Varanasi part two

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Asia » India » Uttar Pradesh » Varanasi
February 9th 2010
Published: March 22nd 2010
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9/2/10: I never got any sleep as the whole night was spent on the toilet. Jacinta didn’t get any sleep either and her flu made it hard for her to breath. Feeling so drained I had to now replace the nurturance that was flushed down the toilet some 24+ times. I also had to get some throat lozenge’s, and orange juice for Jacinta and some precious water and toilet paper. I managed to find all this relatively easy and made my way back through the shit filled alley ways or Galis in Hindi. I managed to pass a blind man using his stick to tap on the Galis walls to find his way back home. After 10min of winding my way back and forth I managed to get lost in the maze of back alleys. I finally found the right way and by the time I got back to my Guest house I witnessed the blind man entering his own home, I should of just followed him? By the time I got back I was glad to see Jacinta up and about and with very little energy left we decided to take a leisurely walk along the shit and rubbish filled road until finally feeling so tired that we got a rickshaw to some of the temples that we were going to see eventually anyway. It’s not hard to find rickshaw drivers around Varanasi as with all of India as they will find you. I found in Varanasi that as you show any interest in buying or bargaining you will draw a crowd of others waiting for you not to be happy with the agreement and snatching you up before anyone else does. Our very old rickshaw driver wanted 100rs/hr to take us to the temples and within seconds of trying to negotiate a price we had a dozen rickshaw drivers all standing around watching this take place. I wondered why he tried to hurry the negotiations up. I felt a little under pressure with this many spectators and with the price very high we were just about to walk away when another driver said he would do it for 60rs and once we showed some interest in that price our original driver said 50rs. So without even saying or doing anything the price halved. So with us on the back of the rickshaw the driver negotiated the noisy traffic that is prevalent of the back alleys of Varanasi. The first thing you notice about Varanasi is how dirty it is. There is literally shit and rubbish everywhere you walk including cow, dog, pig, goat, monkey and not to mention human shit. You had to watch your step everywhere you walked and at the end of the day you had to bash your shoes against some concrete to get rid of the shit in the tread. There must be over a thousand cows walking around, some owned some not. They are basically oversized garbage disposals eating any rubbish that is thrown on the streets. They even have a refuse station were all the cows just come to eat rubbish and it wasn’t uncommon to see a cow chewing on yesterday’s newspaper or a plastic bag. We visited a number of temples including Golden, Durga, three temples, monkey and New Vishwanath temple located in the uni campus. With most of the temples not allowing photography because of the 2005 terrorist attack on the Monkey temple it didn’t really upset us as the temples were not even worth visiting and for something that is worshiped and sacred in India I found almost all the temples to be extremely filthy, dirty and uninteresting. On every temple you had no shortage of people wanting to explain the temple and its history. But when you tell them you are not interested and you are just looking around they are persistent and will not let up until the very end when they want a tip. This is separate to the tip you have to give to the man looking after your shoes and also the tip for offering to Shiva the Hindu god, when you add everything up over 5-6 temples it gets very expensive and that is why we didn’t pay for the rest of the temples. Luckily we had some fresh pees that I had bought a half an hour before and offered half a dozen pods to place on Shiva’s shrine instead of the 200rs that our uninvited guide wanted us to put down. So we finished the first temple within 5 minutes and while we put our shoes back on everyone was mysteriously eating peas. I can only imagine how quick the offering of money would have lasted. The monkey Temple was something I was hoping to be a little different and the security meant we had to hand over our bag to put in a locker and get thoroughly searched for bombs. We weren’t allowed to go in to the temple itself but only the grounds around it. We walked in and there were the obvious monkeys that were everywhere and lots of rotting food that no cows or goat was able to clean up. Nothing interesting about the architecture or the ground itself and as with all the other temples was very dirty and in need of repair. Our last temple which looked to be worth a visit was closed for lunch and had to wait around for 45min for it to open. We agreed to meet the rickshaw driver beside the buildings and with his friend wanting to charge us 10rs for parking we said no and didn’t put up any fight to get it out of us. We were suspicious of a man following us on a bike some twenty meters behind and couldn’t figure why he followed us the 3km to our last temple, it was only clear after we came back from the closed temple that the man following must have struck a deal with the rickshaw driver to take us to his silk factory. When our rickshaw driver finally asked us he was going to take us to his friend’s silk factory to give us a good price we immediately said no and once we rode past the turnoff the man following mysteriously disappeared. We had enough of this so when we finally paid the rickshaw driver his two hours driving and he ended up wanting more money than what was agreed upon, we had already offered a tip because he did have to peddle a fair way. To keep him happy we said he could take us to the mall tomorrow “not”. We reluctantly had some lunch to try and get some nutrients back into our now fragile bodies. Felling good we pushed on heading North from the Southern most ghat. The shoreline of the Ganges or Gunga as the locals call it is very photogenic and you can really start to feel the age and spirit this old city. There is so much to see just by walking along the ghats that you will find yourself just looking around in awe. The first thing that will strike you is the disbelief that a human can worship, wash, bath and destroy a river so sacred and holly. Not to mention that a human can survive an encounter with the heavily polluted, stagnate, toxic, poisonous water and with 1.5 million parts/ million of facile chloroforms in the river, the expectable level only being 500 parts/million makes you realise that at Varanasi the Ganges River is more shit than water. But people are quiet happy brushing their teeth and I only wished we had an immune system like theirs at this particular point in time. The second thing you notice is the cows, goats and dogs that freely roam the ghats also coming down to the water’s edge to drink shit and rest. Thirdly and surely not the last is the massive amount of smoke in the air from the burning of the body’s along two of the ghats. The old buildings along the Ganges really are spectacular and with very little repair work going on show a lot of character and originality. Walking on you will get hassled to take a boat up the Ganges but this is nothing that a quick no thankyou will fix. Be careful of people that want to shack your hand up the Northern end of the ghats as they will quickly turn it into a hand massage and even when you say you have no money and you don't want it they will keep on going until your guilt gets the better of you and you will end up paying anyway. We came across our first burning ghat called Harishchandra ghat and it is one oldest one in Varanasi. Straight away you are approached by a well spoken Indian man that is more than happy to explain the burning ghats and the cremation process. He will even take you down there for a closer look but be mindful that nothing in India is free and even after him saying the service is free and that they are here to explain everything to the tourist you will still have to donate something and this donation will ultimately go in his back pocket. Being full warned I still think it will be worth an explanation of the whole process but if you have a LP guide just read it. There are big massive piles of wood that are being chopped up all day to feed the hungry burning engine and with cremations going 24/7 you start to wonder how many trees are left in India. All the timber is strategically weighed and the timber to body weight ratio I’m yet to find out. Taking any photos or video is strictly forbidden so we perched ourselves on the viewing platforms and watch in horror as an Indian guy in charge of one of the fires repeatedly smacked the skull of a chard burning body with a bamboo stick until the corpse head caved in. I thought this was supposed to be the most sacred thing for Indians and being burnt in this fashion cost a lot of money so the last thing I would want after paying lots of money to reach nirvana is some guy caving my skull in whilst on fire. It was a bit hard to see from this distance as the river was quiet low and the burning took place close to the water so we walked the next two km to the next burning ghat called Manikarnika Ghat. It was quiet windy on this day and with a southerly wind blowing meant we had to walk through the smoke and ash to get clean air. This was the biggest cremation ghat and you start to get ash in your eyes, mouth, nose and clothes as you get closer. Once you even get closer you can feel the heat from the dozen fires burning all around you. The viewing platform was located in between two major burning places and it was very hot. As you walk past the fires it is hard to make out any visible body in the fire unless it had only been started 15-20min prior but with the sizzling and the high pitched whistles of releasing steam and moisture and also the smell of what can only be best described as meat cooking on a BBQ you didn’t need to see the body to know what’s was in the fire. Jacinta and I stood over the edge that gave a view of five burning body’s and witness them bringing out two body’s on stretchers covered in a colourful silk sheet. They don’t muck around and within minutes the timber is stacked the body is placed on top and set alight. The only visible part of the body were the feet, calves and head, this is revealed within a minute of the fire as the silk sheet burns like paper. The body starts to go black and chard straight away and within 15-20 minutes it is a full blazing fire, I have seen them throw what looks to be saw dust on the fire and can only assume that this is the very costly sandal wood and with very little sandal wood left is highly sought after for the burning of incenses and cremations. What else struck me was the amount of cows and dogs that are freely aloud to walk around the hot burning fires and I only realised after awhile that the cows were there to eat the flowers that were all over the body’s and thrown off just before being placed on the pile of wood. The dogs were only there because they were hungry and picked bits of unburnt meat from the ashes. One of the dogs pulled out half a skull and proceeded to eat the contents inside. With Jacinta’s flu starting to come on again she didn’t feel that well and hung back whilst I spoke to a Spanish man along the viewing rail. There was limited space along the rail and we talked for 15min before I noticed an Indian man trying to peer over my shoulder. I felt slight pressure near my pocket and just happen to look down as I saw two foreign fingers in my pocket going for my wallet. It took a couple of seconds to actually register that he was a pick pocket and immediate yelled at him in a deep voice and starts to push him away causing a big scene. I had the attention of a dozen Indians all around and told them what had happen. I stood right up to the pick pocket and pointed down letting everyone know who he was. The Spanish guy didn’t say anything until afterwards and said the same thing happened to him a week ago in the train station and to always keep you bag in wallet in front of you especially when you are distracted. Later I was told from an Indian guy that if it happens again you take him to the police station, this information would have been handy when I had him right next to me. It was getting late and time to walk back to our hotel for Jacinta to only endure another terrible night this time throwing up uncontrollably until there was nothing left to throw up. I managed to stay off the toilet but was feeling weak and rundown. I also had troubles with my fingers as the filthiness of Kolkata and Varansai combined got into the corners of my finger nails and three fingers got infected. I FELT THAT INDIA WAS TRYING TO BREAK US BUT WE WOULDN’T LET HER!!


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