Varanasi 08.03.11

Varanasi 08.03.11

(Pictures at

If you are going to read this one you have to read it all the way through, deal? Otherwise I could be in trouble.  I started writing this morning and this is how it was as it came off the pen.

I am not sure whether I have enjoyed the time here at all, perhaps I didn’t come here to enjoy, it is like nowhere I have ever seen before, but enjoy? I have not enjoyed the people here their company or their habits, in fact honestly, I don’t like them, but again maybe that is not what I came for, to make new friends and all that rubbish.

Their Gods haven’t touched me, because I don’t speak the language? Maybe, but something just doesn’t ring true with me. I had hoped it would but it doesn’t.  The city and the gods here are so old and dusty and practiced, traditional and suffocating superstitious and with all tradition comes repetition and with repetition amnesia and death.  The people worship the Idols themselves instead of using them to work on themselves. In my mind I see the snakes, monkeys, elephants and bulls as energies to be tapped into not worshiped. I have asked many times what each God has, what he she does and just about everybody except Pawan on the way to Jahnsi was unable to answer. Most people have just mumbled and said hard to explain, though to be fare it perhaps has to be lived and born into just as I know for example that St Christopher is the patron saint of travelers because he helped the boy Christ across the river right, and people ask for his blessings and other saints too, but honestly I would be hard pushed to know all the disciples names, but then again I don’t worship them, though for the record I have respect Christianity and am doing my best with Hinduism.

But the great chasm that I am finding it hard to cross is the streets of their cities, towns and villages that are piled high with filth and Varanasi is spectacular in its filth. The narrow lanes are rancid and filthy with garbage animal and human shit.  Men spitting and pissing everywhere and letting their children play in it. There are Rats, Mice, Cows, Bulls, Mongooses, Goats, Pigs and Dogs all of them covering the place in shit. I don’t call an army of starved tormented dogs covered in the worst kind of psoriasis scabs and rashes I have ever seen, chewing their backs and their legs till they are raw and bloody in maddening agony, holy.

People shoo the dogs away and seem half afraid of the huge cows and oxen that lumber through the lanes clogging them and degrading them. One or two people touch a passing horn now and again rather like we will avoid passing under a ladder in case of bad luck, just dumb superstition. If they are all so sacred get some sacred shit shovelers in here, animals and people I do not care how sacred were not meant to live in such close proximity in such filth, it is truly a wonder that disease has not ravaged the place.

I noticed well lets say it was hard to miss, the corner at end of the alley way which leads up to the Hotel front door, a pile of garbage and shit has been growing there and at various other corners for the last few days. I thought it can’t go on somebody ‘has to’ come and clean this up. Then low and behold today somebody has done. So proven, there is a service here, so why no bins?  The people who clear it up leave much of it scattered along the lane as it can be no pleasant job to clean it up, truly it is rancid.  I’m sure that Indians will make an excuse like oh I’m projecting my western values and all that nonsense and that it has always been this way , but I just don’t believe it. The people who built this city had dreams and ideas.  It is apathy and simple lack of will and why should I give a damn anyway right. Perhaps I have lived here in another life and am upset to find this once beautiful place turned into a shit heap.(I in fact did have a strange flash back but that is another story) Holy city, respect,  yeah right. It is all about immediate family here, behind closed doors or walls of the home metaphorically and actually, if it doesn’t intrude into the family and you can’t see it once your home it’s ok, what a crock. It is brushed out of sight and so it is out of mind, there must be a river of ‘non biodegradable’ filth flowing into the bay of Bengal from right across ‘Incredible India’ (isn’t that what the tourist board slogan is) hideous to think about it.

The political hierarchy or higher class or cast or what ever they call themselves in this country have made beggars of their people, they have made illiterates of their children and their countries future, they have starved their farmers into unimaginable poverty, they have turned their beautiful religion into a hollow meaningless charade that has no power to change anything except reassure the masses that there is a better world but that this somewhere unreachable right now, they should be ashamed and they are damned!!

We have our faults over in the west but right now I am sat here on the banks of the Ganges and for some reason I am deeply moved and angry at the F***ing lot of them. On many other levels I understand that in this world, for now, there will be suffering it is the way this world is whether the rivers are clean flowing, whether the oceans are dead or bountiful whether roads and alleyways are swept clean or filthy, whether the sacred animals have areas where they can wander and shit in. But enough is enough. It has to start somewhere.

Eventually the places that draw tourists come to scorn and ridicule the people who bring money and a living to their town, they forget the truth of these things and all the news that comes with visitors, I come from such a place I know its true. Hence my reluctance to call myself a tourist, shame on me too. To be fare there are many insensitive tourists but they are have come, will be taught and will be jarred and provoked by the things that happen on the banks of this river.

They spout the cliché about “I treat you as a god, as you are a traveler in my country.” It means nothing the real Indian God is green and has Ghandi’s face on it, you get nothing for nothing. The platitude lasts until you turn your back I am sure. Dead bodies (Not burned remember because they died of disease) washed upon the shore across the other side near a group of wealthy insular Indian tourists flattering themselves about being holy . Just down stream from both women wash there clothes, and a man scours the shore picking out the orange silk funeral shrouds from the waters piling them up in his boat to resell on the city side of the river. I can see a great pile of them in a yard below the restaurant where I sit, I might be making wrong connections, but I saw the mans boat piled with them. They have hit me at any and every opportunity for cash from the water front to the cleaner in the hotel yet had the bad manners to face me down for walking to the river to bathe, worse than Victorian frigidity, an arrogance spouted from a pig sty. I am absolutely tired of them and no I do not like them. I have decided that they get nothing more from me, I came open hearted and why should they care how I came, true enough, so why should I. They have lost an opportunity to know me and I no longer want to know them

Later, much later

A lovely Dutch couple called Caroline and Peter I came across reminded me

“Sometimes you have to work hard for the good feelings we know are inside ourselves, maybe that is the point”

I had to agree.

I’d left the hotel still stinging as I headed into the filthy lanes to have a look at the Golden Temple as it is virtually on the doorstep , well a dogs leg of a door step and a scabby leg that would be too. It was my third attempt to get in and I honestly didn’t care I just thought I should. I’d been earlier but they wouldn’t let me in because I had a pen. The day before because I had a camera, fair enough about the camera so this time I had nothing on me, I was searched by a disgusting cop who actually felt me up, and fondled my tits, I kid you not, I stood in front of him and spat out at him

“Would you like another feel” loud enough and aggressive enough to draw attention of the other cops and rubbed them suggestively at him, I didn’t give a damn he looked up at me he didn’t give a damn either, he waved me through, I called him

“Asshole” he understood but did nothing. It wasn’t even a sexual thing it was just a humiliation that the low life was in a position to dish out to tourists. I mean low life as it actually means, low vibration, genuinely he was.

Then I get to the actual entrance after a gauntlet of trash and trinket shops “inside” the walls (like a lot of temples I have seen here) and I’m waved into a side room where I’m told I need a passport. I was in disbelief,

“Are you HAVING A LAUGH” I said “Now I need a passport to get into a temple” I’d already taken all my stuff back to the hotel at the guard’s insistence. The guy went on to explain that it was regulations and they needed it in case something happed in the temple

“Like what?” I said “It’s a temple.” He asked me if I could remember the passport number. I said no at first but then changed my mind and said

“Actually no problem, yeah I can” I would just write any old number down as I could see by the dog eared book that nobody has ever looked at the book except maybe later when they could marvel at all the people from around the world who had visited their temple. Any way long story short I told them to stick it and began to walk away. At which point an army guy said something and I was allowed in with out my passport number, bureaucracy gone mad for sure.

So I’m in the temple precinct expecting reverence and tranquility like Madurai or Trichy or the golden temple but no, it was bedlam and I hated it. I sat and watched for a while at the two lines of people forced to queue because as we know people don’t like to queue in India as they are so wrapped up with themselves.  The queues led to either side of the shrine where they would enter the confines of the holy place and I quote

“Where God lives”

And there are people elbowing each other, kids screaming, women pushing and shoving, old people trampling and being trampled, People jabbing hard at each other and me to get past and get in there. I had sneered at first about not allowing a metal pen inside but once in there I could see that it might very well have been used to gouge somebody’s eye out, the guy on the desk had not been kidding. There were armed soldiers (although bare foot) at the doors to the shrine who were also getting knocked about and jostled and this goes on all day. It seems comical in retrospect and I suppose it is and I have heard that God does have a sense of humor, but at the time I was ashamed of them all and their behavior if this really was a major shrine and where “God lived” which I doubted it very much, but then again he’s a Hindu God and maybe he is cool and ok with the irreverence shown in his home. It had a gold dome, which was covered with dirt, it had white marble floors that were swept half heartedly of all the rubbish dropped in there. The God of the place must have a sense of humor and known great pity, more than I could muster right then, but I’m only a man after all.

I went to a restaurant I’d tried 2 days ago but the cook had still not shown. I had a coffee and meditated as it seemed so peaceful in there after all that foolishness. I’d felt the energy buzz in my hands, somebody wanted to talk so I closed my eyes and just opened up.

I saw the narrow confined alleyways and streets .They were crammed packed with people, 3 abreast tightly packed, they were all walking and nudging and mingling their way along. They came to some stone stairs that were covered with cow shit which had been dried and patted down tightly. I was then watching from the front, they were being led by a great black bull which climbed the steps ahead of them. I could see “They were all moving as a group, they were secure within their group and what they knew, they were traveling their road together” I then saw a river, and the Ghats and a birds eye view down stream to the left. The land grew narrower and there were less people. I understood that a more solitary road had its own rewards, perhaps deeper insights, but and because of those insights I understood that more would be expected from that person.

I realized later that that is exactly where I ended up actually down river and within myself and it was honestly unconscious at the time. You see I had decided then that I would not speak a word to anybody all day. Not a word and that is what I did. It seemed baffling to anybody who offered me, coke, opium, boat, hash, boat, photograph, hello, boat, Namaste, hash, where you from, hey, hello, you look, hello, boat, opium, what’s your name,  where you going, what hotel you stay, boat, hash, full strength, hi, hello, photograph, you come. Not a word… not a word from me for a good couple of hours and the further away from the burning Ghats I got, the less it got. I really got into a zone I gave nothing away and with nothing coming from me I passed them like a ghost.

Then a thing happened, I was looking down off the top of a Ghat when there below were a great crowd of Buffalo soaking in the river, heads just above the water, next to them a man crouched was washing his clothes , I couldn’t resist the photo of them, no big deal.

A little kid about 8 or 9 came running up.

“No photo, no photo” I wasn’t in the mood for being bullied by a 9 year old for taking a photo of a buffalo. I spoke my first words of the day

“Kiss my ass”

He said “No” Which amused me and I just carried on.

I decided to sit there for a while and just watch. A guy appeared with the most amazing physique not a muscle man, but a powerfully built man, fit and in his prime. He had a loin cloth tied on and that was all, it reminded me again of the confrontation the other day when I was going to swim, it defiantly was about the color of my skin. As the guy arrived more oxen appeared from up on the Ghat promenade they began to descend down the steps and crashing and splashing into the river, then the guy climbed  in with a great matted husk of sugar cane, he grabbed the first Buffalo and began scrubbing her, she loved it, he was rough but I supposed you had to be with such a huge beast so she would feel it and it wasn’t just a cat lick it was a proper scrub behind the ears between the legs under the chin reaching down to the legs, the lot, he did each one, it was amazing watching him handle them, and obviously where he developed his physique. I went across and said did he want a hand, I wanted to be in there and he had a lot of buffalo to clean, but he waved me away. Fair enough really as he had an amazing rapport with them and he didn’t know my strength, my sensitivity or my will he probably thought I would have been trampled, so I just sat and watched.

He split them up one by one after they’d been scrubbed and then came to the ‘Great Black Bull’ simply grabbed his horns firmly but with such a powerful persuasive push submerged him, we are talking a massive Black Water Buffalo Bull. There was love in his strong arms and sensitivity in his grip I could see it. He kept him under for some time scrubbing his head. He was familiar with them and they knew and trusted him I could see that too. But the bull when it emerged put his massive head down into the mud at the bank and dug it all up with his horns, he obviously thought it looked very attractive. He then majestically stepped out of the river slowly up the steps. So the guy leapt out nimbly and was around him up the steps in front of him. He drove the massive beast back into the river with shouts and calls which the bull defiantly understood. Once back in the river he again scrubbed him and talked to him very firmly, I kid you not. All the women buffalo stood around watching this and one or two got mud on them and so were also driven back into the water and scrubbed again. They honestly seemed to have done it on purpose so he would scrub them again. Then the Big BlackBull was then led up to a higher ground on a Ghat where all the girls could see him, the guy made a few calls and they all climbed out the water, up the stone steps to where he was, incidentally the whole area where he’d been tied, the railings too were covered with drying patted dung chapattis, so much for my casting stones at Hindu cleanliness, those animals shone after he’d done and seemed happy and content. I walked away downstream east towards the great bridge, I was still quiet though happier to have witnessed such a thing, care and familiarity with those great beasts, real spirituality demonstrated in front of me.

A little further along I came across a man stood waist deep in the water he was toying with a fishing net, and seemed to be doing something underwater with his feet, feeling for something and the net with his obviously sensitive hands and fingers. I sat directly above him on a Ghat where he didn’t notice me. He was all concentration I could see it in his eyes. Slowly, very slowly easing the net out of the water and folding it carefully over and over his arm. It was maybe 15 feet long perhaps more. He seemed to be working something, going around slowly in a smaller and smaller circle then maybe 10 or 15 minutes later he pulled the net with a yank and it was full of flapping fish. It was startling move and really took my breath.

He held the net aloft as he stepped onto the shore then crouched as he took the fish one by one and put them in a big blue plastic bucket. Then after he’d carefully readjusted the net he went back to the waters edge stood a second as if seeing into the waters then in a flash cast the net on a great wide circle on the water, the net was weighted and so quickly sank trapping any fish in its reach, it was then I understood what he was doing with his feet. He was moving the net circle closer together very gently with his toes so as not to spook any fish that might be in there, pushing the net down into the thick mud of the river bed to ensure nothing could escape.  I really loved just sitting there watching such a thing, seeing and understanding what he was doing with all of his body, noting the look on his face and the slight movements of his fingers, an ancient skill, somebody had been fishing here like that for thousands of years hadn’t they.

I had asked how I could relate to this place and I was being shown.  I was warming but still very quiet. I called in at the Mosque of Alamgir who’s dome stands out majestically against the sky line way up on the top along with all the other beautiful temples spires. A man called Mohammed open the gate and showed me in, I knew what was coming. Donation box was pointed out. I put something in the box, but then to my great irritation he tried to sell me hash inside the Mosque, I thought of my friends Mohammed, Shibbir and Shah I think they would have been outraged. I said

“You should be ashamed of yourself in your holy place.”

I have nothing against smoking, but come on time and a place, the hypocrisy of it all.

I set off walking through the lanes again. I came around a corner and noticed some old cartoon stylized painted figures on a bright lime green wall. I stopped to take a photo and a man appeared, he seemed gentle and invited me into the house, I didn’t trust but he seemed gentle so reluctantly I did. Inside were a few cows in the central court yard and the walls too painted lime pastel green. His Name was Bupa and I liked him instantly, I was expecting a hit for cash at any moment but it never came. He guided me gently up onto the breathtaking roof top. Balconies surrounded courtyards, I looked down to see women faces all looking up, stopped working to see who I was. He told me the place was a temple and the paintings were Rajasthan style. The house was called ‘Caganwally Havely House’ though I‘m sure I spelt it wrong.  The temple in there was called ‘Ram letchman’ Bupa told me he was ‘Pujaput’ which meant priest. I felt it as soon I stepped over the threshold, it felt ancient. He told me he and his family had been the caretakers for over 500 years now, which was older than the Mosque right next door, there had been a shrine there for over 700 years. The views were absolutely spectacular the air fresh and clean and I lit up. He introduced a striking woman as his sister,

“oh I’m your sister am I” she had said in plain English. I visited a few times over the next few days and there seemed to be some sort of feud going on within the walls, to many people perhaps in a confined space. The kids of course all came out and were playing and hustling me in a delightful way, I took photos of them and they squealed when they saw what they looked like. At one point one asked for a present and I saw Bupa wince, so after hamming it up a little I gave the kids some spends and it felt good for it to be my choice. Afterwards we settled down and talked about the river, the city, the tides and at times just sat quietly and said nothing. It was dearly the connection I had been looking for. I noticed his beads under his shirt and asked him if he was a Brahmin I saw him sparkle that I had noticed. It was when he really opened. I told him too about working as a healer and as my hands had been buzzing since I’d entered the place I let him feel the energy, he got it immediately.

At one point I simply felt a little emotional and had too look away as my eyes filled up, I realized that I had been feeling lonely and raw. I had simply wanted to connect, I didn’t need to go to the circus to watch the spirituality show, I wanted to feel it. As I had been saying there are rivers I have swum, forests I have walked, mountains I have climbed that I have felt the energy but I forgot to mention that there are great people I have met, simple people who exude it, I didn’t need to be taught by great masters right then I simply wanted to connect and so because of this simple meeting Varanasi was changed for me, I felt a sense of relief. Somebody normal at last.

I walked back though the narrow streets getting hopelessly and wonderful lost making my way to a place I had eaten in a few days before, it is where I met the Dutch couple, they were good company and laughed when they realized it was me who had been swimming across the river each day, they’d thought I was nuts. They have also given me great advice about getting up to Nepal. I didn’t trust the tour that has been offered from the Puja hotel, over priced and smiling, a long story but that is all for another day.

I have just been for a little late night walk through the deserted Gunnels and alley ways, I sat at the Shiva Ganesh temple at the little intersection at the end of the alley just down from the hotel. It was honestly another universe from where I had started out in the morning. It was peaceful except for the hum of the crickets. An old man who had been washing his pots and pans gave me a cigarette which I took and was grateful for, it was just a gesture and it meant a lot to me. I sat and smoked it sat on a doorstep in the half light. A young guy passed said good night, later another young guy came to sit and offered to share his spliff I declined with manners this time. He sat with me a while and watched the monkeys curled up in pairs above us some sleeping and others getting rowdy leaping from the window ledges far above us, as I sat there I realized that I just need some time to be still here and let the crumbling temples the uneven steps the cracked ancient paving stones, the cob webs the mice peeping out of the walls the bats and the people of the place get to me, I just wanted a little bit of privacy to be left to my own course to steer through the place to share the space for a few days, just to feel it. It is a wonderland and an incredible place, I have never been anywhere like it nor I doubt whether I ever will again, the young guy had been to a wedding and as we sat quietly he relaxed and just began to tell me stories about the Big Cobra that lived in the ancient decaying temple just in front of us, he had seen it one night and stood back amazed and prayed. He said everybody knew the Cobra lived there and so the temple had been left for it to live in undisturbed.  He enjoyed telling the stories and I enjoyed listening. The old man waved good night from down the alley way. We sat and laughed quietly at the monkeys above us, I told him this is really what I had come to Varanasi for. He nodded and said

“I am happy you no smoke”

“So am I” I said

Today has been darkness and a bright light at the end of a tunnel, rather like the light of the hotel foyer at the end of the end of the stinking alley way as I walked back. I love the place warts and all of course I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings, she is not my type, she is perhaps too old for me and has a mean streak that needs to be approached in the right way, it wont be easy but I will do my best to respect her with the time I have left here.

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