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Archive for January 30th, 2010

Varanasi, India
Cow in street garbage

On the river Ganges, the sacred city of Varanasi is sensory overload. “Is that micro shop’s (maybe 3X4X5ft) shopkeeper really sitting in the lotus position while doing business by reaching over the cow lying in the alley; while a monkey swings from the wires above carrying undergarments, as a women chases the monkey with a broom while screaming in Hindi; while we eat samosa’s  (deep fried dumplings) directly from the boiling hot oil of a coal fire built atop an old paint can“? Yes, but of course he is! “Is that guy really peeing against the wall while that women washes her clothes and self in the Ganges; while that boy cleans chai tea cups in the same water as they are pushing the cremated remains (upwards of a hundred a day) bodies into: while the holy men smoke hash pipes with their nearly naked bodies are covered in bright orange and white pant and fully dusted in fire ash ”. Yes, but of course he is. “Are those guys really directing those trained pigeons with flags and walling noises while those boys try and cut each others kites atop the same roof that the guy is making buffalo crap fuel as the women sleeps on the more dried dung”? Yes, but of course they are. “Are those Muslim guys really cutting themselves and bleeding across the chest as they reenact the murder of one of their martyrs while others beat haunting drums and wail as we look down at the mayhem from the rooftop”?  Yes, but of course they are.  “Is that guy really feeding those hundreds of squealing frantic monkeys while more hundreds of Hindu wipe off the excess orange blessing paint onto the walls of the shrine so as it drips a brightly colored goo over the shrine“? Yes, but of course he is. Welcome.

Gulls and the Ganges

A 150rp ($3) room, all you can eat street food for under a dollar, new friends from around the world, sunrise and sunset boat rides on the filthy but somehow magical river; Varanasi will charm you or frustrate you – you decide.  Upon arriving at the train station 4 of found ourselves at the curb together, and we quickly made introductions, secured a rickshaw, and agreed to check out a guest house that one of the group had heard about….fast friends, and we spend the next 4 days traveling together; fantastic.

Hindu Holy man (Sadhu0

I needed to get a Hepatitis B booster and the guide book suggested that Varanasi had a very good western hospital. I walked across town along with the cows, water buffalo, taxis, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, thousands of people, hundreds of dogs, and dozens of monkeys until I found a good landmark in the local University. Then I began asking for directions.  The key to asking direction is to NEVER point or say is the Hospital “this way”.  The reason being is that people do not want you to loose face and thus if you act like you know where you are going they will often confirm your direction even if it is completely wrong.  So, keep your hands at your side and simply ask “do you know where the hospital is”.  The second key is do not go very far before you repeat this process.  After you ask a half dozen times a pattern will develop and you will get a since if you are on the right path. Regardless, keep asking and soon enough someone you ask will point up and laugh because you will be at your destination.

Vegetables, motorcycles, cow, and people

Upon finding and reflecting on the hospital, I am thinking the author maybe has never actually been in the west and seen a western hospital.  Regardless, the security guard recognized I was totally confused by the mass of human suffering in the waiting room and took me to see a doctor whom I showed my international vaccination card, and explained what I needed.  “No problem, you have the vaccine, I give you shot”. Humm, just so happens I am not carrying Hepatitis B vaccine in my backpack.  I explained this to rather large staff that was now interested in why this westerner was in their hospital, and they sent me to the pharmacy to secure the vaccine – that is different.  At the pharmacy, I explained again what I needed, showed them my shot history while they actually looked up the drug on a computer of all things….but no, we do not have any of that drug; in a country where Hepatitis is quite prevalent  “What is up with that Doc”? He simply shrugged, gave a slight head bobble and said: “We do not immunize in India, thus no drug”.

Man selling vegtables


Cows in alley

Ghats at sunrise

Bathing in the Ganges

Hindu women with Sadhu

For Janna

At sunset

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