devotion and chaos
31.01.2016 - 16.02.2016 75 °F
This morning we flew from Delhi to Varanasi aboard India Air. This is quite a change from business class on Emirates Air, I’ll tell ya. You’ve read about those rickety old buses in Mexico? Well, this flight was the airplane equivalent of a Mexico bus. The interior was quite shabby and the seat pockets were ripped and coming off. Crumbs from a prior passenger’s snack still lay on the floor across the aisle. I was glad that the flight was only an hour or so and had a passing thought that surely the mechanics of the thing are in better working order than its upholstery. Since you are reading this, I must have survived India Air.
Varanasi is “the essence of India”, they say. It is the center of art, music, and education. It is also the bIrthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. This is a much smaller city than Delhi, having a population of about 1.9 million. But there are a whole lot of Hindu pilgrims who visit because a pilgrimage to Varanasi is one of the tenets of Hinduism. Varanasi is located on the Ganges - the “Mother River” and many come here to die because they believe that death here releases them from the cycle of reincarnation. Per Parveen, these pilgrims desire to appear unburdened by worldly goods, so they may appear very poor, but don’t be fooled, they are really just leaving their finery at home.
This evening we took our own pilgrimage to the Ganges to witness the daily “Arti” ceremony which celebrates the river. It was quite a process getting there. The bus dropped us off nearly a mile from the Ganges where we boarded pedi-cabs that awaited us. They drove us to within a few blocks of the river and we walked the rest of the way. Sound simple? It was not. The streets here are completely clogged with pedi-cabs, motorcycles, and pedestrians, not to mention vendors and beggars. Walking through it was another exercise in keeping your eyes on too many things at once. It was hard work just staying with the rest of your party. Also, the pedi-cabs were narrower and the seats shallower than in Delhi so it was work just staying on the damn things. The ride was harrowing at first, until you got used to all the honking and the near misses. The narrow roads of Old Delhi were a lot more fun.
The ceremony was interesting and we were fortunate to have a little balcony reserved so that we had a sweeping view of the beach where the ceremony took place. Of course, I never knew exactly what was going on since it is performed in Hindi, but there were thousands of people congregated there who were participating. It was indeed a worthwhile experience, but I don’t ever have to do that again.
OK, this business about impoverished appearances being deceiving is absolute bullshit. I am convinced that Parveen tried to minimize the impact that this depth of poverty would have on a group of “rich Americans”. On the way back in the bus, we rode by parks that were entirely full of people sleeping on the ground under blankets, and wide places on the sidewalks that doubled as beds. This is a poor country and Varanasi is no exception. So few people here pay taxes (due mostly to a 70% unemployment rate) that the government has no money to help with infrastructure and social services. As a result, the buildings are occupied by very poor people and these buildings are crumbling down.
I guess this is a really bad time to mention shopping, huh? Varanasi’s biggest industry is silk weaving. It would be a sin to not contribute in some small way, right? Some of us are going back to the Ganges in the early morning (6:00!) to watch many devoted Hindus baptize themselves in their sacred river. They’ll take a boat ride up and down and then get back in time for breakfast. Notice I said “they”. I think I may need my rest for a few rounds of haggling.