Note: This is an ante-dated post (actual date of events)
February 14 – 16, 2018. I took a night train from Varanasi to Agra that took almost fifteen (15) hours covering a distance of around 430 kilometers. I was barely able to sleep on the train–a first of many train journeys I was to take in India.
I arrived well into the morning the next day. Exhausted from the trip, I first settled at my hostel and took half a day to rest before venturing off that afternoon.
Note: This is an ante-dated post. (Date of actual events)
February 12 – 13, 2018. Many people have certain images that come to mind when India is brought up in conversations. Notwithstanding its massive population and great diversity, certain recurring themes are amplified by visual images in mass media in the way we imagine the country. Think of that and it all comes alive in Varanasi. It is crowded, it is chaotic, it is sacred, it is ancient, it is modern, it is pungent, it is fragrant. Varanasi is so many different things that trigger all your senses, from sight, to smell, to hearing. Most non-Indian travelers would either love it or hate it. It was, for me, a perfect introduction to my four-week voyage across two north Indian states.
I spent almost all of my time in Varanasi in the old part of the city. Note that Varanasi is sometimes described as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the planet. Walking through the narrow streets and the labyrinth of alleyways and coming across all the sights and sounds of the old city validated that impression. It was like being warped into an unfamiliar epoch. Once in a while you are reminded that you still belong to the present and it gives you a pleasant realization how things have been kept the way they’ve always been for hundreds of years in this city.
Note: This is an ante-dated post (actual date of events)
February 12-13, 2018. It is both a disturbing and a solemn experience to witness burning bodies as you walk along either of the two ghats (stepped segments on the river bank) dedicated to the cremation ritual along the Ganges. Hindus believe that the Ganges, particularly in Varanasi, is the most sacred place to die, and that cremation along its banks breaks the never-ending cycle of life, death and tragedy and delivers one’s soul to moksha.
As a matter of fact, some Hindu families prepare for the expected deaths of loved ones in Varanasi for the purpose of having their relatives fatefully die in this sacred place. Some Hindu individuals who feel like they are near their deaths, travel to the city and lodge at hospices near the river especially established for those who wish to make their death beds, waiting for the day they perish.
Note: This is an ante-dated post (actual date of events).
February 12 – 13, 2018. Some experts claim that the Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Despite this reputation, thousands of devotees bathe each day in its waters at the city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh–believing that immersing in its waters helps purify their souls and facilitate moksha, or the liberation from the recurring cycle of rebirth and tragedy. Or at least they get good karma, although I am not so sure good karma is all they’re getting from the water.
Great efforts are being exerted to reverse the pollution. And this is not impossible because the Ganges is a moving river constantly drained by monsoon and upland waters from the Himalayas.
I arrived in Varanasi after a gruelling 36-hours and four-flights voyage from Manila. It was originally supposed to be just a three-flight trip in under a day, but since I had booked my flights almost a year ahead of my travel, one of the segments apparently got discontinued along the way. Thus, instead of flying directly to Varanasi from Kolkata, I had to fly all the way west to Delhi and then turn back east to reach Varanasi.
At the beginning of 2007 I had a mental checklist of things that I would do and a checklist of predictions on how my life would turn out for the year.
However, 2007, turned out to be so much different from how I imagined it when it started. So, so much different, I’m telling you. Fate (or destiny?) had something in store for me, and it really caught me unprepared in the beginning.
By the end of January, I suddenly found myself being invited to join a greek-letter fraternity. You gotta be kidding me, I thought to myself then. List some stereotypes of fratmen and I probably am the opposite to a number of those. But what the hell, weeks later, I eventually became an Upsilonian. It was a life-changing decision and such a difficult process that I’ll never forget nor regret.
So, from the most utterly painful to the most stressful to the most euphoric, ecstatic and fulfilling of experiences of my life this year (and probably of its 19-year entirety to date) belong to this, my junior year in the fraternity. Tangina na lang. Hehe. It’s quite difficult trying to word it out and explain the countless individual experiences adequately without using too many superlatives or revealing things. I guess you just have to take my word for it. If I’m compelled to sum up 2007 in one sentence, I would easily and confidently say, “It was the year I became an Upsilonian.” ‘Yun lang.
(On an interesting note, this blog played a big role in how and why I was recruited into the frat. Oh boy, the things my blog get me into, right? At the beginning of the year, I was hoping it would be TV guestings or something. Hehe, just kidding. Guess the blogger who invited me.)
Anyway, the next big thing for me this year came shortly after I joined. It was late February and early March–campus elections season in the University of the Philippines. It’s not easy explaining to non-UP people how serious elections in this university can get. It’s probably one of the most fiercely contested campus elections in the Philippines, with ideological and historical bitterness and baggage.
Anyway, I was running for college chairperson under STAND-UP. And it was a challenge because students were bitterly divided on some key issues, there was an apparent strong anti-radical sentiment, and we were being contested full-slate for the first time. As everyone in my college knows, despite my “pre-election popularity,” I was defeated. And honestly, for a while then, I was depressed. But as the adage goes, when one window closes, another one opens. It definitely didn’t end with the loss. I eventually got absorbed into the university-wide committees of STAND-UP and from there I worked with the various social and political campaigns throughout the year.
This year-end recap can’t be complete without mentioning that it was the year I first visited the United States. It was a family vacation. We were there for three weeks. Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas. There. I think I’ve chronicled it enough already, so I won’t talk much about this. It wasn’t particularly life-changing, but yea, since it’s a major first, it’s worth the mention in this entry.
I’m sorry, I tried to keep this as short as possible. There were a lot of other things that happened this year, of course. I’m sorry if you’re expecting some things I missed out in this entry. Basta, 2007 will forever be etched in my consciousness for many various reasons. These three simply make the top spots.