Varanasi Travel Blog› entry 82 of 102 › view all entries
March 20th, 2009 – by: rrrenata
cows and goats and buffalo wander the streets.
monkeys jump from rooftop to tree.
piles of mysterious wetness on the road.
few women out alone, almost none at night.
even less white people.
rickshaws and bicycles and motorcycles and cars.
cops beating men with bamboo rods.
bells and horns and whistles and yells.
the call to prayer in the background.
betel nut stains.
ahhh, the streets of varanasi.
first day in benares, i was the closest to a dead person that i've ever been - twice. there were two funeral processions that passed us on the street, presumably a group on its way to the ganga for a ritual cremation. herds of buffalo wander the streets, and stand in the ganges for their daily bath. children flock around us, wanting to touch our skin, shake our hands, introduce themselves. it's a really strange phenomenon - between the kids and the multitude of blatantly staring adults, we feel somewhere between venerated celebrities and creatures from the black lagoon. shouts of "hello rickshaw!" and "madam rickshaw!" seem to follow us everywhere we go. "special price for you beautiful lady" flies out at every woman from the "western" shop next to haifa hotel, and "indian price" is what we're promised when we try to haggle with the pushy shopkeepers.
the first five days, we stayed at nandan and bunti's guesthouse in bhadaini, whom we found through couchsurfing. [it is necessary to have some kind of friendly face in this crazy city!] it's hard to keep to the curfew that people recommend...women shouldn't wander around after dark! bhadaini is a relatively safe neighborhood, but we still stick together and avoid the winding, dark alleys at night. i've gotten used to the craziness here, and can almost tune out all of the honking and bells and "come!" "sit!" "where you go!" "what country!"...almost. we spent three nights at "hotel ganges view" which is a super fancy, beautiful hotel right on the river [and got the third night free! i talked to the owner about our leaky toilet and a bug in my food - things which elsewhere here are just normal - and he offered some discount, etc etc lots of calm back and forth etc etc - and then we stayed and ate there for free! wooo!]
the first day of spring brought a breath of cool air and light rain while anna and i rose from the dead at the crack of dawn to go on a ganga ghat boat ride.
nandan took us to what he promised would be something we would remember for the rest of our lives...definitely the weirdest thing we've done in india. we went to giri baba's room in the lali baba monastery...watched the aghori sadhu get all dolled up in 31 kilos of necklaces while he talked about his popularity on facebook.
we took tabla lessons from a guy who doesn't speak any english....mistake. all he knew to say was "NO," so on top of a slightly unsuccessful drumming session, the language barrier made it so much more frustrating.
it's funny, when i first saw the traffic in bangkok, i was amazed at the chaotic frenzy. now that i've been in india - varanasi especially - i have no idea how people stay alive!! there is no such thing as "flow of traffic." right of way belongs to the person who's vehicle is larger or who's horn is louder. lines on the street? no. although, something like 500 people die every day in india due to driving accidents...i guess we've just been lucky that we haven't seen any!
anna and i went to BHUniversity to see greenery and calmness.
questions floating around in my mind...
-how do i experience varanasi? i keep analyzing how to approach it, that i'm keeping myself out of it.
-why can't you photograph during take-off (plane)?
-what is the symbolism of the bindi? (bunti says it's just fashion..?)
-why are there so many religious temples concentrated in sarnath? jain, hindu, buddhist...
-why do feral animals have gigantic nipples?
-why do hindu men hold hands and act physically affectionate?
-why are there so many monkeys at the monkey temple??
intense varanasi! from "benares: a world within a world" by richard lannoy:
"[walter benjamin] characterizes the ancients' mode of intercourse with the cosmos as the ecstatic trance, and distinguishes between the communal nature of this holistic engagement and the dangerous error of modern men to regard the experience as unimportant, even avoidable, and to consign it to the individual as the poetic rapture of starry nights.
"for benares uniquely, not only among indian cities but everywhere else, is the last ancient city which still maintains active holistic intercourse with the cosmos."
"it's layout, it's pilgrimmage schemata, and its seasonal round of sacred drama comprise a scale-model and functioning simulacrum of the all-encompassing cosmos. no other indian city in its entirety still possesses this integral function as a metaphysically coherent mirror to the all."
jaded, less intelligent thoughts that varanasi has brought to us...
"i don't care if he's creepy or helpful, as long as he's not stealing us."
"a stupid thing in a boring place " (sarnath)
"it's like walking into a pink floyd song"
"welcome to india.
"soon we'll be in a place where we can eat real food! .... and then we can shit that out, too."
the last day in varanasi, i screamed in the street. it felt amazing.
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