OR BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
(I’M THE BEAUTY AND V THE BEAST BTW!)
The filthy Varanasi shall henceforth be know as Very Nasty, for that is what it is.
I visited Sarnath closeby the next day which is a Buddhist place of pilgrimage and I shall return to that on my next less mean and vitriolic post.
Alert: If you adore Varanasi you might not want to read this very sweary shouty post. I enjoyed it not, and as I am writing directly from my journal it’s no holds barred. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the concept of the place, it’s just it’s not all its ramped up to be and this blog is for old birds travelling solo so I think it’s fine to give a warning. Thanks for being understanding.
I wish to make clear that I respect the Hindu religion and it’s beliefs. I was just very freaked about how filthy everything is and how here, more than anywhere, money matters. The sick, aged or dead are brought from all over the country for this is the most sacred of sites but if you’re poor then the body may not be properly consumed by the flames. I find that an indignity on many levels however what matters finally I suppose that the mourners feel they have done right by their loved ones. It’s very different to our clinical way of death here. I always wanted to be sent out on a burning Viking boat with flowers and fragrant plants. Knowing my luck I also wouldn’t have enough wood to completely burn me and some horror story would ensue.
From my journal.
All this is word for word from my journal so some of it is a little, hmmm, let’s just say garbled. Forgive that, but the raw passion is there.
Varanasi April 1st 2018.
‘Yes April Fools Day, and wasn’t I the fool.
This trip was disheartening and scary. I had no fuzzy, warm feeling that it was to give all the people visiting, just revulsion and fear?!. Just mayhem around and a feeling of threat and possibly disaster. Even my five star hotel felt primitive and forbidding.
Flew in and from the beginning felt uneasy.
The streets were broken, pavements just occasional jutting rocks and the filth was staggering.
Bikes, tuk tuks of a kind (?) and cars collided into one another, a screaming mass of Dantes Inferno. Shitty pissy pissy poor miserable slum with its filthy river, the great Ganges offering no respite. This cesspit was a true shock to me and my Westernised brain and knowing that women were being attacked all over India made me feel very threatened even with my vile guide.
Wannabe hippies go to the Ghats but stay in posh hotels, much pseudo religious crap gushing from their privileged lips.I’m amazed I look so good in the pics of me at dusk and dawn on a boat sailing past the filth and bodies.
Cows eat the marigolds from the biersand wild dogs the residual bones of the corpses after burning on the bank of the river.
This ashy beach now allows tourists to walk among the pyres gawping.
River water, thick and soupy with the claim that it’s waters have be cleansed immensely. – I’ll be the judge of that.
While running with the guidetomy private boat at dawn to the impossibly slick steps of the ghat, I felt true desperation and anxiety. It was far and all the people looked ready to claw at you and steal from you as they begged or tried to sell you hideous dirty junk from the shadows of this hideous parade. Even arriving at the boat we had to bat people off.
Only when on the water had I some feeling of reassurance. It was quite unique true. And some bits felt quite interesting BUT no fucking way was this place spiritual for moi, just an alarming row of ghats with their super steep slippy steps and Hindus and Muslims living too close to each other.
Incidently, never imagine there are lovely bars, cafes or restaurants outside there is nothing so far in India North that seems to encourage that more indulgent style.
The scrambling from bed at 5 a.m. was the easy bit along with the drive to my guide pick up point. Downhill from then on. Running through the streets foul (and after being on the boat – foul.
I was dragged to aforementioned burn-a-body-beach instructed on how people come from all over India to this sacred site. Then the system of buying different types of wood depending on your financial status. More fragrant and heavier weight (big wood scales) results in a more perfumed pyre and a body more completely burned. My guide pointed out a line of people seated patiently, waiting until their loved one had finished being consumed by flame. He then pointed out two black bits sticking out from a burning pyre and told me,
“The round bit is her head and the bit moving is her arm straightening out!”
He then asked if I wanted to go among the burning bodies along with the cows and dogs and occasional bewildered tourists. I declined, then he dragged me around the tiny filthy hovel streets where at one point he shouted “stand back, this one is a man!” as a bull charged down the street, and I climbed among the rubbish bags in a crevice in the wall to avoid being trampled.
Going through these streets we had to make way for the occasional body being carried along to the burning beach along with the ubiquitous filthy beggars.
The burning of the bodies now has to be completed rather than half burned bodies being left to float along the river bloating and rotting slowly. The bones left now the dogs eat so at least that is more a cycle of life.
Varanasi had now been declared the dirtiest and most polluted city in the whole of India.
I’m not surprised. After going to their sacred Hindu temple (people again come from all over the country) that sits snugly next to a famous mosque. Plentiful policemen with machine guns guarded this tense flashpoint.
Finally I was taken to the guides family factory to my fury. It was a clean courtyard painted in bright colours where he, and a family group, tried to ply me with their wares. It was annoying and intimidating in equal measure.
Apparently silk weaving is very famous in this shit holeof Varanasi. Although adamant I would buy nothing I finally did purchase a small scarf as a token memory item from India.
I later fired the guide.
I don’t remember eating anything but breakfast there. I must have lived on beer. I know I wanted to scrub out my eyeballs and boil them. It took me days to start to feel clean clean after this visit. The next day true, I escaped to the cleaner suburbs after moving to a new hugely expensive hotel.
Sarnathoutside V, is a hugely important religious site of Buddhism and a hugely cleaner and calmer place! (interestingly it came up in a gallery talk I just went to in BM) It’s where the Ashokan Pillar is and a fine museum and restored site of stupas.
The Deer Park nearby is where Buddha preached the Dharma and where he achieved enlightenment. The large site is mainly foundations but the stupa is treated with much reverence and notably gold leaf is stuck to various buildings and statues for blessings.
On top of the Ashokan Pillar was the four lion statue (in museum) that is used as insignia of modern day India on money etc.
There was a class of Buddhist students under a tree there which was an enlightenment for me! After the ghastliness of Varanasi this truly felt siritual to me!
Back to the Ramada then Delhi the next day
Never have I been so relieved to leave a place, and never have felt more dirtied.
Forgot to add I went to a fort museum (rubbish and hundreds of pushing and shouting Indian tourists at the ticket desk). It was a waste of money and an insult and doesn’t bear talking of.
The sunset boat on the Ganges was more and the same as sunrise and just as scary.
Photos taken of me standing on the boat with arms up welcoming whatever and then sitting gazing at the ghats of the Ganges then sunset over the dirty old river. The people who bathe in it are stupid and frankly I’m glad I didn’t stay at super pricey old hotel that looks over the riverand you have to climb up steps in those dark terrifying alleyways.
Anyone doubting the validity of all that I’ve said just Google it.’
Yes all that was harsh and at the end very garbled, however, apart from the washing in the Ganges bit, I stand by it. Unless you have been there you really can’t imagine the squalor. I think the most depressing part was the very rich people who I saw at the Ramada, who had got dressed in ethnic outfits and had their foreheads marked, who spouted out how mystical and wondrous it was while waiting for a chauffeur driven car to carry them off to god knows where. The hypocrisy is mind boggling.
Alert: At the very expensive Ramada there, a head waiter tried to intimidate me while I was waiting in the lobby to go to the airport. As I had told him the previous night I wasn’t leaving a tip as he had been bullyish and I don’t give tips to bullies. He came up and said he could give me his bank details in case I changed my mind. It was very ugly and threatening. He pursued me via FB until I threatened to tell the management. As I said, while an old bird and travelling alone there will always be a misogynist trying to take advantage. Be prepared for this eventuality. I know it sounds bleak but it isn’t, just stand up for yourself and don’t let it run away from you like I did. Also don’t put your business card in those pots on bar or reception you don’t know who will get their mucky paws on them.
The beggars and terribly poor people there don’t think it’s so wonderful,
….just ask them.
Through the Course of the Morning
The bull charging down the hovel street, and rubbing shoulders with the corpses being carried to the burning beach took its toll on my frayed nerves and as I said in my journal, the smoke of the dead bodies that we were all inhaling and whose dust was settling on my sweaty shoulders was distressing. Police armed with machine guns just made me feel like I was destined to be in part of a massacre, and the fucking pushy guide made me feel that I would indeed massacre him and his family.
Later the sunset journey was the same shit except for a bunch of hipsters pretending to be John Lennon. It was all vile and didn’t feel remotely sacred. Until they manage to clean up their act I wouldn’t go. Give it a swerve and go to another part of the river (I would advise upstream!) or just go somewhere else altogether.
The Burning Beach.
Varanasi: The millennia old city, Varanasi, is among the 20 ..