I was in two minds about visiting
, and to be honest still wasn’t sure as the taxi brought me to my guest house from the airport. But I’m very glad I did. Varanasi
I only had 2 ½ days there so when I discovered that my accommodation was in just the right location to see everything on my ‘to do’ list I made the decision not to venture too far. I stayed in Scindhia Guest House, basic, clean and friendly on Scindhia Ghat, right at the edge of the old city.
I loved the old cty. It is full of narrow streets and pedestrianised (and more importantly no incessant and pointless beeping car horns). The streets were too narrow for cars but not too narrow for cows. It was not as dirty as I had expected, but very smelly. Most of the streets smelt of urine. The shops, small, pokey and on top of each other looked like they may have been there since day one.
And the steps. Oh the steps. I have never seen so many large, steep steps in one place. Considering the average Indian person is not as tall as I am I do wonder how they cope with the steps ?!
the shop keepers knew how to treat potential customers. I won’t say there was no shouting, but much less than Jaipur. On the negative side there seemed to be a lot of extreme poverty and child labour. I bought from a shop ‘manned’ by a boy named Suhail age 14 (he looked like he was no bigger than my 8 year old nephew). He had perfect English so when I asked if he went to school and he said yes, I hoped he was telling the truth. I just had to buy from him as he did everything he could to sell me a t-shirt. I think even if I didn’t like anything I would have bought something from this kid. He is a brilliant sales man. I just wonder what kind of future he has…. Varanasi
I spent my first day strolling around the narrow streets with a French couple, N and F, (or should I say N et F) I met in the guest house. They had just arrived in
Varanasi too and had been travelling around for the past month. I think they were just as happy with the interruption as I was with the company. We spent the day browsing around the shops and spending some time in roof-top restaurants overlooking the India Ganges and the ghats. They had a Garmin route-finder so we never got lost in the crazy maze of small, narrow streets.
My second day in
was a bit more chaotic, getting lost frequently and probably seeing more of the city than the average tourist. Varanasi
My guest house was quite near a burning ghat and on Saturday morning I found myself climbing some steps I had seen other foreigners at the top of, simply out of curiosity. It was only on reaching the top I realised I was in the area where Hindu cremations are carried out. I was standing in an area where there had recently been three cremations as the fires were still hot. When I looked over the edge I saw a ceremony taking place for a recently deceased gentleman. He was just being laid out on a bed of timber logs (70kg worth of logs) having been dipped in the sacred waters of the
Ganges. I witnessed his brother praying around him as other male family members observed. I was extremely uncomfortable watching this (and still am as I type it to tell you) but as I knew I would never be back I had the compulsion to stay and watch until it was time to light the fire and then I walked away.
I have never been comfortable with the caste system here and never will be, but was even more disappointed to find that even in death the Brahim caste are treated differently. They are cremated in more expensive sandal wood in a separate area.
I was also disappointed to see that no women attend the ceremony. As I walked through the streets that day many funeral processions passed me by on the way to the cremation grounds, but only men ever accompanied the bodies. The dead were wrapped in red and gold it all seemed quite normal.
Each morning I sat out on my balcony and watched as 20 – 30 men came to the water’s edge and shaved their heads. This is traditional for Brahim men who have recently lost a relative and is a mark of respect to the Gods.
I was also amazed at the number of people who washed and swam in the
Ganges every day. To a westerner looking in from the outside the Ganges is an extremely dirty river. To a Hindu they are sacred waters. I watched with interest as children swam and had competitions to swim against the flow which looked impossible. I have to ask are they so used to swimming in this dirty water that they have become immune to the dirt in the water? Or is it that we are so used to taking pills for everything we are prone to picking up germs more now?
I was equally intrigued by the number of young boys and men, ranging from 7 years and up wearing orange. It was explained to me that they are training to be Brahmin priests, very often sent by their families who are unable to feed them. Training to be a Brahmin priest gives them shelter, food and an education. Brahmin priests can marry and have families, however if they chose to take it a step further and become a Sodu they live a truly religious life. It became very common to see them walking around the town in groups, in bare feet as is the norm. Despite the religious nature of the city it was disappointing to see the armed police on guard at entrances to the
and the city’s mosque due to trouble between the two communities over 20 years ago. Golden Temple
, but like my trip to Karanjia I have far more questions than I’ll ever have answers. Varanasi