San Francisco guests at home

I hosted a couple from San Francisco for three weeks at my guest house. They arrived in Varanasi five weeks ago and stayed at a guest house near Assi ghat for two weeks but were not happy there as the bed in their room did not seem comfortable to them. They came to know about my guest house through Megan, my guest, whom they met in a cafeteria. Megan brought them at my place and they liked it and decided to stay here rest of their time in Varanasi. Both of them were physiologists from in San Francisco.

They wanted to learn Hindi and tabla in Varanasi. I introduced them to Indian classical music school next door and Uncle Sam liked them and decided to learn tabla there. Binit, the Hindi teacher, taught them Hindi. They seemed so interested in social work. Actually they were already working with Bal Ashram before coming to my place. Once I took them to Lok Samiti and showed them the work Lok Samiti is doing. I think they were so impressed by Lok Samiti’s work and asked Nandlal Master, president of Lok Samiti, to help him in his work.

Uncle Sam and Auntie Mar were really nice guests. They stayed only for three weeks at my place but we built such a strong relationship between us and I kind of miss them now. Uncle Sam gave me a net book which would be a great help to me as I can use it during power cuts and can carry it with me when I am travel.

French hippie causes problems

I hosted a few new guests at my guest house and it was the first time when I had some problem with my guest and my guest had problems with me, my family and my guest house. A French girl contacted me for housing through my ad somewhere online. We shared a few e-mails and I thought it was okay to host her as she said that she wanted to study Hindi in Benares and had been living in India for the past six months. She seemed like an ideal guest to me because it seemed to me that she already knew India. I arranged Hindi classes for her and went to Gwalior for my tour guide training.

I asked to my other guests about her and they said she seemed a little bit hippie to them but she was not crazy. I asked her if she was feeling well at my place and she said that she was happy. But when I came back to Benares after a few days and met her in person, she seemed not happy at all. She said that I had written on my ad online that there is a kitchen also but in fact the kitchen was not furnished at all. She said that kitchens in the west are furnished and come with gas connection and other utilities but it just doesn’t happen in India.

I tried to explain it to her but she just did not want to hear anything and the second dispute was the rent. She said that the rent I had written on my ad was different than what I was asking for. I asked for Rs. 1000 per month for unlimited broadband Internet access in her room and it seemed too much to her. She said that she would not pay anything for Internet. Rs. 3000 per month for the meal (lunch, dinner and breakfast) was also too much for her. Finally I asked her to decide the rent and she said Rs. 6800 per month for room, meals and Internet. It is not something I charge to my other guests and I was not happy with it.

I asked her two times to go somewhere else if she was not happy at my place but she said everything was fine. But she had problem with everyone at my home. I have few plants in each flat and keep them under the grate so that the plants can get some direct sun light but she moved all the plants to a darker side of the flat and put her mattress right under the grate. When my mother saw it, she moved the plants again under the grate and she got mad. I don’t really know what she wanted. She wanted to stay out of home until late night and this is something I just don’t recommend to my female guests and I don’t know what people can do in the late nights in Varanasi.

There is nothing to do after 9 o’clock but she wanted to stay out until 12 or 1 sometimes. My other guest told me that she had seen this French girl drinking on a boat in Ganga. It was crazy. Finally she left after two months. After she left I went in her flat and saw a big packet of garbage. I wanted to see if she had left some clothes or some items that could be reused. I usually donate the clothes left by my guests to Mother Teresa Home. I found a bottle of Thums Up soft drink and I put it in the toilet because soft drinks are very good to clean toilets.

She left at 7 but came back again around 9 because her train was delayed. When she saw that somebody had touched her garbage, she got really mad. She did not tell me anything that time but she wrote me several emails asking why I saw her garbage. I tried to explain to her the reason behind it but she just did not want to hear anything. I don’t really know if she was crazy, but actually she behaved like a crazy person. It was my house and I did whatever I wanted. I had not seen her garbage while she was staying. Once she left, it was my house again. But her stay taught me several lessons and now I am more attentive choosing any guest.

Hindi classes for guests

I am hosting a couple from the US. They had contacted me through my website. They want to stay in Varanasi for fifteen days. They had already been to Varanasi before fifteen days but they came again just to relax. They were looking for a Hindi teacher and music classes. Christina wanted to learn flute and David wanted to learn vocal. I introduced them to Mr. Deobrat Mishra who is owner of Indian classical music school. It is convenient for Christina and David also because this school is at the next door. They are happy with their music teachers.

I was in touch with a Hindi teacher named Mr. Binit Mishra for past few months. He does assistant of Prof. Virendra Singh. I thought it would be good time for me to test Mr. Mishra’s skills of teaching Hindi and I introduced him to Christina and David. I had already read positive references about Mr. Mishra online but I did not know if it was true or not so I was a little bit concerned. But now after Mr. Mishra has given four classes I feel that I met a really nice teacher.

Its a big relief for me because now my guests can have a teacher right in their room. Now they will not have to go here and there to find a good teacher. I asked Christina and David both about Mr. Mishra and both of them said that he is a great teacher. They said that I can recommend Mr. Mishra as a Hindi teacher to anyone. He comes everyday to teach Christina and David for two hours.

Tabla lessons in Varanasi

A student named Allen Roda from University of New York came to my guest house on the 12th. He is doing research on Tabla making which sounds like nobody has done before. He is going to write about everything about tabla making e.i. where does the skin come from, who makes them, where does the wood come from… just everything. He already knew few people in Varanasi and had already contacted them before. I thought it would be good for him to meet Mr. Deobrat Mishra. I introduced him to Mr. Mishra and Allen told me that he really liked Mr. Mishra’s suggestions.

I wanted to introduce Allen to Mr. Praveen Uddhav who is senior lecturererof Tabla at BHU and by chance Mr. Mishra also advised Allen to meet him. We went to Mr. Uddhav’s place and met him. Mr. Uddhav seemed a little bit concerned about Allen meeting with other Tabla makers in Varanasi. He introduced us to a Irish guy named Steve at his place who had been cheated by a tout a few days ago. Steve said that he came to Varanasi to learn Tabla. He wanted to do M.Mus. from BHU.

He met a guy named Siddharth who told Steve that he will have to buy different instruments even if he just wanted to learn Tabla at BHU. Steve believed him and went for shopping with Siddharth. Siddharth made him buy 30-40 different instruments worth $23,000. I don’t know why Steve believed him. He paid this big amount and bought all kinds of instruments that were available in the shop, even he bought western drums and other instruments. After it, Siddhrath stopped meeting him. After few days Steve went to BHU for admission and met Mr. Uddhav. He said Mr. Uddhav that he had bought all the instruments and wanted to get admission in M. Mus.

Mr. Uddhav asked him whey did he buy all those instruments if he just wanted to learn Tabla and Steve explained what had happened with him. He still did not know that he was cheated. Finally he came to know that he needed only a pair of Tabla to start learning which is something like $100. He went to the police and lodged a FIR against Siddharth. Police arrested Siddharath’s father because he was now not in the city. Siddhrath’s father gave Rs. 4,00,000 ($8,000) back to Steve and promised to give the rest in next few days. I feel so sorry for whatever happened with Steve but it happens in Varanasi.

I think this is the reason why Mr. Uddav did not want Allen to meet too much new people. I think it is Okay with Allen to meet as many people as he wants. I am sure he will never ever give even $23 to anyone without making proper enquiry. We saw Mr. Uddhav’s 8 years old daughter playing Tabla. She was too good on Tabla. Mr. Uddhav said that she can play all the different sounds. She just needs to boost up her finger’s speed on Tabla and she will be just like other famous players.

I think Allen met at least fifteen new people which is very good for his research. He is leaving on the 18th and will be back again for his research in June when he will spend one year in Varanasi. He wants to come with his wife, Nikki, who works for Federal Reserve Bank. Nikki wants to spend her time in Varanasi volunteering. She was looking for a organization that can give her some work related to economics and she found found one called Cashpor India. They are a micro finance trust and give small loans to poor people. I think this trust will be perfect for Nikki.

Swiss family takes Hindi class

My new guest

My new guest

It is the first time when I am hosting a family. They are a couplewith two kids. Nadia is doing masters with Hindi Literature and Sanskrit from University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Her husband is an engineer. They say that it is their family vacation. Nadia goes to a Hindi teacher named Mr. Vimal Mehra. Mr. Mehra taught Hindi last year at Nadia’s university so she had already chosen him as her Hindi teacher. Yesterday I took Nadia to Mr. Mehra’s place which is about three minutes of walk from my place. Mr. Mehra seemed very nice person to me. I am not sure but one of friends told me that he teaches at Wisconsin University as well. One thing is sure that he teaches at Wisconsin University’s Varanasi center with Mr. Virendra Singh.

Elio's family

Elio's family

It is first time when my any guest is going to learn Hindi with Mr. Mehra.I had already heard about him but had never met. A lot of people say that he is a very good teacher. So I am not concerned about Nadia’s classes. I am sure she has got a very good teacher and she will improve her Hindi. Nadia is also happy because she says that her teacher makes her talk which is she wanted. She says that she has been learning Hindi for the past two years but never got opportunity to speak but now she is very happy with her classes.

baby Elio

baby Elio

I also like their family a lot. They are very very organized people (complete Swiss). Once Gaitano, Nadia’s elder son, threw a plastic on the floor and Nadia saw it, she immediately came to Gaitano and punished him which was very impressive to me. Gaitano doesn’t like Indian food. So we have to prepare noodles and Pasta specially for him. It seems like Elio likes our food. He eats with his parents. Nadia has brought a lot of instant food and powder milk for Elio.Elio is very cute. I love him. He always smiles. Everybody in my family and in neighborhood likes him a lot. Whenever he comes on the roof, I see other people looking at him from different roofs.

Paolo, Nadia’s husband, speaks a little English which creates a barrier between me and him but its okay. We understand each other. I like talking to him because I want to learn about his job. Gaitano also doesn’t speak any English but Elio speaks international language, means nothing which I like a lot.He can only say MaMa, that’s all. Nadia is planning to go to Bombay on the 20th of February after completing her Hindi classes in Varanasi and then Singapore, and then Australia.

music classes in varanasi

A guy from California stayed at my place for one week. He was here to learn music and Sanskrit. This trip was only to know the city and get some idea about classes. He had asked me about music classes and I suggest him to go to Pandit Shivnath Mishra, who lives next door. It was funny that he had already met Pandit Shivnath Mishra and his son in California. He met them, played some tabla with them and got an offer to play with them in foreign countries as a white tabla player.

Josh was so happy to got this opportunity. He said that he would love to be part of Mr. Mishra’s crew. He went to Bunti’s school as well where he played tabla and taught African music to the kids. Bunti said that everybody at school liked the music a lot. Josh wanted to visit Bal Ashram, an Aghor monastery. I took him to this monastery. This monastery had a British doctor giving free eye checkup to the poor people. I really liked his devotion. Monastery said that he comes Varanasi ever year for few months and work for free.

Josh wanted to see this monastery for his friends who wanted to stay there and volunteer. I suggested him to go to Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram as well which is the mother Ashram but Josh did not seem interested. This mother Ashram doesn’t like Bal Ashram because some of Bal Ashram’s employee did some fraud with money. I know that the mother Asharm is a real ashram and I believe them. Josh said that he would visit them as well when he comes to Varanasi next time. He said he will back by first week of January.

photo documentary about Ganga

A student from Singpore is staying at my place. She had contacted me through couchsurfing. She just wanted to meet me. But when I saw that she was doing research about Ganga, I asked her if she would be my paying guest. She was also looking for home stay so she decided to rent my apartment. She is making a photo documentary called Son of Ganga which will be about people’s relation with Ganga in Benares. She says that it was her own personal research motivated by her father but when she informed her school about it and asked for leave, her school told her to do it with them.

She wanted to do her research with Sankat Mochan Foundation. She wrote them about twenty days ago but hasn’t got any response yet. I had already talked to her a lot about pollution in Ganga. I took her to a place where sewage is discharged directly, without treating, to the river. She was shocked to see the quantity of the sewer water. She said that she never thought that Ganga was this polluted. When I told her that there were more than 10 places like that in Benares alone, she just could not imagine it.

I showed her another point of sewage discharge near Shivala ghat and Assi ghat. Assi ghat sewage drain has a funny story. The Government spent a lot of money to divert this drain and mix it with Nagwa one so that people don’t see a direct sewage discharge. But now Assi ghat drain has started again. It again has a lot of sewer water that mixes with Ganga in front of people. I never understood why government spent that huge amount of money just to hide it. They could have spent the same money to built a small treatment plant.

There is an another river called Varuna in Varanasi which has become a complete drain now. The Hindi word for drain is ‘nala’ and this river is known as “Varuna Nala” by the locals. I never knew that Varuna River and Varuna Nala are samething. I just came to know about it few days ago. There is a religious walk called Antargrih where people start walking from Manikarnika ghat and cover all of Benares. One part of this walk is to walk along the Varuna River and do some rituals where it mixes with Ganga.

Most of the Muslim neighborhoods and slaughter houses are along the Varuna river. All the animal waste from more than ten-fifteen slaughter houses is dumped directly into the river. There is lots of sewage discharge also. Varuna River is the best place for criminals to throw murdered bodies because nobody wants to walk along this river. So it is not rare to find human bodies as well in this river. And it all mixes with Ganga after seven or eight kilometers.

This walk is sometime this month and I and Nadia have decided to do it. I have heard that people drink the Varuna’s water when it mixes with Ganga. They walk along the river, see all the waste mixing in it, human and animal bodies flowing in the river and a huge quantity of sewage discharge, but they still drink this same water just because of the religious reason. I can not imagine what I will be seeing but I am so excited for it.

First Kiwi guest at home

A 55 years old guy from Auckland wrote me through couchsurfing about 3 months ago. He wanted to know about Varanasi. He said that he wanted someone to travel with him. Once he asked me if I would like to be his tour guide for all of India. I was so excited about this, and I immediately agreed with this offer. But later he said that he had lots of hosts in India, so he canceled his plan to hire me as his tour guide. We had been in touch online for the last 3 months, and finally he came to Benares on 6th.

I went to meet him at his hotel. He had brought me a ipod and a coat. He wanted to live at my place because he was interested in general Indian life. But he had already booked the hotel for two nights, so he said that he would come to my place after spending two nights in the hotel. It was Navratri time, so I took him to a tour of Varanasi. My friends and I go to see the pandals every year during night time. I took Chris also with me. We wandered the whole night, and came back home about 3 o’clock in the morning.

After spending two nights in a hotel, Chris came to my place. He wanted to go to the local church to buy old vestments, and other old stuff that have been used by churches in Varanasi. We went to the cantonment church which is only 15 years old. Chris wanted to meet the bishop, but the bishop was not in Varanasi. So we met his assistant, and his assistant said that they did not have any old stuff. He gave address of a few churches in Mumbai, Goa and south India and told Chris to go there.

Chris stayed at my place for 15 days. Actually he was planning to stay only for 10 days, but he had to stay more because he got sick. He said that he had eaten samosa somewhere on the street, and got really sick. He had diarrhea, vomiting and headache. I took him to the doctor, but it didn’t work for him. He needed extra care, so he told me to took him to a hospital. I take him to the heritage hospital. Doctors said that it was not an emergency case, and they did not want to admit him but Chris wanted to be in hospital for a few days.

Hospital charged Rs. 15000 (US $400) for their services. I had never heard of any hospital charging 15000 for diarrhea. Chris was admitted in special ward for two days. They were charging Rs. 3500 per day for the room, 600 for doctor’s visit, and a lot of other charges that even they did not know about. I have heard of the $100 hand shake in US hospital, but I did not know that there is a similar kind of system in my home town also. I was surprised at the money they charged. I asked Lane about it, and he said that it was still cheaper than western hospitals.

One thing was very interesting for me that everyone in the hospital wanted to know if Chris had health insurance or not. I asked the doctor why they wanted to know this, and he said that usually foreigners have health insurance, and if they have insurance the hospital charges them extra money. I am sure it must be an illegal activity, but it was going on openly as lots of other illegal works in India. They were not even shamed to tell me that they were doing an illegal work.

After spending two days at the hospital, Chris just wanted to come out. He said that nurses didn’t care for him, would not change the drip, don’t give him medicine and don’t give food. I talked to the doctor, but they wanted Chris to stay in hospital for at least two more days. But Chris did not want to stay there even for an hour. Chris told doctor to let him go, so finally they gave a few medicines and discharged him from the hospital. Chris was so happy to come back home. Chris went to Mumbai on the 24 th.

Udo from Germany learns some Hindi

I have been hosting a student from Germany. His name is Udo, he is 58 years old and wants to learn Hindi in Varanasi. Uncle Udo contacted me about a month ago. He got my email address through hospitality club profile. Uncle Udo used to be a professor of German. He has worked for different universities in England, Germany, and Japan. Now he owns a language school in Munich, but he doesn’t teach there. He works for the government to assess unemployed people for the government help.

I asked uncle Udo about why he wanted learn Hindi at the age of 58. He said that once one of his friends had given him a Hindi grammar book as a birthday gift, which he never looked at and just kept in the cupboard. Two or three years ago when he was cleaning the cupboard, he found that book and decided to learn Hindi. He says that starting to learn something is the best idea if you want to keep your mind working in old age. I liked this idea. Uncle Udo started looking for online help to learn Hindi three years ago, so he knows all the sounds and he has a very good idea of the grammar.

Udo uncle asked me about Hindi classes in Varanasi, and obviously I suggested Professor Virendra Singh. Virendra Singh was not in Varanasi that time, but he was supposed to come by the first week of October. So I told uncle Udo to keep doing his research to find a Hindi teacher so that in case if Mr. Singh is not present in Varanasi, he can still have a teacher. He told me about Mr. Binit Mishra whom he found online for Hindi teaching. He told me that Mr. Mishra lives somewhere near my home, but I had never ever heard of this man.

Udo uncle came to my house on the 6th of October. On the very first day we went to meet Virendra Singh at his place, and fortunately he was back in Varanasi and had started teaching. We met Virendra Singh, and he said that he could teach Udo uncle for one hour everyday. Udo uncle was happy to get him. He said that since he had also been a professor, he needed a real professor to teach him. And this was the only reason he did not contact other schools in Varanasi.

Udo uncle goes to Virendra Singh every morning for one hour, and he so happy with Mr. Singh’s teaching. He says that Mr. Singh is the best Hindi professor he has ever met. Now Udo uncle has started speaking Hindi: he is still not perfect but has many progress. His Hindi is far better than what usually people learn aftert going to classes for fifteen days. He wants to go to Khajuraho and Gwalior before he leaves India. He will leave home after ten days. He is planning to come to Varanasi again maybe next year to learn Hindi and attend festivals like Shivratri and Holi.

Dialysis in Varanasi

One American student from Boston University named Andrew wrote me asking to rent my apartment for his friend, Rinat, from Uzbekistan who needed dialysis services in India for 6 months. They had contacted Appolo Hospital in Delhi before which was quiet expensive and obviously Delhi is very polluted and there was no apartment available near the hospital. They asked me about dialysis services in Benares and I directed them with email address of Heritage Hospital, Varanasi. They wrote to the hospital and found that Heritage offers dialysis for foreigners as well.

I also went to Heritage to ask about their services and charges. They charge Rs. 2500 for the first dialysis and Rs. 1000 for blood check up which is charged only once. Next three dialysis is Rs. 1700 and then 2500 again for the fifth one. So they charge Rs. 2500 for every fifth and Rs. 1700 for the rest of three. It was quiet cheap than Appolo and definitely Benares is less noisy and pollution free than Delhi. Then they asked me to rent my apartment for six months. But I don’t think I was ready to host a sick person who doesn’t know any English, only speaks Russian.I told them about the language problem but they said that they will bring a translator for one week. But I was still worried about the time after first week.

I asked them about present health of Rinat and came to know that he has only one kidney and his hemoglobin was very low, one third of the normal level. It made me a little bit worried about the situation because he was seriously sick. I think Rinat’s condition is very critical and anything could happen with him. They wanted me to contact Indian embassy in Tashkent and tell them that I will be hosting Rinat in India. I was not comfortable writing a invitation letter because if anything goes wrong with Rinat, I will be responsible for it.

I contacted my few friends in the US and Canada about the situation because his condition seems like a very western condition, I don’t know anyone in India who has one kidney. I knew people who died because of kidney failure but I didn’t know anyone who had only one kidney and hemoglobin was one third than the normal level. All of my friends told that they know a lot of people who have one kidney but they were also little worried about the hemoglobin part. Finally I decided, with help of my friends and family, that I will not host Rinat.

But I still wanted to help Rinat and Andrew. I told them that I would like to help them any way but be their host. I told them that I could find a guest house for Rinat, go to hospital, talk to doctors, show them around, hire someone to buy them food and other stuffs etc…. And they all got agreed with it. I have told them to fax me all the medical reports of Rinat so that I could discuss the treatment with doctors.

They want to hire me to assist Rinat for his whole stay. They want me to receive Rinat in Delhi and bring them to Benares, I think I will do it. I have contacted few students in BHU to find one Russian speaking student to work as Rinat’s translator in future. Andrew wants Rinat to learn Hindi also while staying in Benares. So I wrote Bhasha Bharti asking about any Russian speaking Hindi teacher and still waiting for their reply, I think it will be a hard thing.