By ERNEST DOROSZUK - Sun Media
After two weeks of backpacking through India, I was looking forward to going home.
After arriving in Varanasi at 2 a.m. and taking two steps off the train platform, I was approached by a relentless autorickshaw wallah (a driver of a motorised rickshaw) who pressured me to take a ride to a hotel.
While this was my first trip to Asia, and I was clearly not prepared for the amount of hassles Western tourists must endure, I was fully aware the driver would receive a generous commission from the hotel so I declined.
But by then had I learned how to use a balance of aggression and humour to stem the tide of unwanted attention. A joke, a smile or a well placed "f--- off" will almost always ward off unwanted attention.
Still, I heeded the warnings in my Lonely Planet guide that Varanasi could be dangerous after dark and I waited for morning before leaving the station.
When I reached the Ganges, I was struck by the beauty of the rising sun over the river, people bathing, and the solemn sight of public cremations. This was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I was in awe.
Once you spend some time in India your body and mind acclimatize to the country. Sure, diarrhea still hits you -- but by your third round of antibiotics it's not so bad.
More importantly, I discovered the humanity of the people everywhere.
When I walked into a random shop and appealed for help with directions; in the laughs I shared with people who held me up as I was taking pictures while riding on a local bus; and in the seaside city of Diu, a former Portugese colony in the state of Gujarat, where I wandered for a couple of kilometres along the beautiful coastline. As my supply of water ran out, I decided to make my way back along the road, thinking there may be a bus service or something. Well there was, but Diu being a sparsely populated place public transit was equally as sparse. No worries though, within minutes a local offered me ride on his bike. He refused my offer to buy him a drink.
While swimming along that same coastline I was also mobbed by friendly school kids who still perceive a Westerner as a novelty. This was just one of many times I was treated like a celebrity.
And I will never forget the local man who smilingly gave me his blessing that I would not get sick again during my trip. I believe his blessing kept me safe for my last few remaining days in India.
If you are planning a trip to India, I recommend reading Lonely Planet's India guide and the India forums at lonelyplanet.com. For tourism information, visit the country's tourism ministry, incredibleindia.org.
This story was posted on Fri, March 30, 2007
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