Friday, November 30, 2007

Holy Varanasi

After being warned countless millions of times about what a vile and wretched place Varanasi is, I found out that everybody was wrong. Without a doubt, this ancient city is one of the most beautiful and amazing places on Earth.

After the long and trying train ride from Kolkatta, (which is known for it’s vileness and decay and I can not agree more), on a roach infested three tier coach, we were met at the station by the hotel clerk in order to avoid the so called ‘Varanasi shakedown’ of scandalous touts and potential thieving murderers. After zigzagging through the mad streets, breathing in the heavily polluted excuse for air, we were dropped off at the no vehicle zone with no porters to take us into the maze of the old city. We managed to pull our luggage through the tiny streets, avoiding the piles of sacred cow dung that dotted the path. When we reached the top of the stairs to Scindhia Ghat, I shook my head and said, “No More!” This is a land where porters are vying for your every rupee and the cost of hiring someone to carry the ugly American load down the steps is very small. But in India, that cost, say 50 rupees, is just about a hair less than the 55 rupee a day minimum wage. At the current exchange rate, it’s a fraction over a dollar. Never was a dollar better spent.

Up the tiny staircase and into the hotel room at Scindhia Guesthouse we plodded, through the room and out onto the balcony and then, (a chorus of Indian song accompanied by sacred bells) there it was, the sacred Ganges opened out into the mist and all sins became absolved in an instant. Boats dotted the river and nary a sound of an auto or motorcycle ensued because, praise Shiva, the vehicles are not allowed.

“This is the real India”, I said to my companion.

For two days I listened to the bells, I hung out and drank tea with sadhus, I walked the path along the ghats, I took a boat ride down the Ganges, I explored the tiny narrow streets which were shared by cows and a multitude of newly born puppies, I watched bodies being brought to the burning ghats and cremated, and I watched fishers fish for food and thousands of people take a daily bath of purification in the holy, horrifically polluted, sacred Mother Ganga.

A plea:

Indian Government are you listening? If you are, please take some of the country’s money (that has been unethically pilfered away into Swiss bank accounts) and build the badly needed sewage treatment plants that are needed to restore the Ganges to health. That is my request.

And while you are at it, please continue on the path of enlightenment and fix the water problems, roads, wiring and other basic infrastructure that are in such a sorry state of disrepair all over India. Oh, and as long as I’m asking please continue to demand education for the 800 million folks who are badly in need of some, who are obviously clever yet are not given the time of day by those in power. Give them medical facilities, and staff those facilities with doctors and nurses and medicine. Is that so much to ask considering how much money India is making these days?

Why India? Why do you have to be such a mess? You have such amazing potential, why should you be allowed to just crumble away into dust?
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