Varanasi 07.03.11

This next post may repeat certain things and may not be the easiest flowing post i have done. But it is how it was and i was defiantly rattled by the constant barrage. The next post to follow has all the fire explosive qualities people who know me will recognize but also the soothing cool winds of spirit and understanding. I hope it all sits well with you it is how it was and i am as i am and i’m learning.

Varanasi 07.03.11

(Pictures at

I’m not sure right now how I feel. I am getting worn down I think and a discovery today rattled me also it seems that no matter what happens here if a kindness is shown to me or from me, no matter how small, within a minute a hand is stuck out and so I am missing conversation as I have become guarded. I have been suckered in so many times only to realize somebody wants to sell me hash. I have never liked street sellers, so I am ashamed to say that I have simply resorted to telling them to f off and it hasn’t been once or twice.

I’d decided that I would go straight down to the Ganges and swim across again. I changed into my Primarks and walked the 200 meters down the alleyway around the corner and down the steps to the waters edge, but you would think Indians had never seen bare legs before and ok, I’m trying to get some sun on them but gosh, I wish they would loose their Victorian ridiculousness. A young guy came running up to me shouting hysterically

“You cannot dress like that, this is India,” he said “What about the ladies”

I tried to get a word in and explain that I was going swimming, anybody with half a brain would have twigged it, but he began getting in the way trying to stop me walking down the narrow street.

He kept yelling “This is India, you cannot dress like that” It was when he started to wave a stick that a coldness began to rise in me. I told him to get out of my way before I loose my temper. It rattled me all that morning, in retrospect I think he was either jealous or he quite liked what he saw. Then around the corner is a dark passage you have to walk through a man was sat cross legged with a pipe and snake in a basket, I simply stopped and looked, then a painted “holy man” came up to my side and nudged me hard to give the guy some money, I nudged him back and indicated that I was in my swimming trunks and so it was unlikely that I had any loose cash on me. He gave me a look which I returned full on. Later I gave him a shell that I had swam for. Didn’t Krishna blow upon a shell, I though peevishly, well here is a shell then, find some meaning in it.

I walked down the enormous  stone steps to the waters edge and joined the other half naked people down there. I wondered where to get in at first as the water was clogged all along the waters edge with rubble and filth.  So I went across to the bachelors washing their own clothes who also stared at me, I get it I’m pale skinned. I took my shirt off and climbed in but before I set out I was instructed that I couldn’t enter with my sandals on as the river was sacred, which actually made me laugh out loud at them.  I have also come to the conclusion that in fact the Indians are very possessive with mother Ganges (Ganga) or take the opportunity to have a little power trip and bully well meaning visitors. I was having non of it and in retrospect could be why I was receiving so much flak.

It was a harder swim that morning, the current was a little stronger though still pleasant and I didn’t see so many unidentified floating objects though I again kept my head well above the water. I walked out the other side the boys there looked up but just carried on fixing their boat. Maybe they thought

“ Mick’s here again”  As I walked up onto the shore of wind blown fine white sand and dried rock like mud then walked along peacefully collecting little snail shells again happy to be away from the crowd. I gazed back across the river awed by the magical scene of ancient Varanasi, then to my astonishment there beached but half floating on the waters edge was a body. I didn’t believe it at first. It was wrapped in shinning orange robes and still tied to the stretcher, the head had been exposed. It was a man. There were dogs sniffing around, it was just so matter of fact. I thought I was ok with it and some part of me is, but the other part is just amazed that they have dumped bodies into the river. There are signs everywhere that say “Keep Ganga Clean” it is not clean and at this time of year the bodies do not wash away and I was told they don’t burn some bodies because they are unclean with either disease or poison. I have wondered what to think, it honestly isn’t my sensibilities that are upset, I get it, the mythology and legend and tradition and all that, but it is again about the pollution. It tore me apart all that day actually. I swam back, came out the other side not sure what to think, I had my bag of shells. The old men all looked at what I had bought back from the lands of the dead, every move I made was scrutinized and I was loosing touch with my better side.

I went back showered and felt remarkably clean and peaceful, it is interesting note just how clean I felt coming out from there. I actually felt like I shone which again surprised me each day as the feeling was always the same. I then went for a walk through the lanes and ended up y accident at the burning Ghat again. I had tried to avoid it but got myself in a situation because I had been taken pictures of the wood piles and a fresh built pyre though it had no body on it and so I didn’t see the harm. (Next day I observed a whole Bollywood film crew filming the burning Ghat for an action film or so I was informed) Anyway a guy arrived on the roof top where I’d got too and said that what I was doing was wrong I was genuinely full of remorse and thought I had in fact crossed a line. I offered to delete all I had taken. I recall at the time that he seemed shocked that I would do that with out being asked. He insisted that I didn’t and instructed me too follow him and that if I try to run he would call the relatives of the dead and they would chase me and smash my camera, I made a move to go but another guy blocked me with a few standing off to the side. One said “You like trouble, I think you like trouble” The leader assured me that he would call the relatives and to go with him. So I walked with him, then he started telling me about all the poor people who need help and cannot afford to buy wood and that it will cost at least 150r for the wood. Which I new instantly was way under price and so he was lying. I got mad.

I basically told him and his friend that if they wanted to fight me that It was ok with me and lets do it right there and then, that I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt but they would be the first two going down and they most certainly were gonna get hurt. The old guy changed his tune and was all apologetic and now begged me to go with him, to see the house of the poor people who were preparing to die and could not afford their funeral, and in fact I still felt a wave of guilt for taking the photos. So I said

“Take me to a place where there are poor people who need some money and I’ll give you what I have” I meant it, so we stepped into a doorway and went up a flight of stairs which led to a huge windowless room where smoke from the pyres  below blew through and had coated the place with ash and blackened the ceiling, all my alarms went off. Sat there on a mat on her own was an old woman who grinned up at me and held out her hand. The old woman was probably with his mother, he pointed to great block buildings across the way, they were the houses of the people who were waiting to die he said.

“Well take me there” I said

“They are closed” he said.  At that point I saw it all and said after a moment hesitation “If I ever meet you again, and you dare to threaten me like that again or even talk to me I’ll beat you down the nearest steps” I walked out, squared up with each one of the guys waiting at the bottom, they backed off. It could have been ugly and I could have got badly hurt and would have had no help there but I fronted it out and made it away. I did feel bad for taking the photo and I had offered to go back tomorrow to a real place and to help with what ever I could do, but the guy was a Ghoul I’d seen him the day before hovering around the fires of the dead praying again on visitors who had come to learn. He was the disrespectful one I decided I would not credit him with such sensitivity and take it as a rough lesson I just learned.

I have wandered along the river front deeply rattled by both these incidents, I dreamt last night that my room was crawling with cockroaches I woke and thought I saw them all across the floor and under the bed. I have wondered if I have upset something here.  I had a coffee later on and just sat by the river wondering what on earth I am doing here. Is this a holy place? If it is I don’t connect with the gods of the here, I miss the forests, the woods and the fresh breath of the ocean.

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