Expecting the Unexpected in India Day 272: Indecision at its Finest

Woke up on my overnight from Khajuraho in time to get ready to pack up and get off at Allahabad but the more I thought about it, I needed to get back on the trail. I was tired of just dealing with local Indians, I needed something more and I felt like Allahabad wasn’t going to deliver that so I stayed on the train and dozed off once more for only a short while. We still had fours to get to Varanasi which was the last stop for this train
No one came around to question me so I got a free ride from Allahabad to Varanasi 🙂
Once there I could to take my first albeit slight steps into the craziness of Varanasi
Brushed off many cat callers of auto and cycle rickshaws and tried to find one who wasn’t harassing me
I couldn’t quite reach the local price but I got as close as a hard bargaining and negotiating white man could get for a cycle rickshaw to the old town of Varanasi for a restaurant lonely planet picked out so that I wouldn’t have to deal with guesthouse touts
Long ride but taken there
Unfortunately I ate at the fake Brown Bread Bakery as Indians and I am sure plenty of other Asians love to copy tripadvisor and lonely planet favorites to get business out of the confusion
Went to Puja Guesthouse and got a room after checking through many and ready to walk out over toilets not flushing, fans not working, sink working sporadically and showers less than reliable. I have learned from my previous mistakes to check every damn thing and each flaw a place has even the slightest most inconsequential things help in negotiating a price
I got them down but still likely paid a shade too much but it was fair enough. Sadly I was going to live without A/C hoping the fan would save the day
Got a breakdown of Varanasi by one of the hotel staff, one of many that call it ‘my place, my guesthouse, my hotel’: gave me directions to major attractions including the famous Blue Lassi shop and the nearby main burning ghat. More importantly he told me of the dangers such as a common scam down by the burning ghat to get tricked into going to a view point and being expected to pay them money or a donation to the poor families that they won’t help and to watch who I talk to, to not go with random people to places you didn’t choose to go; also of course he told me the obvious big no no of not taking any photos of the burning ghat
Had two of the famous lassis from Blue Lassi, both were good – one plain and one banana but I have to say the thick, chilled creamy versions in Haridwar and Punjab topped all
In between spooning the smooth curd delight into my mouth I watched funeral processions pass by on these tight narrow. Families were carrying their dead loves on basically bamboo ladders like a stretcher with their cold bodies fully enveloped in special clothes and clothing typically of bright orange; what a unique complex of these two things occurring within touch of one another
After satisfying my belly I visited the burning ghat and I was told by people towards the top of the steps that led to the ghat that I can’t go closer because that area is only for family but they could take me to a viewpoint above and explain things
I knew this was all a scam but I didn’t feel comfortable going down anyways because maybe it was offensive to go so close to where the family was so I turned around and went back to the guesthouse to explain the situation
They said that it was indeed a scam and I could get as close up to the burning ghat as I wanted as long as I took no pictures
With that knowledge I passed all the motherfuckers who chanted to call me back and got myself into the thick of it
I felt the heat of flames from the burning pyre across my face, I saw the tears of the families mourning the loss of their loved ones, I witnessed the ending of the funeral processions as the families dipped their deceased family member into the Ganga river to purify the body, watched them circle the body five times as it was being lit
Men building the funeral pyres for the various classes, high to low, lugging the sometimes large lumber
Incense sticks
Many people, cows, and dogs around not related to the family were standing around so my presence was an afterthought and they didn’t think anything of me being there
Most auspicious to die in Varanasi because that means you will directly bypass all rebirths and go straight to heaven/nirvana
Extremely hot with the flames so close as well as it being midday
When I crossed over to get a view away from the heat I passed by the scales upon which the measure the exact weight of the wood to guaranteed how much it would cost. Further along I got a less fiery view of the proceedings but in the process of getting there I nearly bit it into a pile of cow shit. I dealt with the hassling of guy trying to act like a guide but he said he worked as one of the wood laborers but I jokingly only for himself said this must be his day off which in Indian practically never exists. I told him I wasn’t paying anything but he said he didn’t want anything. He was explaining some things before he got to the root of it that some poor families can’t afford the wood for the funerals which I can believe but he wanted me to pay some outrageous for the wood by the kilo. I already heard about this scam before but I was already aware enough to judge a scam when I see one so I was already a step ahead of this guy. I was using fighting words telling him to leave me alone yet continued on trying to make me feel bad for not donating. That rat was going to keep the money for himself. Sometimes India pissing me and I essentially said fuck off to the guy and left not wanting to deal with it anymore. I had broken down his lies to him directly to his face which clearly didn’t please him
Exploring the narrow streets, it is like the worst nightmare of a labyrinth/maze. Took many people with some forming a long endless line for a religious procession usually into the entrance of the golden temple (vishwanath) for their pujas/donations (most highly guarded place I have ever seen, armed guards are everywhere), cows moving past, stray dogs/puppies, goats, cow shit smeared and freshly laid everywhere, piss glazing the surface, motorcycles passing by without not much care to slow down too much all within the confines of streets three meters wide if not less, shops dotting the sides of the streets all the way through
Walked along the ghats to the chants of ‘boat’
You have to learn to know it is okay to ignore people, I will still say no thank you but after that if they still try I ignore them as if they were an apparition. If you get too involved with everyone that asks something of you, you will lose you’re freaking mind
Eventually as I got further away from the nerve center and chaos of Varanasi everything grew quieter
I passed people bathing in the Ganga, likely the dirtiest water in the world (at least this section and everything else downriver) – people were bathing within fifty feet of where they dump the ashes and dip the dead bodies into the river.
People washing their clothes
Cleaning the ghats from the receding monsoon water that has deposited large amounts of garbage studded mud and dirt on its steps
Met a cool man that looked part Rastafarian, part Baba without all the typical teacher clothes. I expected at some point he was bound to ask me for something for some sort of money but he just wanted to talk about me, share about himself and some international travelers he calls friends, show me a good viewpoint from above near the mosque at this ghat, and then encourage me to come back and visit
It was getting late as the sun grew dim and then just a mere phantom of its former self, a shadow. I needed to get back to go see the puja ceremony on the Ganga (aarti)
Before doing so I watched some more of the burning proceedings with this ghat the largest of its kind being the main source of light here on the water
Talked to some backpackers to try to help them out get closer to the burning ghat since some scam focused locals try to trick them as well. Even though I had planned to watch the puja from the shore and save a boat trip for another day likely sunrise, I decided to join them because I was dying for someone company that didn’t include locals
From the boat we watched the burning/cremations but at a much further distance than what I was used to. Then we went to watch the beginning of the ceremony which was a worthwhile sight but the bunched up crowds of boats ruined the feel somewhat
Drums, singing, several men dressed up doing various movements with their lit talismans
After our hour we got to shore to get some food: mango lassi for once and decent
We walked the streets a bit to explore the ghats at night mainly navigating the trash and mud filled expanse but the quietness was a joy. 
We made plans to meet up for the next day
Also stepped into some shit and piss near the burning ghat while trying to avoid a pissed off cow

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