Reluctantly we left Varanasi despite the naked people sitting in the dirty streets, the unbelievable amount of cow poop clogging the narrow streets, the CONSTANT power outages, the smelly garbage everywhere, the people urinating and defecating in open view along some of the ghats, terrible pollution, large bellied obviously malnourished children, incredible poverty, CONSTANT badgering and aggressive pan handling by the touts and “guides” (worst we’ve experienced in India so far) and unbelievable congestion.
Sitting at the edge of the great Ganges River is an incredible feel. 120+ ghats line the river. These are stone steps built high up on the river bank and are the center of life along the river. Bathing, music, laundry and ceremonies take place along these. Some of the ghats do not even have concrete. Now the river is low, but in the rainy season, water covers all the steps up to the great walls which rise above the banks.
We loved watching the funeral processions as they marched through the streets carrying the body on stretcher on top of their arms and heads. Life and death is mingled together very much in this town. The fires in the main burning ghat at times could scarcely keep up with the number of bodies coming in, so you would see the bodies all stacked up in small piles on the steps leading down to the Ganges River. The cows blocked the narrow alleyways and you had to wait or duck into a shop so they could pass as there was only room for one cow moving in one direction. Some of the cows had a big drooling problem which made for an annoying somewhat wet experience when they bump against you! For a COMPLETE ASSAULT on the senses it doesn’t get much better than Varanasi.
We even had a monkey enter our hotel room about 100 feet at least above the Ganges River and one of the ghats. No clue how he got up there but we had the window open and I looked up after resting in bed and there is a damn monkey sitting on our sofa scratching himself! Hahaha, I got up and started walking over and it quickly shot out the window. I then looked out the window 100 feet below and up to the roof but never saw it again.
We saw kids collecting cow shit – a very shitty job literally as they were really covered in the stuff as they were walking in it and collecting it with their bare hands. Also their hair was dripping with the stuff.
The locals told us the cost for renting a typical 1 bedroom place in Varanasi is 35 to 40 rupees per day – 45 rupees equals approximately 1 us dollar….so for like 25 bucks someone can rent a place in Varanasi. The locals told us living in this city is like $70 to $80 US dollars a month.
Some of the touts were extremely aggressive and desperation was written all over their faces. I had a 30 minute massage for 10 rupees after bargaining down from 100 rupees. After 30 minutes (I was timing) the guy didn’t stop and I had to meet Jeff back at hotel room for dinner. I tried to get up but he would not let me; he kept pushing me down and said I could not go…so I started insisting more and he said well its going to be 100 rupees for 1 hour massage and you cannot leave until you pay. I had to physically wrestle with the guy to get myself on top and push him down to the concrete (the massage was on one of the ghats on one of the stone flat areas, no mats, pillows, nothing, just lying on hard and rough stone). Fortunately I was stronger than this guy in the lower body and forced him onto the hard concrete. Then he became angry and started arguing that we agreed on price of 60 rupees. I was on top and quickly pushed myself off of him and jumped out to a safe distance where he couldn’t reach me. Hahaha… I would not recommend solo travel in India for first time tourists going overseas!
Varanasi. Dios mio, what a city.
Mark Twain, the ultimate traveler of his generation once said “Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
The “modern history” is over 2000 years old and its pre-modern history is much, much older than that. This is one of the oldest living cities in the world. You want CRAZY ass sh## you come here – this is everything you want if you are looking for something 500% opposite from life in the “western” world. I spent 30 minutes breathing in the smoke and flames above all the pyres of the ghats. The fires were so strong they were causing me discomfort with the heat. Many, many bodies kept arriving all carried on the strong arms of the lowest class, the Untouchables. We saw parts of the bodies peeking through all their flowered covered decorations. Bodies went into river first and they were loaded onto flames and burned, burned, burned, baby burned. The flames and the fires were not keeping up with the number of bodies, so the bodies were stacked up on the walkways awaiting the flames. No women allowed here. No cameras allowed either.
We saw several 100% naked people sitting in the middle of traffic on the narrow walkways that are everywhere in this city. People walking around them as normal, not even looking at them. MANY VERY narrow walkways, only those walking are allowed, no motor transportation. Aside from walking, 75% of this city moves by bicycle or bike rickshaw. Helps keep pollution down. 1.2 million people here.
There is museum at the most well known medical university in India here in Varanasi that contains artifacts, jewels and coins dating from the 1st to 15th centuries. Worth a visit, even M. Gandhi visited it three times.
We got into our 2nd car accident today but today it was just our aggressive driver bumping over a bicyclist. They exchanged very harsh words. Taxi driver kept talking to himself and then screaming out the window when traffic got particularly bad. This traffic makes one go nuts. I closed my eyes for 10 minutes and started counting in my mind starting at number 1. I stopped whenever a horn beeped; I never made it past 4 seconds. Nights are cool here, warm breeze blowing in from the Ganges during the day. Small narrow walkways made of stone lined with small shops and people selling things are everywhere. Some walkways are not lit up at all so my pen light comes in handy. Ghats all spread out along the river. We walked into Varanasi a day or 2 days ago on the main bridge as this bridge was shut down indefinitely for traffic repair – with parts of the bridge showing large jagged holes down to the water below. This is the main artery leading into the city and only way you could get across the bridge was by walking. All vehicles had to wait outside the city. Very neat to walk in and see Varanasi spread to along the banks from above.
The Ganges is polluted but not nearly as bad as we were led to believe. We found fish swimming near surface for oxygen, they also supposedly have dolphin here from time to time. Today we went to Sarnat, a major attraction for Buddhists. 2525 some odd years ago the Lord Buddha spoke here and there is a temple dating from 1500 years ago in its present form. It actually predates 500AD by another 700 years as archeologists have discovered bricks and other parts of it dating back that far. We snuck in with Japanese tour group and a Japanese man said something in Japanese I perceived to be harsh in nature, but I ignored him. To the security guard who was counting off names, we were just part of the tour group despite our facial differences.
Many, many, many, many beggars all over the India we have seen so far. Young kids wrap their hands and arms in fake blood with gauze tape and the fake blood dripping off their arms. Kids doing tricks in street with maybe lady who is mother right behind asking for money. Extreme poverty, very extreme here.
After every meal sweet anis seeds and small cubes of sugar are served. Power outages here VERY common and most places have generators. We stayed in hotel last night which promised us a quiet room. very quiet they say. Then around 10pm we heard construction noises above us, hammers and saws etc. We phoned the reception. They said, “oh no problem sir, what you are hearing is the guests”…Hahaha. These people are nuts.
We changed our tickets again to stay here longer as there is way to much see in just a few days. We are off to the steam baths now and for a full body Indian massage. Weather very nice here and pleasant to walk around at night as we are further south than New Delhi.
If you come to Varanasi you must stay in one of the guest houses above any of the ghats. They are awesome with balconies overlooking the river and rooftop restaurants. At night hundreds and hundreds of lighted candles float in the river – we have a good view from our rooftop room. Hindus come down to river at night and play music, make flower decorations and sing. One fat guy had an excellent voice and played a single string instrument for hours. This so relaxing and mesmerizing that I almost fell asleep on the steps of the ghat.
We saw 2 Bollywood movies being filmed; one incident was very funny. A famous director started attacking a police officer. The director was very fat and wearing a yellow shirt – the pretty lady actresses were filming a car scene and the police guard kept getting in the way. Director man started running at police guy and yelling “the prime minister gave me permission to be here, I do not want this man here” (referring to the police officer). The directors helpers had to hold him back, seemed like he would calm down and then he would break away from the arms holding him and run at the guard yelling profanities. Quite humorous to watch!
People outside of the ghat area speak very little English here. Many Japanese women here with masks on face. Sofas line the floors of the 10×10′ shops in the narrow walkways. People sit around drinking tea. Many people bathing; they bathe after they leave the funeral next door to the burning ghat from which the ashes and flowers are put into the very brown river.
That’s it for now from Varanasi! Hope all is well wherever you find yourself on this small globe.