India - Love and hate it

Trip Start Sep 19, 2012
Trip End Jul 22, 2014

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I have now been in Varanasi for a week and tomorrow I catch the the train to Darjeeling. I leave Varanasi with very mixed emotions as some bits I have loved and others have driven me mad.

One thing that I cant understand is that other travelers are so unfriendly. There are plenty of them about and I smile and greet them but get very little response in return. I thought we could chat and compare travel notes and swap tips and routes but no it doesn't happen. The other day I was sitting at the waters edge and a young Canadian couple sat down a few feet from me. The girls' boots were covered in mud and rubbish and she was trying to scrape it off with bits of paper that was lying on the ground. I offered her my bottle of water and some toilet paper and hardly got a word of thanks.

I have seen a lot of 40+ woman walking around. Most of them wearing clothes that normally they would not be seen in at home. I think they have all read Eat, Sleep, Pray and have come to India to seek enlightenment and peace. Most of them look uncomfortable, hot , sweaty and very disgruntled.

I have spent hours wandering around the twisting maze of lanes. I have got lost many times. Some alleys are only a few feet wide but are lined with doorways and shops. Some shops are as small as cupboards but all have their goods displayed and hanging in the alleys. Bicycles, scooters, people and cows all bustle and force their way through the squeeze.

I have seen filth like you cant believe. The streets are littered with rubbish, shit and stagnant water. There is such chaos on the roads it is hard to describe. What we would accept as a normal 2 way street does not exist. There are no lanes or rules. One can drive in any direction you like and it is not compulsory to stay on the left. One can go around a traffic circle any way you like from any direction. There is a constant deafening noise of hooters and bells. People walk in the roads as the pavement does not exist. You have to watch 360 degrees for traffic and people as well as look down to avoid the litter and piles of cow shit. You are constantly hassled by Tuk Tuk or rickshaw drivers asking if you need a ride. I am constantly propositioned to buy the best super Duper brown sugar, coke, hash, mushrooms and a smorgasbord of other drugs. It doesn't matter how many times you say No they will follow you down the road for 5 minutes.

Everyone is looking to hustle. The other evening I was sitting by the river when a little girl about 8 or 9 comes and sits next to me. She speaks very good English and starts to print a little design on my knee with powders and stencils. She tells me this is free as she is my friend. When she has finished she then fishes in her bag and tries to sell me postcards. When I decline she looks at me with a tear in her eye and her lower lip pouting and says " you have broken my Heart" It was so touching I gave her some rupees. I just got the emotional con. Ten minutes later I heard her give the same speech to another tourist. She's good!

I was drawn back to the Burning ghats today. Not sure why but I sat there for a few hours to observe the proceedings. You realise that we come into this world with nothing and you leave with nothing. I have never attended a funeral in my life as I do not agree with the pomp and ceremony of a christian burial. What happens here is just a way of life and a duty to be carried out. It is every Hindus desire to be cremated here. A lot of old people and sick people come to Varanasi when they feel it is their time and live in the most appalling 'hospices' with absolutely nothing and just wait to die. They are given free cremations or relay on donations that are fleeced from tourists.

While I sat there I witnessed a number of bodies being cremated. I also saw a family paddle about 50 meters from the bank and submerge a weighted body into the river. Again there was no emotion. Just paddle out, push the body into the water and paddle back. I saw kids with large magnets 'fishing' in the water for jewelry. I met an Indian man on the banks and he said " Burning is Learning". I don't know what I have learnt but have found a sense of peace in Varanasi. Even though it is one of the most chaotic, noisy, dirty busy places that I have been to.

Chai - Indian Tea. I have become seriously addicted to this. It is sold every where on the streets and in Mumbai there were Chai sellers walking up and down the promenade. Chai is made with boiled milk, lots of sugar and sometimes has ginger or Marsala added. it is always served scalding hot in either little glass tumblers, paper cups and even little clay dishes (these are thrown on the floor when empty). It is cheap, refreshing and very tasty. I love my chai.

Another refreshing drink is a Lassi. This is basically like a thin drinking yoghurt that is served cold either salted, sweet or fresh fruit flavours. Then you get a Bhang or special Lassi. Special herbs are put in a blender with the lassi and this becomes a Narcotic potion that induces mild hallucinations and  euphoria. Much the same as a dagga cookie. He He

What I don't like besides the litter is the constant spitting by most of the people, even the woman. This starts with 2 or 3 good retching rasps from the back of the throat and then projected any where in the near vicinity. a lot of people chew a mixture of paste with herbs, spices and crushed fruit. This is sold on every street and you can get your own flavours made up and sold to you an a little leaf. This can be chewed for hours and the idea is to hold the juice in your mouth for as long as possible. So when you speak to someone it is if their mouth is half full of water or trying to get an answer from someone while they are brushing their teeth. This mixture turns bright red and eventually this to is spat out onto the ground in great big gobs of red spittle. It is truly disgusting.

The other thing that one must never do is shake hands with someone you meet on the street. Once they have hold of your hand they will not let go until they have tied a Holy string around your wrist, or start giving you a massage or try and paint something on your hand. All will cost you money unless you are rude and just rip your hand away.
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