Monday, August 15, 2005

Death and saris

We had decided to head to Varanasi on our way to the land crossing into Nepal as we hadn't been able to get flights to Kathmandu. Varanasi, on the banks of the river Ganges, is one of the holiest places in India. Its main industries are death – cremating people on the banks of the Ganges – and making saris (Benares saris). It is also twinned with Agra as the second city of deliberately giving tourists food poisoning as an insurance scam - allegedly two Irish tourists died here in 1998 as a result.
Far from being the spiritual capital of North India, we felt threatened from the moment we arrived (after a 14 hour overnight train journey with none of our previously encountered luxuries). The rickshaw driver in front of us hit a woman and baby and gave off to them for it, the next one started punching another driver as they went past. Our driver stopped along the way, seemingly to pay off some kind of mafia boss. The next day I saw another rickshaw driver punch a woman in the face at the roadside whilst arguing. Varanasi is also known for several travelers a year mysteriously disappearing.

We took a boat ride on the Ganges, which was definitely a good experience. However, it is sell, sell, sell all along the way. It is hard to see through to any spiritual side of the city. Luckily, we had booked first class tickets on the train to Gorukhpur that same night.



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