India Part 4: The Kingdom of Crap

Varanasi.  It has taken me couple weeks to reflect upon this place, but can’t get it out of my head.  It’s not your typical vacation destination, and my conservative Grandmother most likely wouldn’t approve, but I have non-the-less come to the conclusion that it is unlike any place in the world I’ve been to. Some may go to this spiritual mecca for religious purposes.  Some may go to follow the Lonely Planets Golden Triangle suggestion.  Some may go unaware of where they are actually going.  That was me.  I tried not to research too much or look at too many pictures in hopes that each place would surprise me and it certainly did.  I was in awe and almost became addicted to snapping pictures the minute we starting winding down the colorful, soul captivating side streets.  Each alley way filled with an overabundance of life.  Once you escape from the mental main street of cows, chickens, cars, bikes, buses and masses of people zigzagging through the mess, you enter the magical maze of narrow, curvy, alleyways, leading through unknown streets to the dark, dirty, deep, and wide Ganges River.

Down one alleyway, a small raggedy child drags his broken and battered kite, like a cat on a leash, pulling it carelessly over cow, chicken, and human, pardon my French, shit while singing inharmonious Hindi hymns.  Around one corner a cluster of farm animals secrete scents unknown to man, while just around another corner you catch the most superb aroma of heavenly curry floating like Mozart’s music notes through the air.  Turn again, and harsh wafts of doody lingering about.  Then around another, and pepper, ginger, and cardamom seeping out of the rusted chai tea pot resting on top of a wood stove on the side of the street.  And another, more poo.  Then finally down an alleyway littered with, yes, once again, poo, that takes us out to thousands of Ghats, (a series of steps leading to a body of water) methodically outlining the shore of the Great Ganges River.  Men, women, children and babies covering every inch of their body with the “holy water” chatting amongst each other, ignoring the tourist snapping an unholy amount of pictures (yes, I am guilty.)  Hindus come from all over to bathe in the holy water of the Ganges to supposedly wipe away their sins. Along the shoreline, children skip school, and instead sell flowers and trinkets to try to earn anything they can by the end of the day for their parents approval.

As the sun set, a faint glow of lights reflected on the border of the river.  A woman wailing in the dark, as the corpse of her loved one is being carried to one of the cremation sites to be burned and ashes spread over the Ganga.  Many Hindus, upon their dying days, will pilgrimage to Varanassi in order to be cremated.  The cremation happens on day ten of a ten day mourning ceremony.  The bodies are brought down from a hospice about 30 yards up from the water, wrapped in silk and flowers, carried by family, then taken to the water and dunked in, the silk is then removed, the flowers discarded, and then put over a pile of wood to be burned.  The smell of the blazing wood and bodies in the air leaves a burning sensation in your nose and eyes. 

We viewed this ceremony not through a tinted window, or from a look out miles away, but from a boat about 10 feet in front of us. None of us said a word for the hour tour. We all just sat in shock, as over 15 bodies shriveled up and their human bones were thrown into the water a few inches from our boat.  The locals drink, bathe, and swim in this scummy, cesspool of the deceased, but in their eyes it will cleanse, heal and save their existence.  This is their way of life.  This is what they believe.  This is their religion.  And it stirs emotions in the deepest part of your soul.  The rest of the night was quite quiet, as we all were still taking in this place we had traveled 16 hours on a cockroach infested sleeper train to come see.  But it was worth it all.

It is like a slap in the face to all your senses.  It awakens, but assaults every chakra in your body.  Two days was just enough for me.  The dirt and grime of India mixed with the ancient, majestic architecture and structure of the old city, swirled with a bewildering spiritual buzz and chime, clings onto your soul like a mosquito sucking flower fresh perfumed skin.  I will never ever forget this place, the feelings, the people,the energy, and of course, the crap.  Onward to the Taj Mahal…

“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul”- Oscar Wilde

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Donna
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 22:59:14

    Johanna, I am sitting and just staring at your words. WOW. You must write a book – a journal of your travels. you write so beautifully.

    I remember once asking a friend who had traveled all over the world, what place did he enjoy the most or like the best. He said India, because it was soooo different from our country, our culture, so different than anything we know.

    He took the pictures of the people in the water, He talked about the children, the filth. Again, all i can say is wow. wow. Thank you. Love you! (aunt) Donna haha


    • jojobee6
      Feb 13, 2012 @ 18:14:32

      Aunty Donna (you know you are part of the family:) Thought of you often and sending you a little something from my travels…for my #1 reader!!! Hope you are well and sending you lots of love!


  2. Melissa
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 12:23:27

    Great blog post, Johanna! Next time try Mumbai (Bombay), it is much different than most of India. Not dirty and still full of culture. I put a tour package together for Mumbai that was very inexpensive and the hotels were close to luxury. If you decide to go, I have many suggestions, like going during the Diwali festival in November, and checking out the University of Mumbai. Also, the Ellora and Ajanta caves in Aurangabad are incredible (google image them). There are also luxury hotels near by that are around $50 US per night and similar accommodations would cost $250-$400 elsewhere in the world. Glad you got to experience it and you see the beauty in everything, even if it’s covered in shit! Love reading of your travels! Be safe out there and keep blogging! ❤


  3. janet
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 05:53:25

    I am vicariously loving india. Your words and photos transport me there.
    Am thoroughly enjoying your blogs! Thank you! Will copy for Nona.
    Aunt Janet


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