Five years ago when I worked for Waterkeeper I met a renowned environmental lawyer in Vancouver, B.C by the name of Douglas Chapman. I stayed at his place for a week. Last year he passed on; I think he was in his mid 70’s but I am not sure. I will never forget what he told me during my stay.
Douglas had traveled the world as a younger man including Afghanistan. One night after sipping on some brews I asked him some questions about his travels.
First I asked “what was the best country you ever visited?” He said “India”. I then asked “what was the worse country you ever visited?” He said “India”. His answers intrigued me and so I knew I had to come see India for myself.
We have arrived in Varanasi. We’re also recovering from some river sickness minus Doug who has managed to stay healthy. But we knew that coming in. We had to be ready to take the good with the bad because that’s India; brilliant but dark, kind yet cruel, spiritual and forbidden. And of course… life vs death.
Nowhere else is the line between life and death so visible than here in Varanasi. Perhaps it’s Hinduism ability to accept death as a part of life? What ever the force both extremes are ever so present here. The beautiful cremations, the ancient Ghats, the vivid flowers, the bloated dead pig floating in the river.
The River Ganges is a contradiction onto herself. No river on Earth feeds more people than does Mother Ganga; her fertile soil feeds over 7% of the world’s population. Yet she is arguably more polluted by human waster, rubbish and dead animals than any other river. She is a river of extremes.
I now understand what Douglas Chapman was talking about.
One second your puking into your rubber boot after you just took your only antibiotics for a bad case of the runs that won’t go away. While only a few days before a young man in extreme poverty returns your lost camera expecting nothing in return. The worse with the best, the best with the worse and on and on it goes.
So if you have never been to India this will be my only attempt to explain what India is. A place, an experience, a million moments of extremes, in your face all at once.
See ya down the river,
Ps. If you ever come to Varanasi stay at the Jukaso Ganges. Its amazing and was the perfect place to return us to good health. firstname.lastname@example.org