27.12.2009 - 27.12.2009 22 °C
We arrived in Varanasi and got driven in a sweat-smelling mini-loaf most of the way through completely chaotic traffic. The last 10 minutes were walked and I was fortunate enough to have the ever-accumulating weight of my backpack transferred to somebody from the guesthouse.
Oh, Varanasi! In one simple sentence, this is my impression of it: everybody wants something more. Personally, I find it odd. I find it uncomfortable and I dislike its ability to intrude through people who always have an ulterior agenda. It’s friendly with a cause. It’s unfriendly with intent.
It is, but it isn't.
And it has a population of lost-cause westerners, who I shall refer to as Yesterners. Yesterday’s westerners- people who seem to be on an endless search for some solace or meaning, but simply appear to be lost in the awkwardness that is varanasi.
I’m at odds with Mother Ganga too and my reasons for this suggest that I may have more of a Buddhist spirit than a Hindu one. I’m not sure The Ganges really enjoys having the corpses of pregnant women, leppers, the snake-bitten, children and holy men sunk into it.
We saw a body being rolled over the side of a boat and into the river this morning (sadly deleted the picture accidentally). I have to be honest, what a completely uncomfortable feeling. The hole in our boat made me experience a mild sense of panic.
For the masses of pilgrims who bath in the water of Mother Ganga each day, I suspect the slight possibility of encountering a relative’s floating leg or torso is not much of a concern. The spiritual reasons why five groups of people get ‘sunk’ rather than cremated are beguiling ones, but the logic of the situation is at odds for me. (Drinking the holy water is a completely different story and one which I admittedly have little desire to contemplate.)
Anyway, I’m just pleased that I committed myself to brushing my teeth AND rinsing my brush with bottled water only.
On a lighter and less ‘culturist’ note, we tried street food today! While walking in town we got side-tracked by this: basically batter (like crumpet batter, but more crunchy and bread-like when cooked) is put onto a hot pan. Then onion, tomato, coriander and many spices are sprinkled on top. They sort of sink into the batter and cook with it. We figured deep-fried ingredients that we had seen being chopped in front of us couldn’t do too much damage, so we sampled one. It was quite pleasing and I’m happy to say that 10 hours later there are still no signs that it disrupted my digestive system in any way! (If anything did, it was the “chicken” we were meant to have for dinner, but avoided after a bite because it either wasn’t cooked or wasn’t chicken. Oh, also, I’m not sure why we even attempted chicken in the first place in a predominantly vegetarian place.)
Besides being threatened (and conned), first thing this morning, for taking a picture near where bodies are cremated on the side of the river and having our guesthouse shut down by the police, there was some comfort in this day. The two river trips were very peaceful; the Ganges filled with floating candles was beautiful, the skyline of kids’ paper kites (exactly like in The Kite Runner) is enchanting, the chanting from down the way has also finally stopped (thank goodness) and I finally won a game of scrabble. (It’s arguably not my strength.) Oh, yes, I also bought two beautiful sarees for a ridiculous price.
Anyway, we have a long day tomorrow with two flights and we’d like to get in an early morning swim across the river and back.
(We are contemplating taking up lessons- there’s a place down the river that offers them. I suspect these may help us develop strategies for navigating either bodies or the feisty fish that apparently eat them.)
Some pics since our arrival:
The following are from yesterday: