Five am came in Varanasi, although I might have wished for more then four hours sleep. We were soon watching the sunrise on the River Ganges in a row boat. The particularly shrewd operators on ( shrewd as everyone is in India) the boat soon had us rowing, by us I mean myself and Rob, a chap if very similar build. After a few false starts we rowed pretty well against the current for about thirty minutes or so along the river.
The shore got more active as we went and soon there was the smell of burning in the air. It effectively marked the smell of effluence so I saw it as a win. Some others tried rowing and the sun was well up in the sky. Before we knew it we were back at the hotel having breakfast.
The rest of the day had two optional trips, both of which I went on, groggy but fueled by coffee. One was to a ruins of an ancient Hindu temple. The other a trip around a silk making community. I found the temple interesting but most didn’t, the higher than 35 degree heat probably had something to do with this.
The silk complex is run by the Muslim community in Varanasi. There are about seven hundred and they do everything from making the silk, creating pattern punch cards, to sticking, embroidering and weaving. We wandered around meandering streets and went into lots of small incredibly noisy rooms. We couldn’t talk in there but the workers, the ones we saw anyway, appeared happy, well dressed and at least 14 or older. The noise was immense though and I would imagine deafness would be a problem. It was not dissimilar to the month I spent working in a boiler factory, in terms of noise, but the small rooms and low lights won’t help people’s eyesight.
After this tour we ended up in the sales room and spent the next hour and a half looking at bed linen, pashminas and all sorts of other things. It got tiring really quickly (see my thoughts on shopping) but people bought a lot so that was ok. The sales man was very effective and reminded me of one of my good furniture contacts Stephen Galvin, although without the humour. He sold a lot, and with no haggling and plenty of purchases the tour would have been lost worthwhile for him!
Getting the tuk Tuks back to the hotel we were soon out to dinner.
I haven’t mentioned but there were rolling black outs in Varanasi so we ate dinner by candle light. The power exchange looked ropey and I’m not sure how long it will be until it all gives out. It went off ten or so times in our stay there, putting into perspective the UKs power situation for me!
We were up at 5 and on a coach for the next 12 hours. This quickly got tiresome and with the coaches suspension and the road quality, the bus was soon known as the bone shaker. The roads in India are largely awful after the monsoon and the road infrastructure seems to be falling apart . The sheer volume of traffic can’t help, and the country is so big it must be tough to keep it all running.
Before we knew it we were out of India and into Nepal. The border was surprisingly quick and easy to navigate, and there were no problems.
The first obvious thing was how quiet Nepal was. There was space between people and no one begging me for money/photos.
Exhausted we crashed out and then were up and ready for the national park.
My thoughts on India are confused. It’s so full of life, but so dirty, very true to films and literature and yet is even busier than it’s stereotypes suggest. It’s an assault on your very being and makes you realise just how good we have it in the UK. As a westerner I think the cultural differences are huge. The exchange rate is so good for us you can get a bottle of water for 14p and eight passport photos for a £1. Without our drastically high buying power (I’m a many times millionaire in Rupees) The level of poverty is huge and everyone is out to swindle you, even those who say all they want to do is help you. It’s so hot and dirty you feel you need a bath every hour, and yet the water is not safe to drink or get in your mouth.
Even so the people seem mostly happy, sometimes do just want a nice photo with you, and they are very polite and will open doors and carry bags, although often with a tip in mind. They have a largely vegetarian diet and seem kind to animals, with cows, dogs and goats literally everywhere (as well as their droppings).
I can’t say I liked India. (Please bear in mind I have only seen North India and am happy to visit the South to see the differences) I liked being out of my comfort zone and enjoyed the experience but as a person who sometimes likes to have introspective times, it was too much. There was no peace and everyone is engaged in a struggle to get money and live and are constantly surrounded by people, noise and smells.
The irony in the booming economy of India is that it is offset by the explosion in population. Ultimately India feels like it’s running to keep up and the infrastructure is just going to give out one day.
You have to go to India to experience it and you have to go at least once. For me though, once is enough.