Varanasi: Our First Experience with India

23 Sep

When you’re standing near a fire, and the wind changes direction, blowing hot smoke in your face, it feels like one of the worst things ever. Your eyes start to burn and water and your lungs seize up, as you turn away and start to cough. Now imagine the fire you are standing next to isn’t a normal fire, but a fire in the midst of cremating a body. We all experienced that in the holy city of Varanasi, India.

Eric:  Dogs, rats, cows, monkeys, pigs, donkeys all roaming the streets and alleys of Varanasi. The streets are like a zoo.

Dane:  There’s nothing like having to go shoulder-to-shoulder with a cow in a narrow alleyway just to get to where you need to go.

Eric:  Or being confronted with a cobra and a man who made it seem like he would let the cobra bite you as you walked by unless you gave him a “donation!”

Alan:  Everyday we had to step over a two hundred year-old dying woman who was constantly moaning and muttering and whose face detailed every pain she had been through in her life.

Eric:  Varanasi was by far the most chaotic place I had ever been. There is no order anywhere you go. The only consistency in this place is that no matter where you want to go a tuk-tuk will take you there for 100 rupees (~2 USD).

Dane:  Of course, we’re probably still getting ripped off there. The locals that piggybacked on our tuk-tuk rides, payed 10 rupees max.

Alan:  And the bribes offered to the police officers, so the tuk-tuk could drive in non-tuk-tuk areas, was only 5 rupees.

Dane:  There aren’t really traffic jams on the street. There are just jams of everything. People selling things, people asking for “donations,” rickshaws, tuk-tuks, soldiers, children, cows, pedestrians. It all gets jammed up together.

Alan:  You forgot the dead bodies being paraded through the streets on their way to the ghats.

Eric:  Yeah, it was a real shock when we saw that first dead body being dunked in the Ganges.

Alan:  Ceremoniously.

Dane:  Especially since the first body had its face exposed. Most of the rest were fully covered.

Eric:  I woke up one morning and smelled the familiar smell of a bonfire on my shirt. Then, I realized it wasn’t the smell of a typical bonfire.

Alan:  Around the ghats, especially the burning ghats, there’s sort of an eerie feeling.

Dane:  The fires were pretty stunning the first night, though, when we stumbled upon it. It’s very serene. Very powerful.

Alan:  But that feeling is interrupted when you are asked for a “donation.”

Eric:  Or if you want to buy hash.

Dane:  At least we were spared from being asked to buy things or donate toward things when we caught that boat ride along the banks of the Ganges.

Eric:  Yeah, the sunset cruise was nice.

Alan:  Except we couldn’t stray too far from the shore, or the buildings that met the edge of the water, because the police might see our boat.

Dane:  Yeah, the Ganges is still flooded from the rainy season, so the police have ordered all the boat drivers to stay off the river. But some enterprising young Indians are flouting that order or bribing the cops to look the other way.

Alan:  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a full view of the city at sunset.

Eric:  We could still see the pilgrims bathing in the water to purge their sins. And putting that horrible water in their mouths! Some sins just aren’t worth getting rid of.

Dane:  Hahahaha. All right, the last thing we need to talk about here is the process it takes to get alcohol. They don’t sell it in the old city where we stayed, so we had to obtain it illegally.

Alan:  For all the times we got ripped off in Varanasi, this was the one time it was worth it.


Dane:  Coming from Korea where alcohol was sold on every corner during every hour of the day or night, this was a bit of a shock. In Varanasi, obtaining alcohol was akin to obtaining heroin in the Vatican.

Alan:  We had to order it from a shady character at our hostel 15 to 20 minutes in advance, and you had to pay in exact change.

Eric:  And he wanted me to coordinate the time on our watches and was concerned because they were off by 3 minutes.

Alan:  For fear that if he had to wait too long for us to meet him that he’d be caught by the nonexistent police.

Dane:  When he had obtained the beer, too, he wouldn’t just give it to you at the designated meeting spot. He then would request that you follow him down a dark alleyway.

Eric:  Then, he would tell you to wait again. Disappear. Then, reemerge with the beer.

Alan:  The whole thing was bizarre.

Dane:  And he would speak to you in a whisper the whole time.

Eric:  I could never hear what he was saying.

Dane:  I suppose that’s why we ventured to Prinsep Bar one evening, away from the old city, to try to get beer.

Alan:  It was a fancy bar. And then we had dinner at the fancy restaurant attached to it. Eric did not fit in.

Dane:  We’ll save that story for the next post. Eric Vanston’s trials and tribulations at a fancy restaurant:  a true idiot abroad.

Alan:  More like Eric Vanston:  a true idiot.

Eric:  I’m ready to defend myself.


One Response to “Varanasi: Our First Experience with India”

  1. Henry September 25, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    The details of you guys buying beer remind me of the shady character we dealt with in Boracay…

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