When I was planning my 6 months across Asia, I heard that India was a tough place to travel through. Since I was making my exit from India via Karkavita into Nepal, I decided to spend a month in northern India. Ive got mates who have tried to travel through India for months as well, most of them have left within weeks instead. Their explanation to me was it's just too much to handle. Being the seasoned traveler that I am I neglected their advice and still went into India for the month.
In the process of planning the temples, cities, etc of the things I wanted to do and see, Varanasi came up as a must do. Being told by friends, travel guides, coffe table books etc. Hearing how beautiful the Ganges river is, with the floating ghats, the burning candles in the water, I was hooked. Deciding to spend 3 glorious days in this cultural mecha of northern India.
To my surprise it is probably the most disgusting city I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying, if you can say such a thing in such an environment. This photo is a man who makes his living collecting the running raw sewage from the ground level aqua-ducts that run into the river. He then makes little hamburger style patties out of it, sells it back to the people to burn so they can generate fire to cook food, and heat their domiciles. Imagine you walk out to explore these banks of the river, you cannot really step on the ground safely. It's full of a sludge that is slimy and discolored in neons, from centuries of raw sewage running down these path's. It's smelly and hard to breathe. Then as you continue to walk down the riverbank, you will find people who bath, wash clothes, pray all in the same water that has raw sewage pouring into it from this bustling city night and day. Add to this experience the bodies floating along the river. It is not uncommon to see bodies floating by within feet of the same places people are bathing, cleaning, and praying. I myself was sitting along the banks drinking chai and trying to eat something local, when to my surprise a decapitated head floated by me and about 15 other locals who were in varying stages of this Ganges river life. I was even privy to seeing a bird sitting on a leg eating it. Quite a nice lunch view, last thing I ate in that city.
As a public service announcement for anyone planning on going to Varanasi, or any part of India for that matter please do not accept anyone attempting to put flowers in your hands or boarding your ghat with floating candles in their hand. Once they light the candle and place it in the water they will be very aggressive in making you pay for their candle even if you didn't ask for it. In some cases they won't even let you off the boat until you pay. Even though it is a private chartered boat and they just walked on it without asking you. Likewise for anyone walking up to you handing out flowers. If you open your hand ( for in my case I didn't realize they weren't free) and accept this flower from some monk-like dressed person they will become quite irate if you don't pay for it. They will not take the flower back. My advice to you is never turn your hands out to anything in India. This advice was given to me by my driver who took me to Rajasthan for 16 days. He then asked me not to tell anyone that he told me this information. Apparently the backlash to him would be intense.
On a rainy day in Sweden, I found an amazing burial site from the Vikings. (Okay, I didn't find it. I just enjoyed it. Anyways...) I'm standing on top of one of these majestic mounds. Each one of the stones viewed in the photo is bigger than me. Since I'm 6'5 and 220 pounds, you can just imagine that they are quite large and quite awesome to see. Why Sweden? Read on.
I was on a flight from home from traveling through Germany and Eastern Europe. I happened to be sitting next to two absolutely amazing people from Sweden. They were retired and on their way to NYC for the first time. We talked about a myriad of subjects and got along brilliantly. At the end of the flight, I decided (after taking months off to travel) to take the next day off from work as well to offer my services as an "off the beaten path" guide through THE city. When we were saying our goodbyes, they asked me to join them in their home in Sweden. I informed them that I'm a serious globe traveler and to not offer this courtesy unless they were serious. They told me they were. So the next summer, I went to Sweden to spend 11 days with them.
The thing that I find outrageous about all this is they're openness with absolutely no hesitation. In my hometown, when I was married, I owned a house in the suburbs. Since I lived in this house for years, I often saw my neighbors outside and attempted to develop some friendly rapport with them, often saying hello and offering anything I had to them. This was not reciprocated. It's completely sociologically disturbing to me and the prime reason why I enjoy traveling abroad. In the 4 years that I owned this home, my neighbors never waved to me nor did I even know the names of their kids. Yet, when I was on a plane for 5 hours with a beautiful couple, I was warmly invited into their home and lives to be given an amazing time.
Do you know your neighbors? Do you invite strangers into your lives? Is it really THAT unusual?
I have explored 76 countries, no hand holding, no tour guides just a drive to see, smell, taste, experience, and enjoy the earth. I have been on Reality Television and spend much of my time giving back to the community. From a unique perspective of sports, adventure and travel.