Varanasi

Trip Start Feb 07, 2007
1
12
69
Trip End Ongoing


Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Hide lines
shadow

Flag of India  ,
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tim's been pretty 'lucky' in the last week or so, having been shat on by birds FOUR times. So far the tally is as follows:

1 x crow
1 x pigeon (this was really sloppy and yellow and went down his neck)
2 x swallow

Very auspicious, I think we might have a new Hindu God on our hands here! I'll keep you posted on any new installments.

We arrived early in Varanasi (our second visit here) and bypassed the evil touting system by having the hotel pick us up, along with the 3 French guys that have joined us. The 6 of us pile into a couple of auto rickshaws, then get guided (thankfully) through the dizzying alleyways to the guesthouse, which is right next to Manikarnika Ghat (the main body burning place on the Ganges). Our rooms have balconies high up and we have an awesome riverfront view across the Ganges and along to the various ghats. Basically people come here to Varanasi because it is the city of the popular god, Shiva and to die here means that you achieve 'moksha' (release from the cycle of birth and death). There are masses of all types of pilgrims here, including many dreadlocked sadhus (as well as some Western look alikes). The town is as colourful, chaotic and surreal as the religion it stems from.

They say the Ganges water is septic and has1.5 million faecal bacteria in every 100ml (to be safe it should be under 500!!). This doesn't bother the pilgrims, who wash in the waters daily. However, we quite shocked by the couple of brave Westerners bathing on the steps! Obviously dead animals, raw sewage and pieces of burnt bodies isn't enough to put them off! The bodies are burnt on steps next to the river - the higher up you're burnt and the more wood covering your cremation the more important you are. The ashes and any remaining body pieces are then scraped straight into the Ganges. It's quite a sight to behold and goes on 24 hours a day on the 3 burning ghats here in Varanasi.. There are now also electric cremation towers on the ghats - an attempt to limit the use of wood and provide a cheaper option for those that can't afford the amount of wood necessary to turn a body to ashes. Apparently animals, babies, sadhus and pregnant women aren't cremated but put straight in the river...

It's scorching walking in the sun along the ghats, but never fails to fascinate. It's an orgy of weird and wonderful sights and sounds, there's so much going on that I can't find the adjectives to to describe it. It's also one of the filthiest places, the labyrinth of alleyways (galis) are cooler, but the ground is more shit than stone which makes for slow progress. Further back from the Ganges the roads are worse as cycle rickshaws constantly intercept you, running you into kiosks that line the narrow streets 'Where you go? Rickshaw?'. There's no place to relax here. We even get harrassed in our room by the monkeys on our balcony and the mutant sized ghekos patrolling the walls!

We decide to take a row boat ride at sunset and are horrified when a small boy turns up to row 5 of us along the river. He's only 10 and we feel very uncomfortable about this. He rows for about 20 minutes, then his older brother takes over and we breathe a sigh of relief! The light is gorgeous at sunset and there are various ceremonies going on along the ghats, with people making puja (offerings) to the gods by pushing out paper plates holding flowers and candles into the river.

Our attempt at posting packages from Varanasi was a comedy of errors. We've posted packages before in India and it's never an easy task. We spent at least an hour lost in the alleyways trying to find the post office, with cometing pointing fingers offering directions. We were hot and bothered by the time we got there and then discovered the package counter closed at 4pm, not the 8pm we had been told! However, a group of very dodgy looking clerks got together behind the counter and after a frenzied discussion in Hindi decided they could make some money out of this!! We wanted to offload these packages after taking so long to find the damn place, so went with it. First, however, we had to cross over the road to the package wallah's hut to have both parcels sewn up into calico Indian-style, but first had to wait while he did some kind of translation work Finally we had the packages ready to go, back to the post office, pay the bribe because the counter is officially closed, then hand over the packages (which may or may not get sent - the post office is just really a big disorganised mess and they might just get thrown in a corner!). Unfortunately we get lost again on the way back to the guesthouse, but do happen across a cow giving birth in one of the alleyways!

On our last morning we again took a boat ride (at sunrise) and our rower was again substituted by a small boy (15 this time and obviously stunted in growth because he's about half the size of the lads i teach at the same age). Are we endorsing child exploitation or what?  I'm not sure what other choices poor Indian kids have at this age, but it just doesn't seem right that 10 year olds are rowing lazy tourists up the Ganges. The poor lad is tired after half an hour against the tide, so Simon and I have a go at rowing while he has a rest! We head off later that day for the hellish journey to the Nepal border (we've done this one before!) on a bus that is crammed with a ridiculous amount of seats. The driver seems to favour the most fly blown stops possible, the ground punctuated with human turds - not enough to put some people off a chicken biryani. I have a particularly amusing toilet stop hiding behind the leaves of an enormous marijuana plant. And so India gives us one last Shiva sized kick up the arse before we return for another round...
Slideshow Report as Spam

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: