Jan 16, 2014

Getting over jet lag in Varanasi

Dear god, I'd forgotten just how bad 11 hours of jet lag can be. As I write this it's 5:20 in the morning, and I've given up on sleeping after lying awake for the last four hours. A few other people in the house are stirring so I decided I'm allowed to wake up now. At least today I only feel like a regular insomniac, not like I'm going to die presently (that was yesterday). 

Yesterday I was weak and wobbly and felt like fainting. No appetite at all, although I forced myself to take some bites of toast at mealtimes. I curled up in a blanket in my room for most of the morning, and moved to the terrace in the sunshine in the afternoon. 

This is why I wanted to take six weeks to see India. You have to be kind to yourself, not rush around in a blur and feel like you've only got ten days to cram everything in. It would have been a mistake to push too hard yesterday, particularly because the culture shock was also hitting me.

I've heard stories about people who land in India and take one look then turn around and book a flight right back out. I didn't do that, but part of me wanted to. When I came out of the airport two days ago and saw all the people crowding the barrier, I was afraid. Then there's the road into the city: no lanes, no rules, motorcycles, rickshaws, cows and bicycles everywhere, and cars and trucks coming at you head-on, then veering away at the last second (actually, I thought that part was exciting, but maybe I'm a jet lagged crazy lady). 

I'm staying by the river and the old city is so dense down here that it's nothing but a maze of alleys. Too small for cars to get through, so my travel agent rep met me and walked with me the last few blocks. Jitesh has been super at getting me through the last few days. He's essentially been my fixer. 

The alleys down here are packed. I almost got run down by a stampeding bunch of cows. (Who needs the running of the bulls, Steve?) A short list of the things I saw: stray dogs, goats wearing tattered shirts, grimy barefoot children carrying rice in little leaf bowls, lots and lots of cow patties, vegetable hawkers displaying their wares on the pavement, women making flower garlands out of marigolds and jasmine, people on scooters honking, shops selling toilet paper and snacks, men making paneer cheese in giant vats, raw sewage. 

Down by the river there is just as much to see: men sitting playing music and chess, scruffy sadhus wearing very little but paint, people gathered around bonfires (none containing bodies, I didn't go down as far as the burning ghats), men pissing against walls, women in saris bending on steps in the river to toss water over their heads. 

I saw all that in a 15 minute walk. So I think I was a bit overstimulated and overwhelmed, in addition to being terribly jet lagged. When I reached my room it was a huge effort to step out again, even as far as the corner. Everything seemed so strange and intimidating, and I spent the long night wondering what I'd got myself into. 

But today is better. Jitesh and I have most of the logistical things sorted out, I've slept more and my appetite seems to be back. Time to go explore. 

1 comment:

  1. Don't worry, it'll pass soon enough. Just the jet lag. Varanasi is kinda quite compared to the Delhi ;) And definitely didn't have to compete with cow patties when running with the bulls. Although, there were human patties... You got time. We ate a lot at semi-western places throughout our stay to get used to the food and culture shock. Helped in the first week.