Bye Bye Banaras
It’s my last day in Varanasi. India is seriously intense and energetically draining but I’ve had such a nice time staying at the palace known as Hotel Surya.
Thanks to the divine for this place of luxurious refuge.
My friend Sona and his family have owned the property for the past 30 years. His grandfather purchased the palace from the King of Nepal. It is literally a palace fit for a King, or Raja, and it’s pretty sweet that the King is my friend.
With stain glass windows, marble floors and a huge courtyard in the center of the grounds, Hotel Surya is an oasis of serenity in the midst of complete chaos occurring just outside its walls. The staff at the restaurants, spa and travel agency are taking such good care of me, I feel like a princess. Definitely not what I expected when I decided to come to Varanasi but I’m pleasantly surprised and happy to indulge in the amenities.
Outside the palace, life in Varanasi is a little different.
Inhabited by civilization for over 2,500 years, Varanasi is the oldest city in India. Naturally, there are some things about the city that need improvement. Trash is everywhere, roads are are all torn up and traffic is chaotic; comprised of cars, trucks, tourist vans, buses, bicycles, rickshaws, tuk tuks, pedestrians, cows, dogs, donkeys, pigs and water buffaloes. The infrastructure needs a serious face lift but it appears that improvements are coming soon.
During my time out exploring the city, I was exposed to the pollution and absolutely disgusted by the lack of care and concern for the environment. Locals discard their trash on the street and directly into the river. Granted they don’t have a sufficient disposal system but the behavior is completely irrational and unnecessary.
It’s tough to watch them destroy the land and water they cherish so much.
The Ganga River is so sacred and holy to the people of India. They bathe in the river with the belief that it cleanses them of sins and thus brings them closer to the divine. As I witnessed in Rishikesh, locals honor the river with a nightly ceremony called Ganga Aarti. In Varanasi, I took a boat ride from one of the ghats, or staircases, alongside the river to the main ghat where they hold the evening ritual.
Instead of enjoying the devotional ceremony, I watched young boys sell styrofoam cups and aluminum cups filled with marigolds and candles to send down the river. Oh, how stirred I was to see items that takes hundreds of years to decompose floating alongside the boat. I also saw a young boy finish off a plastic bag of masala flavored chips and then just as I anticipated, I reluctantly watched him throw the empty bag directly into the river. So sad.
Last night, Sona took me down to see the crematorium at one of the ghats. He was very nice to accommodate my request as he has minimal interest in watching dead people burn alongside the river. It is believed that Hindus must come to Varanasi before they die in respect and duty to the holy site where they will eventually be cremated. After the burning begins, I guess they float the bodies down the river to complete the ceremony. Supposedly, the bodies sink to the bottom but apparently, corpses have been seen floating around as well. It’s a sight to see but not one I would like to repeat.
The ash, trash and toxic waste combine to make for a complete wasteland.
My heart is breaking over for the people of this country and their complete disregard for the sanctity and purity of the land and water. Prana, or life force is said to come from the river and the land but yet their life force is tarnished, damaged and polluted.
Perhaps a little education and a change of habit might save this great nation but I feel hopeless, depressed and scared for the world after seeing such activity.
Varanasi has taught me many things. Seeing this part of the world makes me so proud of where I’m from and thankful for my privileged childhood and adolescence. I also feel an immense amount of gratitude for my education, college career and graduate studies for without all that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I am also fortunate that after all these weeks abroad, I can retreat back to my home in Rye and enjoy the holidays with unconditional love from my family and friends. I’ve had it good. I know that.
When you’re traveling around a country like India, appreciation for the simple life continues to show up. And while I love watching football, skiing, dining out, going to shows and dancing the night away, it all feels pretty insignificant at this point. We fill our schedules, become distracted by competition and rivalries and add meaning to everything from misread messages to insignificant indulgences.
I want to thank you for reading this far. Traveling is a great way to educate yourself on international affairs and world issues. I hope this blogs captures a glimpse of what I have seen and experienced.
My only wish is that you take some time to reflect and refresh your perspective on your life and the world around you. Rather than focusing on what ails you, who hurt you or what is holding you back, think of the abundant and bountiful life you’ve been gifted and what you contribute to save our lovely planet.
The locals call Varanasi, Banaras, and I think that might be the sexiest Hindi word I’ve learned so far. But sexy is definitely not a feeling I’ve had in India. Just saying.