When it comes to buildings, age is something to brag about. Structures like Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Coliseum are beautiful in their own right, but so much of our candid admiration of those places comes from their age. We marvel, not only at their beauty, but that they were built thousands of years ago, in times when modern machinery wasn’t even a glimmer in the greatest genius’ minds. To be impressive, to truly take our breath away, we assume that a building has to be old.
There’s something about a monument that was built, brick by brick and as a product of the sweat of manual labor, that makes us so much more appreciative of it. If the Taj Mahal had been built three years ago, rather than 350, it would still look just as majestic, but it would lose that romantic air that comes from being built without the hulking help of cranes and backhoes.
I’ve driven along some pretty terrifying roads the past few years. My heart rate has gone through the roof while whizzing through late night weekend traffic in Athens. I’ve woven through potholes on a motorbike in the rural hills of Lombok in Indonesia. And I’ve sucked in my breath and willed both myself and the car I’m in thinner when winter descends upon Aomori and the roads shrink down to bare single lanes, flanked by snowdrifts that are at least a meter tall. And then there’s the mountain road between Pokhara and Kathmandu. It definitely does not seem wide enough to accommodate two cars, especially with the huge tour buses and trucks that alternately trundle and race their way along the road. Three feet to the left, and we’d have plunged to a fiery death on the rocks and fields below.
It’s amazing how much good a solid night of sleep can do. After contracting a pretty nasty stomach bug and getting twelve or thirteen hours of sleep so deep that corpses were probably jealous, I awoke on my first morning in Lumbini, Nepal feeling approximately eight million times better. I was positively bursting with verve and vigor, a huge contract from the previous day, when I thought I was going to pass out from walking across the border to Nepal. (Forgot to mention that in my last post. At Sunauli, you make the land crossing from India to Nepal on food. So I can now technically say that I walked from one country to another!)
Unfortunately, my stomach issues were (spoiler alert) not completely over, but at the time, I was back on my feet and thrilled about it. Lumbini is a village famed for being the birthplace of the Sakyamuni Buddha, and I basically just bounced around the giant temple complex. Part of my energy came from my stomach no longer threatening to erupt, but the larger component of my excitement came from the fact that Lumbini is one of the coolest places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
I feel like I need to add a disclaimer to the beginning of this post. It was one of the most difficult I’ve ever written; I don’t often think it hard to find the right words when I’m writing, but this post was the exact opposite of that. I tried to be as respectful and inoffensive as possible in my descriptions and opinions, and I apologize if I offend any who read this.
You can’t come to India without expecting the country to have a severe and permeating impact on your life. I saw things in India that I’d never seen before and likely never will again. That being said, the way I felt in Varanasi has become the emotional center of my trip. Nothing could have prepared me for Varanasi, our last stop in India before heading off to Nepal.
Varanasi, which has also historically been known as Banaras, is a city with multiple claims to fame. For one, it’s the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. Other cities, like Rome and Athens, may be technically older, but Varanasi wins out on the terms that somebody has always called it home. It’s a title that you can’t really contest either; Varanasi’s streets positively ache and groan with age. Mark Twain had it right when he wrote, “Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Continue reading The Ghats of Varanasi→