December 3, 2004 - December 5, 2004
I came to India for a couple weeks so I could meet my friend Dhara who was flying into Bombay the next week, but decide to go through Varanassi and Agra on my way from Nepal This was my first stop, and I didn't know what to expect. After months of meeting travelers traveling north from India I was a bit scared of traveling in India. Everyone seemed to agree India is the hardest country in the world to travel in. I was told it was a sure thing I'd be ripped off, and robbed immediately, so it was with hesitation that I entered the country. The bus ride through Nepal passed many accidents and the road was nonexistent as usual. I got to the border in Suanali and entered India expecting a difficult stretch between the border town and Varanassi Luckily a tout offered a ride with 2 other British travelers for a reasonable 250 rupees. The roads in India were much better. Well, at least they were paved. After only a few attempts by our driver to detour we got to Varanassi at 1AM. The driver refused to take us into town for some reason and after a short fight (in which I was alerted that I am a "bad man" - the worst thing you can be called here apparently) we decided to walk until we got our bearings. we, and our 5 bags (thank God I travel with such a small bag) piled into a 2 person auto rickshaw and got taken to our sleazy guesthouse.
Varanassi is a very holy city built along the Ganges River. This is the famous spot where the dead are burned along the riverbanks, and people bath and drink the holy water. Of course the river is toxic, and the real miracle is that people aren't dying from the poisonous river (said to be 800 times more contaminated than safe bathing water should be). The river has over 100 Ghats (piers) where bodies are burned, vendors sell their wares, "Wallas" do laundry, and men and women bath all day long. My guesthouse offered a free boat ride at dawn which was probably the (unexpected) highlight of my 3 days there.
As for the stories of the dangers of India, this city is the exception to the rule. Everyone I met noted that this was a remarkably safe, and laid back city. The few people who were selling things backed off after being told "no", which was a first for me in over 5 months in China and Nepal!
Riding on top of the bus to the border
On our way to Varanassi we passed may weddings.
In India and Nepal, December and January is the marriage season.
Varanassi as seen from the rooftop restaurant at my guesthouse (Shanty Guesthouse)
Hack electricians' work
A broom-maker. Most likely born into the broom-maker caste.
As in Nepal, cows are sacred, and have right-of-way everywhere
After the Wallas (laundry caste) finish beating your clothes
to death, everything is ironed.
No electricity needed...
Down on the Ganges River bank
Massages are cheap (starting at 10 rupees), though horribly painful at times
The main Ghat (pier) is as busy as a train station
The alleys are narrow, rambling, shit-covered places that even the tiniest European town can't compete with
A 6am free boat ride
It's very rude to take pictures of these bizarre"funerals" but you can see a body being burned in the left of this pic
More bathing at a Ghat
Another sunrise. Man, I've woken up for more sunrises on this trip than in all my life!
A sinking Ghat
More rooftop views from my guesthouse
The rooftop restaurant
A shave on the Ghats
Drying laundry after the Wallas finished beating them
Animals love Hinduism!