Off the beaten path and well out-of-the-way of the tourist trail, the back streets of Old Varanasi are a maze of catacomb-like alleyways. I would highly recommend walking them as much as possible. There are sights back here that would be hard to find anywhere else, including museums. From thousand plus year old statues and architecture to people just living out their lives.
You enter what looks like tunnel only to come out into a thin strip of lighted roadway, paved with ancient cobblestones, only to have to side-step a cow, look up to see an ancient statue over the archway of a newly appointed guesthouse, people working and washing in the street. A maze of wires above, turn the corner and there are none, turn another only to run into a temple, round another for another amazing view. It all sounds quite quaint and normal here, on the internet, but its anything but, almost anywhere else in the world but here that is. If you’re there, don’t miss the chance to walk these streets, it’s well worth the effort, the heat, the smell and everything else you can’t experience in a picture.
Another shot that goes well with my recently posted story on Varanasi. A shot of what I think has to be one of the worst jobs in the world, or at least that I have witnessed. The guys in the water, well, they’re panning for gold. No, that’s not bad really, until you realize they are in the Ganges, at the Manikarnika Ghat, and the fire in the foreground is not just a fire, it’s a funeral pyre. The Manikarnika Ghat is a cremation ghat along the Ganges River. There is a body in there. OK, so they’re panning for gold in front of a burning body, no biggie, right? Wrong. They are panning through the ashes of the dead and burned looking for any gold or precious stones or metals that may have gotten through. Gold teeth, jewelry, hair pins, etc, etc. They are panning peoples ashes. What makes it worst is that the occasional body part makes it through the fire, which they just toss further into the river, yikes.
It’s a holy river, it’s a revered site, it’s considered very lucky to die and be burned here. I’m not arguing that, and I do have to say that it is fascinating (to me at least) but man, I wouldn’t want that job, no way. It’s a different world though, and I’m sure I would be happy just to have a job if I lived there as well.
One of the three men I met on the streets in Varanasi, just waiting there to die, from the story posted here. Maybe they couldn’t choose how rich or how poor they were in life, or how they were going to die, but they could, and did, choose where they would die. That’s a lot better than most in my opinion, and they were quite happy for the choice.
When I was looking at the pictures of this particular man, after talking to him and sitting with him on the street, I couldn’t help but think …the body may be saying die, but those eyes, they say live. He is probably gone, for a while now really, but who knows. He may still be sitting there on a street, above a ghat, waiting, watching, smiling, still happy for the choice of where. Who knows…
It’s one of those places. The places that you see in pictures, on TV, on the internet, in books. One of those places that can’t really be fully understood until experienced. One of those places that you can spend all day, week, month or year researching and still never know what it is truly like. It can be imagined, but never really fully understood. You form expectations and conclusions based on your own mind and experiences, a picture that you can wrap your thinking around, but can never truly understand without going there, walking the streets, seeing and talking to the people, smelling the air, listening to the noise. It’s one of those places where all senses are needed, as well as assailed, at every twist, turn and corner.
Sometimes…you just have to be happy with what you have.
A two sided comment, referring to this venerable Sadhu,
sitting on the ghats of the Ganges, but also referring to myself.
This was one of those “On my God, I gotta get a picture of this guy”
moments. Even though I couldn’t “move” him, get him with a better background,
or position him in better light, I still had to get what I could get.
Note: for those that have never tried to move an older Sadhu
from his position of meditation, while surrounded by his “followers”
or students, well, good luck.
August 8, 2009