carrying wood. A vision of hell.

I hated India.. then I became addicted to India..

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