Sick as a Dog

It was not a planned thing, how could it be? I was totally looking after myself -- walking several miles a day, eating well, and drinking only bottled water. Everything was going fine until I reached Varanassi, and then the troubles began. The first and only real sickness of my three-year world tour.

Varanassi is India's number one pilgrimage center. It is considered the holiest city of the Hindus, attracting untold thousands who come to cleanse their bodies and souls in the muddy waters of the Ganges River. Leading down to the river are the "ghats", or steps, where the faithful come for their holy immersion. Along with the bathing ghats are the burning ghats where corpses are cremated and the remains shoveled into the river. Don't ask anybody why, but some of the burning ghats are upstream from the bathing ghats. It is not uncommon to see ashes and body parts floating past oblivious bathers.

One of thousands of homeless dogs in Kathmandu.

The holy Ganges River is the focal point of the city, and the best time to observe its activity is at day break. I met a British guy named Paul on the train and we went down to the river at dawn together. We hired a boat and drifted along the river observing the odd, ritualistic behavior. There was lively singing and chanting coming from the bathing ghats, and some of the faithful were even drinking the filthy water!?! The deceased whose wills could not provide enough money to purchase wood for a proper cremation were simply wrapped in a sheet and tossed into the river. I had a real creepy feeling what might be underneath the boat.

After the boat ride, Paul and I made our way back to the hotel along the dirty and smelly streets. Within hours, both of us became sick. Another day in Varanassi made us feel even worse. Figuring it must be the horrendous air or all the animal and human feces on the streets, we decided to get out of town and head up to Nepal.

The bus ride was sheer torture. Cramped seats, bumpy roads, and that damned loudspeaker over my head blaring Hindi music all night. When we finally reached Kathmandu two days later, Paul and I were so weak we could barely walk. The easier way of life was apparent in Nepal, and we slowly began gaining our strength back. Every day we forced ourselves to get exercise, and on our daily walks I collected these photos of a dog's life. Misery enjoys company.

The source of the Ganges River. A riverside junkyard in Kathmandu.

After a weeks recovery, Paul and I were ready to get on a bus again. We went to Pokhara, a quaint village at the base of some of the most spectacular mountains on the planet. Still a bit under the weather, I postponed my trek a few more days for full energy. Because of the 10 day sick leave, I could not do the three-week trek I had planned. Yet, the area offered a multitude of other trips. The Himalayas beckoned, and the resulting trek finally cleansed my body of that nasty Varanassi virus.

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