Very Nasty Varanasi
Varanasi Travel Blog› entry 35 of 36 › view all entries
Varanasi is possibly the most dirty city I have ever visited. It is also full of thieving rickshaw drivers and touts. For instance, I asked to be taken to my hostel of choice, having phoned them ahead, and was eventually dropped off 2km away and shown a variety of other hostels by the driver, despite my protestations that I already had a booking elsewhere. He continued to follow me around as I set off on foot, in searing heat, to find the place I wanted, clearly he was intent on getting his commission, despite already being paid for the ride. I eventually lost him as the alleyways became too narrow and blocked by cows for his riskshaw to follow.
Again, I had only allowed a day and a half for Varanasi, and I think this was a good decision. Some people I have met loved the place, but most loathed it. The main reason for Hindus to visit is to die, it is the Holiest of the Holy for them to move on to their next lives, and they throw themselves into the River Gangees in order to reach that end. The river here has something ridiculous like 100,000 times the EU stated maximum pollution levels to be safe for bathing, and is therefore effectively dead.
Of course, not all Hindus throw themselves into the river. Those that can afford it have their bodies taken to one of the Burning Ghats (a sort of Temple) to be openly cremated on the river bank, before the remains are thrown into the river. Somewhere between 100 and 500 people a day have such treatment, and I took a rowing boat (or rather was rowed) down the river in order to witness the ceremonies - very eerie!
The evening saw one of the most incredible thunder and lightning storms I have ever seen, which was handy to clear the streets of cow effluent!
The next afternoon, after some further not-very-interesting ramblings around the city, I headed for the last of my Indian trains, an over-nighter to Kolkata. I can not emphasise enough how much I have enjoyed travelling around India on the second class sleeper trains. Yes, they are not very clean, and crikey are they slow and often heaving, but they are great fun and you can meet some fantastic people on them, mainly locals but often fellow travellers also.
India truely is a wonderful country. Yes it is incredibly poor (the average annual income is something like US$400 pa), filthy (cows are the street cleaners, there are no bins), and so many of the things that you will see are heart wrenching.
But it is incredibly beautiful in so many ways, the scenery, the people, the travel, the religous sites and monuments, the flauna and flora. It is incredibly diverse, whether in landscape, temperature, people, religion, settlements, wealth and in many more ways, too many to list in one sitting. It is heart warming to see the ways in which people get on with life in the most extreme circumstances, and really makes you realise how easy we have life back home. It is also a country that rewards the traveller with a great sense of achievement, not because it is difficult to travel around, although it does test the patience everyday, and not because of the horrendous poverty, although it does make you ache, but just because it is so special in a way that is difficult to put into words, it just makes you glow inside and out.
It is a country that you need to spend time in, not least because almost everybody will get ill at some point. Its size and diversity demands it, in just under 3 months I barely scraped the surface. I think that it is probably true that you will know within a day or so of arriving whether you will fall in love with it, or run away never to return, I can't wait to go back!
So anyway, a brief stop in Kolkata and a flight to Hanoi via Bangkok, and time for leg three of my trip.