We left Maha Kumbh Mela in a sea of slop and destruction. A sad ending to the biggest gathering of humanity in recent history. They are rebuilding the event now, but it wont be the same, as there was only to be another ten days or so for the final bathe. We left in a taxi the size of a butter box, taxies here mean a private car and usually in questionable condition. Ours was big enough to hold one suitcase only, the rest we had to live with on our laps. I was rotten with a cold, filthy and everything I owned was damp. The ride was relatively painless and the views were interesting. My mind was telling me we were going in the direct opposite direction then we were actually going. And the direction of the Ganga flow still confounds me today.
Getting in to Varanasi, or getting in to any city is always different to being there and the experiences of existing within that city. We drove off the highway and through a military base and then through a university into mass congestion where the taxi driver told us to get out and get a tuktuk literally-a motor rickshaw to carry thee men and 5 pieces of luggage. But it worked, and the rickshaw farted it was along crazed streets for a moment and then stopped and told us to get out and walk, and thats when the insanity really begins. The old part of Varanasi is ancient, a three dimensional latticework of passageways that weave around buildings constructed right beside each other with zero room between, and yet the cities ancient thoroughfares are its life. In amongst the buildings are tightly nestled Temples and in amongst those are the loving roots of the Banaras trees which provide an ever decreasing amount of greenery within the city limits, but are the homes to the millions of Monkeys which leap around from one impossible location to another. These passageways are wide enough for people to walk through and even enough for the occasional asshole on a motorbike to blast through. 4ft from the Shiva Guesthouse is the Varanasi Cautilya Community Intercultural society, which is a restored building and within its walls is one of the most attractive restored old buildings I have ever seen. Its modest dark green and maroon walls with a central opening on each floor all the way to the top floor of four, and on the top is a stunningly beautiful gothic library like something you would expect to see in turn of the century Europe, and the window butts right up against the balcony of the guesthouse, so you can see directly in the window and gaze upon the old books and Ivory lamps.
It wasn’t until nightfall that I realized the full extent of this geography, the guesthouse like all buildings here has a rooftop view and from there the sky is indigo and the city is charcoal grey with orange accents, and when you look down it looks like you are standing on a cool island of black rock in a random pattern of molten lava, as the orange street lamps cast a passing shadow on people as they catch a borrowed shadow and pass it on to the next.
I made some dimensional sound recordings from the roof and thats when the full extent of what you are seeing really actually comes to life. The layers of sound from close by, to far away are immense. Street sounds, including carts, shouts, conversation, children, dogs, squirrels and monkeys and the occasional low deep bellow of a cow, mixed with the myriad of different bird sounds, telephones, sewing machines, touts, a far away rave dominates the east and the white noise din of a busy city in the distance. Then there is the ritual sounds, bells for the hindu’s and the Call to Prayer for the Islamics. Quite an unbelievably rich an wondrous compliment to the visuals. And then of course there are the non-recordable’s like smells and flavours, which are reserved for the traveler and not the reader.
The best way I could begin to visually describe Varanasi would be to call it an ancient BladeRunner.
There is fire and there is water Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Saraswati, Krishna, Parvati, Hanuman, Kali they all demand their fair share of attention in fire and water. Where ever you walk and wherever you look there is a shrine, there are shrines everywhere, some are so old that they do not bear any resemblance to the original god they were made to represent. There are more Ganesh (Elephant) then there are Hanuman (Monkey) shrines and they are typically 12” high relief granite or the like, tiles painted a garish orange and eyes painted on and thats usually it, but occasionally there will be some rotting marigolds and a handful of burned incense sticks.
Its quite something to be in a city with such massive levels of reverence and devotion to god(s). Even In Ireland I never came anywhere near this level of religious culture. Life and civility exists around the religion, everything takes a second place to devotion.
Its a city that in one week I have had many emotions about. Sometimes I love it sometimes I loath it. I love the architecture; the gothic Dickensian winding three dimensional latticework of thoroughfares, and I love the mix of black and colored accents like Bladerunner, I love the proximity of everything, nothing is more then a few minutes walk or further then arms reach. Cavernous, living~breathing, meditative, medieval city. I love the remnants of a certain style and the ultra slow pace of pop culture from one generation to the next. I love the sounds, and the layered levels of audio in any direction, conversation, street sellers, hawkers, bread men have horns, milkmen have bells, ice cream is a different bell, different sounds for different things. amazing!
Theres more I love but I forget about now, because they are weighted down with the loathings, I have a sadness in me about the filth. Its a completely filthy place. Black from the knees down exposed plumbing, shit; cow shit all over the streets everywhere, Dog shit in piles everywhere, human shit. Human piss and the frequency at which its delivered in public, I really love the idea of not having to wait around like in the US while waiting for the charity of some commercial establishment for you to have a pee, but theres a fine line between discreetly pissing behind a bush and stopping mid stride in an alley way full of 40 other people to block traffic while you squat and unload right where Im about to walk, and the fucking stench of waste, garbage, rotting flesh. I believe that it comes down to social responsibility and how Indians are in so many ways stuck in the stone age.
Ive had conversations with Store owners who understand you to a point but get completely lost when you attempt to get them to think in a different way. Like for instance the Curd seller, He sells his curd in these beautiful little clay pots, which he buys every day from the pot maker for a hefty price, and he put the curd in the pots and sell it for 15r a go. 10r of that is the pot. The pot is used once and thrown away. I talked to him about it and he said “once only, one time only then smash” So I said to him that it would save him a lot of money if he washed the pot and used it again, he was very excited about the idea of saving money, but couldn’t get his head around the fact that he would have to change his thinking to make that happen. Ive seen it countless times, that there is an apparent inability for indians to accept anything beyond their own sphere of influence, I can see it in about half the population. Perhaps it was like that in Ireland too, I dont remember, but I also dont remember ever having seen a people so obtuse with the potential of possibility.
The coughing, hacking and hocking and then the Spit the Indians do, its unreal, India is dripping with spit., their respiratory systems are fried from so much smoke. Fire is revered in india, as is smoke, as is Chilum (ganja), as is independence and commerciality so the city is fed with millions of two stroke engines, motorbikes, modern and old scooters, that just shit out the pollution far and wide..
Ok well its definitely time i posted this as ive been here now more then ten days maybe even two weeks I cant remember. Ive been sick I got a lung infection and went to a doctor for antibiotics now im recovering and its time to post this.