04 June 2009

Depart Varanasi : Arrive Delhi

Ok, after three exciting, educational, frustrating, disgusting days in Varanasi, we arrived in Delhi. Let's recap the day. Starting off the average temperature in Varanasi for the days we have been there is about 105 degrees Fahrenheit plus whatever warmth the sun provides to get a total heat index of about 115 degrees or so. That is F-ING hot. That's the only way to describe it. So basically this morning we decided to sleep in as long as our air conditioning was on. In addition to being unfathomably hot Varanasi has surprise brownouts. These little nuggets of power outages come sometime or another, usually when it is F-ING hot out and you're hiding out from the heat. At any rate, our brownout came at 8am which triggered us to go get breakfast of delicious porridge and bananas. After breakfast our power was mercifully on. We hung out until lunchtime, then got lunch paid for our hotel and got one final Varanasi "screw you". Our hotel booked us a cab to the airport. The ride is about one hour and when they picked us up it was in a big air-con SUV. No such luck this time. Instead, we traveled to the airport in an Ambassador. This car is a British era relic from the 50's (probably 1650). It's essentially a tin car on wheels and no AC. So the drive to the airport consisted of us sitting by the window staring out. Since it was so hot out the breeze wasn't that much of a breeze. If you want to get the feeling at home go turn your car on and stick your face directly in front of the the exhaust and you'll get an idea.

We then got to the airport in Varanasi which is pretty much a lovable dump and have the following fun occur:

- Flight delayed by 1.5 hours. Flights are delayed here as if arriving on time would cause the plane to incinerate.
- Me having the excitement of pushing a fat man trying to cut in line.
- Kristen getting felt up by a lady security guard.
- Watch a drunk guy get in a fight with security and subsequently getting kicked out of the airport.

So after much trial we made it to Delhi. Got our driver who didn't know where he was going, but finally making it here. Phew!

This is India.

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More Impressions: Varanasi


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.


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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First Impressions: Varanasi

(This is from Tuesday) Today is our first full day here Varanasi. There is hardly anything you can say about it that hasn’t been said before. To experience it for the first time is something indescribable.

As stated before it was a somewhat long journey to get here. We departed our hotel in Hyderabad at 7am to make our 10:30am flight. Our flight didn’t leave until 11am. When we arrived in Delhi to make our Varanasi flight we only had 40 minutes between flights and needed to collect our checked bags as well as switch terminals. While in the U.S. we might have just gone home as there would be no way we could make it, this is India. We checked in for our Varanasi flight only to find it had been delayed an hour. We arrived at Varanasi at about 4:30pm and had an hour car drive from the airport to the city. I use the term drive loosely. Rather than a drive, it was more like a suicide mission. There were at least ten times that we were feet away from a head on collision. Fortunately we were in a very large car. Still unnerving. Despite our best efforts we managed to check into our hotel around 6pm.

For a brief history of Varanasi for the uninitiated here are my quick facts about the city. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world (3,000 years or so) and is one of the major religious cities in the world. The city is built along the river Ganges and has steps or ghats leading up to the banks of the river. These ghats and water are used for many things including bathing, washing clothes, swimming, etc… in addition, dead bodies are set afloat in the river. Since the Ganges is very sacred to Hindus, if you die in the river it is considered a release from the life and death cycle. Hence, Varanasi is a very important city.

Back to the recap, at 7pm we went with a local guide to walk alongside the ghats which included a stop at a Hindu temple. While we were there, we watched a ceremony where a priest twirled fire around an altar. Neither of us completely understood the ceremony but it was very moving nonetheless. After the temple we got VIP seats to watch the artii ceremony which takes place at one of the ghats every single night. When we were done there we took a long walk through the back alleys back to our hotel. We got back early so we could prepare for our 5am boat ride the next day.

Tuesday Morning –

This morning we got up at 5am to take a 1.5 hour boat ride on the Ganges. We met our boatman who then did a ritualistic prayer (which included drinking some of the Ganges water) and we were on our way. I had never seen anything like this. There are countless people bathing all up and down the river with the picturesque background of the city. We passed a few burning ghats where we witnessed a few dead bodies taking their last rites before being burnt and set off in the river.

After this experience we went for a walk alongside the ghats and alleyways nearby, while it isn’t relaxing due to the number of touts and other strange people, it’s still something that is fairly enjoyable.

Overall, my view of Varanasi is favorable but the best way for me to describe it is part of me wants to pack up and leave immediately, while another part of me wants to unpack and stay as long as possible. Never before have had I felt that way about a place that I’ve visited but there is a first time for everything.
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