Intentions on the water at sunrise.

This morning was especially early. I got a surprise upgrade on my hotel room (more on that later), so after a wonderful night of sleep, I woke up very early to go walk along the banks. As I was sitting there, a dog came up and started making noises at me. I started packing to go (maybe I was in his spot?), and he nudged my leg.

Wild dogs are kind of scary to me, since, well, you know. And these dogs are filthy. They literally sleep in trash. And this one looked like it had been in many fights, so I wondered if my hand was going to be bitten off, but I tentatively patted his head. He was blissed out with happiness. And yes, I had hand sanitizer, and washed my hands a lot, but he was a sweet dog and the kindness we showed each other was welcome.

Monkeys in Varanasi, India

  🐒 These monkeys were on certain gants, playing, climbing, scavenging, and generally being monkey awesome. I asked the guide, and he said if you don’t lock your window and you’re staying in a gant (the big buildings made by Rajes from different areas), the monkeys will come in and steal your food. Cute! Our guide assured me they are quite mean and said I shouldn’t attempt to cuddle them.

Stairs in Varanasi, India

Varanasi is NOT an accessible place. I walked along the river bank yesterday morning, and everywhere I went was hundreds of stairs. I hiked up and down the stairs just to stay on the path, and, of course, since I’m only here once (as far as I know), I didn’t want to let stairs get in the way of seeing anything, so if I wanted to get a good look at something, up I climbed.

My knees have been pretty bad in the past few years, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to manage all the stairs. None of the guides I read really mentioned how non-stair people would just NOT be able to experience the most beautiful part of the city.

I am so grateful to Krista, my trainer, for helping me rehab my knees and get them to the point where I can manage stairs – maybe not as easily as others, but as easily as myself.

My dad, on the other hand, had trouble with the stairs. The hotel had no elevator, and the restaurant was on the top floor. It was too much. I don’t think he had much fun in Varanasi. He committed to getting his knees replaced when he gets home, and I am hopeful we can come back again so he can enjoy the city as much as I did.

Dogs: they are everywhere. – Notes from Varanasi, India

“Free life,” said the guide yesterday.

But they are literally starving to death. I saw a dog laying with its head in the river, dead. I saw a dog with its head in the gutter, dead. I won’t post photos of them here, but I felt it was important to witness their cycle with open eyes.

I wanted to give them a home. They are so friendly and kind, wanting nothing but a scritch on the head. They are all good dogs.

 

There are active campaigns to reduce the dog population and monitor against rabies. So, there’s that.

Trash: I want to talk trash about trash.

It was an intentional choice not to take photos of the trash, except in rare circumstances. I tried to capture the beauty of India in a way that would translate to our American sensibilities, while excluding the parts that would not have enough context to be acceptable… See, India has very little infrastructure for 1.3 billion people, and that means no one is there to pick up the trash. And even if some do-gooders wanted to get out there and clean it up out of the goodness of their hearts (my friends did this), the trash comes back. There are no public waste cans, and no trash pickup, so there’s nowhere for the trash to go… except on the ground. And you might think that biodegradable materials would be favored, given India’s population density and incredible ecosystem, but nope. Plastic. All the way, everything, in as much packaging as possible (it seems to me — heck, I just got a muffin, and it came with a non-recyclable paper wrap, a plastic spoon, a napkin, and a plastic plate… for one muffin).

So there’s litter on almost everything, and it was work not to take photos of it.

This “unspoilt wilderness” idea we have about India is misled.

In addition, countries like the US and Europe look to countries like India and China to handle their waste. We make too much, and someone has to take it, so why don’t we pay a lot for it to get shipped far away? Well, it’s not working. We can’t ship our problems to countries that have their own significantly larger problems.

We need to make a commitment to be leaders in trash reuse and elimination. The world has looked to the US for innovation on everything: computers, apps, cars, whole industries… we have the brainpower and the resources, we just need the WILL.

India’s trash problem isn’t unique: This is OUR problem too. We just have the infrastructure to hide it from our view. For now.

How I got to India, what we spent, and if it is feasible for you…

Many people have expressed jealousy about my trip to India, so if you want to plan your trip, here’s some information about costs.

The ticket there was $570, tax included, round trip. This, I found, was a pretty average airfare if you shop around a little.

The biggest expense was hotel and airfare within the country. If you don’t want to travel on airlines at the last minute, and make your own hotel reservations (read the reviews), you can probably get by with about $30-$50/day. If you don’t mind staying in people’s homes, you can do it even cheaper. I bet you could do it for $10/day, all included. If you do want to go with a travel agent, I recommend Chandeep (tagged in the comments), since he organized everything for us.

A big expense for me were vaccines, which weren’t covered by my insurance. Including the post-trip Hepatitis shots, that will be about $500. If you have kaiser, I think they cover all the vaccines in their travel clinic.

If you want to go on the cheap, stay in home stays and mindfully eat well-cooked food (a good meal is about $5, no drinks included).

If you are a digital nomad (working from the road), the time difference is a pain in the butt, and WiFi isn’t nearly as prevalent or consistent as I need for my work. It just wouldn’t work for me if I had a full time job.

I signed up for the international adjustment on AT&T for $10/day to use my existing data plan. Yes, that was a lot, and cell service was spotty, even then, but being able to stay in touch with friends and get photos from home, and for Russ and I to wish each other good night and good morning in our respective time zones was well worth it.

All in, I believe it ended up being about $2k for 2 weeks, not including vaccines, which I imagine y’all have health insurance for.

Any other questions about financial and/or logistics?