we left veranasi about two days ago and i've been struggling with what to write about it. as the "holiest city in hinduism,|" people from all over india travel there to bathe in the ganges river, pray and die - for if you die in veranasi, it's believed you will reach moksha immediately (end of birth-rebirth cycle). people who die in veranasi are covered in silks and linens, carried to the ghats (stepped rises that come out of the river) and burnt on small pyres.
we rose early one morning to watch the sunrise over the river and paddle a small boat up and down its banks. we saw bodies being hauled onto little piles of sticks and set aflame. we saw men praying together and drinking the ganges water - reportedly 20 times more contaminated than the acceptable level of cleanliness for human consumption. we walked the too-narrow streets through alleyways where, inexplicably, a motorcycle, a cow, ten mourning wailing women, a guy selling statues of ganesha and two gringos can pass through a space 8 feet wide.
everywhere in veransi there is garbage and filth. cows are everywhere, made more apparent because of the tight quarters. but the city is so dense, so packed and so crowded that the smell of feces, the little streams and puddles of blue-yellow water and the puttering of black-cloud-spewing generators is in your face no matter where you are. the streets are too crowded, too dusty and too trafficked to be efficient. still, there is an overriding sense that many of the people that are there are there to see god. the others are a mixture of work-a-day chai and samosa wallas and young men trying to sell you hash.
because of the numerous security scares going on in the country right now, the army police were out in force. lazily looking up from newspapers or glasses of tea long enough to watch you pass. few people were stopped or patted down or questioned. and why would they? how do you tell a shopper with her bags from a criminal with her bomb? nonetheless, they could at least try to hold their guns with some dignity and a little less slack.
so what can i say about veranasi? if it is holy or special, i missed it. it is beyond me and i am quite possible stupid or blind for having not seen it. what i saw was the bad overtaking what small good there was. touts, pushers, twisted-limbed beggars, garbage, piss ... if i sound overly crass i am sorry. but what does it say when the holiest place is a festering open wound, full of rats and feces? is this intentional? is it my karma to see past the filth to the ceremony. or further still, past the ceremony to the filth?
who knows. veranasi is overwhelming. on to darjeeling.