6.04.2009

More Impressions: Varanasi

Charlton:

Less than a day left in Varanasi. Let me be clear about a few things. First, I don’t particularly care for this city. It’s dirty, pushy, smelly and many other choice adjectives. Countless times I’ve almost stepped in cow poop (fine), seen dead bodies (ok), watched old men pee (getting worse) or gotten hassled by a tout (yeah, that’s the worst). That being said, I’m glad that I came. Once you dig deeper than the warts on the surface, there is an immense amount of history to this place. Additionally, walking alongside the ghats, you can see how important this city is for those who are actually there for the river, rather than those trying to make money off of it. When we leave, Kristen and I will have been here for about three days. In those three days I’ve seen more than I’ve seen in my whole life previously. I’ve seen everything good in a person and everything bad. I’ve seen life and I’ve seen death. I’ve seen Varanasi, and I don’t think I’ll be seeing it again.

Update: I wrote that on Wednesday and now that we are in Delhi (by the way, we got to Delhi), just a little bit has changed about what I wrote. To summarize quickly, Varanasi is ancient, beautiful, spiritual etc… however the relentless feeling of everyone trying to bamboozle you is too much. Maybe one day it’ll clean part of its act up, but until that day I’d have a hard time convincing myself to go back.

Kristen:

It’s hard for me to summarize my thoughts about Varanasi. I knew very little about the city, and I don’t think anything I read before coming here prepared me. Varanasi is India intensified. While in Hyderabad, I was sheltered from many of the negatives people associate with India; but without the safety of a guide let alone a private car, I am forced to experience all that is good and bad. Your senses are assaulted. You feel everything at once. There is no silence, no peace.

I have tried hard to like it here, to find the goodness. There are so many people who consider this a holy place and can see the beautiful of the city, of the river and its people. Every time I see something beautiful, I see something horribly disgusting. There is no in-between here.

The women wear beautiful saris of the most vibrant colors. Religious ceremonies draw crowds of respectful followers. Children swim playfully in their inner tubes.

People wash their clothes yards from where bodies are burned. Clothes dry on sidewalks covered in urine and excrement. Dogs are beat in alleyways. Motorcycles overtake children in narrow alleys. Children refill water bottles with tap water to sell. Men try to force commissions for “assisting” you to find an autorickshaw. Men molest tourists (me) in crowded streets.

I have experienced and seen more in the last three days than I have seen in my entire life. I arrived here naïve and open, I will leave older and hardened. The ugliness of this place has far exceeded any of its beauty.
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