Continued from Varanasi Day 1 Part 2.
Today, I saw images that will burn in my memory forever. I am not quite sure how these images will affect me, but it’s undeniable that I had a watershed moment, and my path in life has changed course in some shape or form.
I woke up early this morning at 6. I got ready and went out into the internet area to finish blogging. While getting ready this morning in my room, at one point I lost electricity to one side of the room. But eventually power came back. Then as I was brushing my teeth, I lost all water. Shit! I had to finish the job with bottled water. Then I had to put bottled water in my hair to tame it. Fancy.
I sat at a nice table overlooking the river as I blogged away. I heard Indian music, and I looked over and down the balcony and saw a tourist playing a soprano saxophone, but with Indian tunes. Way cool! I later saw this man again, and he’s actually a guest at my guest house, which I would recommend to everyone for the location and the unmatched views.
While blogging away, I looked up and saw something floating in the river. You can see it in the middle of the photo right between the two wires. I got up, walked to the edge of the balcony to have a closer look.
I am speechless…It’s a floating corpse that broke loose from the rope and rocks that kept it submerged in the Ganges….No one called the police. No boats around it slowed down to have a look. The cleaning staff at the guest house saw it, but didn’t look twice. It was just simply a floating corpse, slowly floating downstream. It might as well have been a bag of trash slowly floating downstream. The dog eating the corpse was a shocker, but this is on another level. It was such a shock to see that even right now, some 12 hours later, I still don’t have quite a grasp on how I think and feel about it…
I will say that very soon after seeing it, I continued my blogging and had cataloged the corpse sighting just as something that I would include into the day’s post. Death is so raw over here that it just is what it is.
I finished blogging and started reading this book. A book about Mumbai, how fitting. I hope to read a decent chunk of it before I reach Mumbai. It’s always great to know a city you are about to visit intimately.
JF and YR are supposed to meet me on the rooftop restaurant at 11. I showed up a little early, and within 2 minutes of me sitting down, they had arrived early as well. We will go sightseeing together today, but first things first, breakfast.
Same as yesterday, egg omelet and eggs with toast. I love eggs! It was also Chai Time! I am going to start drinking Chai when I get back to Austin. I am seriously addicted now. I love how every time I travel, I almost always pick up a food habit that I take back home with me. Most recent ones being red bell peppers from Prague, and doner kebabs from Munich. Now, so far, Chai from India!
Another guest eating at the restaurant came by and asked if he could take a photo of our cameras showing our favorite picture from our trip. I showed him my photo of me jumping in front of the Taj Mahal. Then I asked one from him, and he showed me this one. I believe its one of Hindus shaving each other for some sort of ceremony or ritual.
After having some chai, we discussed what we were to do today. We decided that we would just take it easy, walk around Varanasi, see the South ghats and then get lost in old town or whatever. Sounds good.
We tried to negotiate with many rickshaw drivers. Finally one guy agreed to our price of 80 INR for all 3 of us. Cool. Everyone else wanted to quote us 150.
Except, we walked over and instead of a rickshaw, this guy had a pedicab. The seat was small, it would be snug fit for even two. There’s no way that we can all fit on there. The pedicabber tried his best to convince us that the three of us would fit, but we couldn’t not be convinced.
Big smile after taking our big bribe and sticking it in his pocket. This is a police officer and we had to bribe him with 20INR. The rickshaw picked us up in an area that didn’t allow rickshaws, and for us to exit the area, the driver had us bribe the cop. I bet this cop makes a killing just guarding this post. Fucking graft is so pervasive in India.
Halfway through out ride, our driver turned around and asked us if we liked music. We were afraid that he was going to take us shopping at at music store, so we just sort of nodded, but said that we didn’t want to go shopping. He said, no shopping, and asked if he could turn on music. We said sure.
Fucking hell! The speakers behind our heads came alive and started BLASTING club beats on top of all the honking in the streets. We were listening to dance techno remix of Justin Bieber(The Canadians knew their fellow Canadian’s music) while we slowly made our way through the crowded and honking streets of Varanasi. It was terrible…so terrible that we laughed about it.
All of a sudden, the music comes to a screeching halt. It literally sounded like the sound affect where a record comes to a halt. “I can take you sightseeing all day tomorrow on this rickshaw.” “No, that’s ok, thanks.” Then right on beat, with the same sound effect, the heavy beats starts right back up again. We all looked at each other and laughed. The timing was impeccable.
We decided to walk into the city for a little bit, then find a road back to the river to walk along the ghats.
Well, there was nothing much to look at over here. Many of the shops are still closed. It’s around noonish. We made our way back to the river, well, after getting lost a few times through the maze like streets.
We also walked by another cremation ghat down here. We sat down and watched almost an entire cremation process. Unlike the main cremation ghat, this one is a little bit more low key. There aren’t constant touts who try to take our cameras to steal them to say that we can’t take pictures, we weren’t. We found a dirty ledge, and the three of us sat down and just took in the whole process.
For me, seeing the cremation out in the open is what I would recommend others to see here. It brings me perspective on life and death. It makes me shift my priorities in life. It makes me realize how at the end of the day, we are just flesh.
We sat around long enough for a tout to finally approach us. This guy had a very long and elaborate gambit. He wasn’t pushy from the beginning. He gave us a lot of info such as how this ghat is privately own so the people pay to have the cremation here. The workers that do the burning are of the untouchable caste. The burning costs from 3500 and on up. There’s a building right behind the ghat that is a government funded electric cremation operation. That costs 600 and is for the poor, but if they can, they prefer the wood burning. This went on and on for a while until he said that he would like to show us something. He’s on his “30 minute lunch break”. We all refused, of course, but this guy was much smoother than the other guys. Eventually, he told us more information, then finally said goodbye and left us.
Then we sat around some more for another tourist to sit down by us. We are now a party of 4, and decided that we’d like to visit the Brown Bread Bakery that’s noted in our guidebook. Why is this the place to go, I don’t know. But I do know that because it’s in the guidebook, it’ll be a hotspot for other tourists.
All over the ghats, kids would play cricket. They’d hit the ball, and hope that it doesn’t hit anyone. These kids are actually just being kids. They don’t try to pester the tourists, they just ask that you move out of the way so they can keep on playing.
We walked and tried to find this bakery, went away from the river and into the city in search for it. Looked around, finally asked someone, and he said for us to head back into the maze like old city towards the ghats. This feels like Venice, always getting lost.
Blurry shot, it was pretty dark in there. This was on the 3rd floor and they had just a room with mats all over the ground. This is the restaurant area. We had chai and our new friend JB had some food as well. It took forever for the food to come out. As expected, packed with other tourists. I also saw some other guests from my own guesthouse here.
Me, YR, JB, and JF. We were talking about the makeup of travelers during tea. Most of the travelers our age are couples. There are also groups of 3 girls and 2 girls. Some single girls and some single guys. I have yet to see many groups of guys traveling together here in India. Groups of 3 is actually a good number to travel here in India because rickshaws are made for 3.
We walked and walked, and then walked some more. We are lost. We finally decided to find a group of cops, and ask them for direction. The cops asked where we were from and started treating us like how touts would treat us. Quite patronizing. I think they were hitting on the girls. It was frustrating to say the least. I decided then to just pull out my iPhone and use an offline map with gps. Yup, fuck asking others for direction. I’ll solve my own problem.
I looked on my gps and we had overshot our original destination by quite a bit. Back tracked down the busy city streets, then we ducked into an alley into the old city that would eventually lead us to a ghat by the river, allegedly. Once we are on the river, way finding would be easy.
The alley dropped us off at the main cremation ghat. How ironic, because this is where JB was headed, and I am sure she beat us while we got lost.
There were several cremations going on at this time. One pile had just gotten lit, and it was a man in this immolation. The clothe that had originally wrapped him had burned off already. He looked quite young, maybe in his mid 30s. We stood there and watched, and this is the scene that will burn in my memory forever. He was just so young and even as the flame engulfed him, he just looked so at peace like he was simply asleep. The fire burned and burned, more and more of his body became charred. His legs burned off, because he was a tall man so his legs stuck far out from the main heat. The workers took long bamboo sticks and push the legs back into the inferno. This took several attempts. To see a charred severed leg with the owner completely engulfed in flame is something unforgettable. Finally the fire reached his head, and then his face was burned to be unrecognizable. Towards the end, the tendons and ligaments were shortened by the heat that his body curled in and looked like he was trying to roll over, and out from the fire. This is with his right arm thrusting up into the air. The right arm with the hand missing, but just the two bones of the forearm, completely exposed. This is how a human burns.
Eventually, the wind changed direction, and we started suffering from the ash and the smoke blowing our way. It was time to go, we had seen enough. I am definitely a changed man. In what ways, I do not know yet, but one does not see death so raw and exposed without it impacting their lives forever. The image is still burning in my head, and it will continue to burn in there, so I won’t forget and it’ll continue to shape my life from this point onwards. I did not come to Varanasi looking for this experience, but I can say that this is the experience that I will treasure.
AWESOME!!! I love eggs! This would make such an awesome drunk food. This would put Best Wurst in Austin out of fucking business. I need to find the recipe and start making them for my friends in Austin when we come back to my condo to sober up. I’ll just make egg sandwiches for everyone!! Instead of “After party at (my name)’s!”, from now on, we’ll simply say “Egg sandwiches at (my name)’s!!!!”
One egg, mixed with onions, spices, and other ingredients. Dip the bread in it on both sides, then cook. Finally, fold the bread together and cut into 6 pieces. Pepper and salt liberally. I really enjoyed this. I had 2.
Trash in my hands, to the ground it goes. There are no trash cans. In fact, the girls were telling about their experiences riding on the unreserved and sleeper classes on the trains. They said that when they were holding onto their trash in their hands, the other riders would grab the trash and throw it outside the window. It’s like they want to keep the train clean and just dirty the outside. YR and JF also saw cockroaches crawling all over, have people go through their bags, get puked on, get slept on, and see a kid pop a squat in the passenger compartment. I like AC first class even more now.
As the girls and I said goodbye, I felt something wet on my arm. Ugh, someone spat on me. But, it wasn’t spit, it was rain. It started to rain big drops. I tried to call a pedicab, but I only had 500INR and he didn’t have change. Shit. I walked briskly, then the rain slowed and eventually stopped. I am still relatively dry.
Made it home, uploaded my photos for the day. Thought about the burning image. Then decided to take a shower. As I walked into my bathroom, which has a open vent to the outside, I heard loud rain. Really loud rain. I took my shower quickly, thinking that I might lose water at any given moment since water stopped earlier this morning. I had also lost power to half of my room since the rain had started. Something shorted?
I saw a guesthouse staff outside, and he said something about things falling from sky. He said ice, so I said hail, and he said that’s it. The loud rain noise that I heard wasn’t rain at all, but hail. Hail isn’t romantic like rain, it does away with no sins of any sort. Hail just put dents on cars.
I told the staff that I had no power to half of my room. He said that it’s because the city shuts off power during rains or else it becomes dangerous due to all the shorts. None weather proof electrical system here in Varanasi. The light that still works in my room is powered by the generator of the guesthouse.
I went to bed to the peaceful sounds of rain, and the fiery burning image in my head.
To be continued at Varanasi Day 3.