Varanasi – The spiritual base of Hindus, the toilet of Uttar Pradesh. Home to sacred cows, street dogs, burning corpses, fake baba’s, rented babies and shit.
I was somehow expecting more reverence from what is the most famous holy city in India. A serene calmness tempered by the clanging of bells during rituals and men dressed in elaborate robes extolling wisdom to the pilgrims on the banks of the Ganges.
Not as such. People, people everywhere, squashed into every crevice and sharing their space with sacred cows, dogs, rubbish and shit. India has a problem and it’s going to take a few of generations to sort out. We all generate rubbish and waste. Wether its bodily, household, industrial it all needs to be got rid of. India has no idea how to dispose of it in any acceptable way and pays lip service to the act of recycling. Lets just deal with body and household waste. In India it’s perfectly acceptable to throw all your household waste on the street outside your front door. Varanasi once run a scheme of collecting waste from houses at 1 rupee per day (1p) but no one paid it and the scheme collapsed. No one was interested. The rubbish was not in their house. It does though serve a dubious eco purpose of providing scraps for stray dogs and sacred cows, the digested remains of which is then decanted on to streets to be broken down by flies and ants. The air drys the excrement and its compacted down by street traffic until it serves as a dung carpet covering the cobbles. When the rains come it dilutes the top layer and the street becomes a ‘shit rink’, as slippery as ice. Some is washed off into drains then into the Ganges. This less than wholesome cycle has been happening for generations and there is no appetite for real change. The only way to change the people of India’s mind is through education of the young. A new generation of Indians understanding that as a consequence of their actions a clean, healthy environment can be achieved for all.
You are expected to bombarded by hawkers and touts in India. That’s just the way it is. The constant pressurising from hawkers is not just reserved for the foreign tourist. All tourists and pilgrims are constantly badgered to relieve themselves of money for some rip off service or other. Don’t think you will meet many holy men. Most dressed to look like Baba’s are in fact alcoholics and dope addicts. Those blessing pilgrims by the Ganges rent or own the space and recite spiritual goodness verbatim from what they have heard real priests say. Perhaps not all charlatans, but I believe most are.
Unfortunately the all pervading chaos rather dulls the spiritual radiance of this remarkable city. As a photographer I love the place. It’s a kaleidoscope of visual porn from any angle. If you can’t get a decent picture in this place, give up snapping. The city looks beautiful at sunrise from a boat in the Ganges and every nook and cranny of this pandemonious city reveals a beauty of structure, colour and character like few other. As a Hindu it’s a Mecca, as a traveller it’s a must see, as a western tourist you’ll need a strong stomach.