Varanasi Day 1 Part 1

Continued from Train to Varanasi.

Caught up on some blogging while waiting for my room to be ready.

This is what $19 a night gets you in Varanasi.

Oh look, Nike makes electric utility components. Only in India would you get a random swoosh on an electric box.

The lock to my room is an old school padlock.

Back in the courtyard for internet access. Unfortunately, My room is just far enough away that I can’t get internet access. Damnit!

OK, it’s around noon. I think it’s time to venture out…

Down the stairs of the guest house.

More steps.

Almost at street level.

My guest house. Great location and love the views.

Not too many people out at this hour. My plan is to go see the ghats North of here first. I shall tackle the South side partially later today and the day after since there’s more see in that direction.

The opposite shore.

This cow had Delhi Belly. The walkways around the ghats are also covered in all sorts of shit. For such a holy city, there’s is a shit load of shit everywhere. Let’s face it, Varanasi is fucking filthy as shit. I am desensitized from being in India for a week, but it’s very pretty bad over here. Can’t walk 10 feet without having to dodge around some shit.

Hindu Speedo. All the bathers take this cloth and they have a special way of wrapping it around themselves so that they are covered while they bath. Is he going to walk next to the rail after bathing and take a shit out in the open and expose himself to everyone on the train?

Up ahead is the Manikarnika Ghat, the main cremation ghat.

People wash their water buffalo here.

The Manikarnika Ghat is right ahead. Photos are forbidden once you get close to it, so I don’t have any up close shots. There were boats with piles of wood around there. The wood is sold by weight and people buy just enough for the body to be fully cremated. There are also different types of wood to choose from, each with a different price point. The bodies are cremated out in the open. You can just look onto these piles of burning wood and there would be a body right there, burning. Death seems so matter of fact here. Many of the relatives sit at the steps of the ghat and watch the process happen.

It’s strange how I am looking at death straight in the face, but at the same time, I feel so removed from it emotionally.

I believe the people who can’t afford the cremation just tie up the corpse to rocks, take a boat out into the middle of the river and sink the corpse into the Ganges. The same Ganges that everyone else is taking a bath in has decomposing bodies all up in it…Yeah, major health hazard!!! I am staying the fuck away from that water.

Temples everywhere.

This one is right on the water and has some major lean.

Yeah…it’s not looking good.

This whole area just smells like piss. Seriously, Varanasi is pretty disgusting, even by India standards.

It does have some pretty interesting architecture though. Lots of the buildings feels like it came out of a dream.

When I saw this, at first, I didn’t think much of it, then I realized that I’ve never seen a cow walk down stairs before. Seriously, how many of you have seen a cow walk down stairs?

OK…I have no idea what’s going on here, but after all, this is the same country that came out with the karma sutra…

One shoe broke, so might as well abandon both.

Even amidst all this filth, cremation, and terrible smell, this kid is still trying to be a kid. He was trying to fly this kite, but the kite was missing the tail, so it wouldn’t stay up in the air. I wish I had tape to help him make a tail.

Water buffalo are funny looking animals if you look at them closely. Reminds me of my big dumb dog.

This whole area is pretty devoid of tourists. It’s literally me and the two girls ahead who are the tourists in this whole area. We’ve been following each other around since we are headed in the same direction.

There were all these elevated platforms in this area. Not sure exactly why they are here.

If the first two words to describe Varanasi from me is filth and shit, then the third word would be stairs. This is the city of stairs. The ghats are stairs that lead down from the city into the river.

Man polishing some sort of metalware.

Yup, filthy Ganges that people bath in. Oh yeah, let’s not forget the decomposing corpses that are submerged. I also read that sometimes the corpses break free, and they float to the surface and end up washing up to shore on the opposite side of Varanasi. Ugh.

Eventually the two girls and I followed each other for so long that we started a conversation. They are Canadians, Eh. On a 7 month long trip across Southeast Asia and Europe. Cool, Eh. They’ve been in India for many weeks already and they only have a few more days here before they move back on to Southeast Asia.

We ended up standing around, talking and traded travel stories about India.

While we talked, little kids would come up to us and beg for money. Seriously, how do they learn to beg at such a young age? It’s tough to ignore little kids. But, this girl didn’t look like she was starving, so that made it much easier.

Our view during our chat. This whole place if just filled with shit everywhere. I cannot emphasize this point any stronger.

During our chat, a heated argument broke out right by us. For once, the foreign tourists are not at the center of attention. No one cared about us. Fight fight fight fight!

The arguing subsided a little, then it got started up again. This time, it got moved to literally right in front of where we were sitting. Fight fight fight fight! Nothing ended up happening, but it was still kind of exciting. A long time ago, when I was young and naive, I used to think of India as this nice big peaceful country. Then I got a little older, and I learned about how they had so much graft on all different levels of society. I didn’t quite know how to fit that in with the nice peaceful country. Then I got even older, and learned more about India and the world in general, then realized that India isn’t always a friendly place or country. Now, I also know it has shit everywhere.

After chatting with the Canadians for a while, we all decided to take a boat ride together and split the cost. Win win!

Walking back towards the main ghat where all the boat operators hawk their rides.

Again, reminds me of my dog. I miss him, but I am sure he’s doing a good job taking care of my condo while I am gone. I hope he’s done the dishes by now already…

We finally found a boat that will take us out for 100 INR total. Originally, we had gone to the front desk of my guest house, and they wanted to charge us 100 INR for each person. I thought that I remembered reading in the guidebook that it was much cheaper than that. So we went out on the street in search for a cheaper option. The first few boat operators we spoke with quoted us high, then finally we found a guy who agreed to do it for 100INR for an hour. Sweet!

But first, we were all thirsty from walking under the sun. Got to get some bottled water before the boat ride. This is YR, and her friend is JF.

Nom nom nom.

This dog was nibbling on the other dog like he was helping to scratch an itch. Interesting…

We must have picked the feeblest man as our boat operator. We felt bad for him because he was so much older than other boat operators. Then later on, we saw a kid of maybe 12 row an entire boat of people, then we felt a little less bad.

We all got on the boat, and none of us fell overboard in the process.

Check out this sweet little contraption.

Now he’s got himself a place for his legs.

Makeshift oars made with bamboo and a flat piece of wood. Before he even put the oars in the water, he took a piece of rock and banged on the nail that held the two pieces together just to make sure that the oar would stay in one piece during our boat ride.

There’s my guest house in red towering over the river.

I got this better photo of the cremation ghat from the boat. You can see the piles of burning wood for the cremation sites. The old man said that it was 5000INR to cremate and confirmed the guide book that the people without money just drop the bodies into the water with rocks to weigh them down. I believe pregnant women and children also are dropped into the water in the same way because they don’t have sins to wash away like men and nonpregnant women.

The leaning temple. Our boat guy said that this temple is really old and the monsoon this past year had really high water and it had damaged it causing it to lean.

At this point, I asked our boat guy to turn us around, because none of us had see the ghats South of the main ghat where we hired our boat. The old man asked if we would like to see the opposing shore as we turned around. We agreed. Sure, why not.

I believe we ware going against the current now as our forward progress slowed significantly. He rowed and rowed, and finally we started getting close to the opposite shore in a 45 degree angle. As we followed the opposite shore from Varanasi, but still a little ways from it, the old man pointed at something on the shore. He said something along the lines of “dog, body.”

HOLY SHIT!! This dog was tearing apart a corpse that had floated onto the surface and washed ashore. My mind just got blown. We all just stared at the scene and it was hard to believe what was happening. A dog is eating a dead human being. It just seemed so matter of fact. Hungry dog, flesh, lunch. Can you imagine seeing this same image in the US? Even right now, as I am typing this, I am still not quite sure how to make of it. That corpse was somebody. Someone’s father, or mother, or son, or daughter. When we die, we are just flesh, and nothing more…

We rowed by these two ghost boats. They were anchored in the middle of the river, but no one was in sight near them.

Trash everywhere.

This photo was taken 15 minutes after the seeing the dog eat the corpse. India affects you in a weird way. I am sure if I saw that same scene in the US, I would still be flabbergasted after 15 minutes. But here in India, 15 minutes was all it took for me to recover from the horrific scene.

To be continued at Varanasi Day 1 Part 2.

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