Sunday, 22 February 2009

Around the world in 15 mails - No.3 (Varanasi)

Killer Bacterial Organisms

Varanasi 9 February 2005

Hey Gang, me again.

So, here I am in Varanasi, birthplace place of Shiva (a Hindu God) and one of the 7 most sacred cities in India. I really like it here and am planning drop anchor for a while.

Varanasi is on the banks of the Ganges (Great Mother) river and 60,000 locals a day (not a week or a month, a day), come to the riverside to 'cleanse' themselves. Cleansing is anything but the case as 30 sewers continuously discharge themselves into the river and the river is septic! A
little biology follows - it's estimated that there are 1.5 faecal coliform bactieria per 100mls of water in the river. Safe bathing levels are 500 per 100mls!! Funny thing is that the locals leave the water to pee on the street next to it! Lastly, 400 million people live along the banks of the Ganges. All that aside, it's still good to look at from the roof top restaurant of my $7 per night hotel!

WARNING. The following paragraph deals with cremation, so those of a nervous disposition should move on to the next paragraph. Mind you, that's going to be about Cricket and thinking about it, the one after concerns firearms. So, most of you can switch off now!

One of the 'attractions' of Varanasi are the cremation rituals. I've have witnessed the whole operation for you - the things I do! To die in Varanasi is considered good luck and releases the individual from the birth/death cycle - this is called moksha. Given the state of the river, I guess
there'll never be a shortage of punters ('scuse the pun). Bodies are brought through the tiny alleys to the waterfront ghats (landing pier type structures) on bamboo stretchers. The families of the deceased then pay for the logs, each of which are carefully weighed to ensure the right temperature (Gas mark 6). The corpse, wrapped in different coloured foil depending on age and sex is dunked in the river and then placed on the fire. Ghee (clarified butter) is used to get the flames going and also to improve the smell (petrol is big no no). The body them smolders for a while before the heat really builds up and the cremation starts for proper. All of this is done in public (no photos allowed), there is little or no ceremony and it seems that every man involved has his own idea of how to get it going properly (macabre thought but think British or Greek men huddled round a bar-b-q). This doesn't just happen once a day - there's a steady stream of
corpses from dawn to dusk. People all over India, on the verge of death, get brought here to die. I thought I'd find it disturbing but actually, it's a very serene scene. Once the whole thing is reduced to ashes, it just sits there and the 'charcoal' blows away or, and this amused me, the ever present goats come and nibble what's left! Lastly, it's true what they say, think roast pork cooking, which in a veggie town, is most unfair because the inevitable happens and the gastric juices start working!

I've participated in my first game of cricket! All along the river bank, lads play on permanently marked out pitches. Dad, think Frinton, without the sand, sea, oh, well don't think Frinton (although, u can't buy a beer in either place!). I stood and watched the game for ten minutes, then a boy hit a lofted on-drive (very leg-side oriented given the river on the off-side) and I found myself underneath it. I breathed deep and watched the ball right into my hands. A great catch, followed by much jubilation. I was less jubilant as i realised the damp ball was soaked in Ganges septic muck, but hey ho, cricket transcends cleanliness. I had the honour of being offered the bat and then commenced a quick fire innings, including a straight-drive back past the bowler, a leg-glance into the sewer, a hoick into cow-corner (literally) and a pull through square leg (which I didn't top-edge Dad!). The innings came to an end when I tried to late-cut a straight ball, missed it (thankfully, as, if I'd connected, I'd have knocked the skull off smoldering body) and lost my leg-stump! I won't dwell on an over of pretty ropey medium pace. My excuse was that I was only using the tips of my fingers, so as not to make too much contact with the ball!

Ok, firearms, just a quick note really. Many of you know I have 'thing' for guns and India appears to be a mecca for them. We're are not talking modern guns - the older the better seems to be de-rigeur for Security officers everywhere. My favourites so far have been a short-magazined circa 1914 Lee Enfield 303, a Sten gun (didn't think they'd survived past 1945), used by the guard on the train and an evil looking elephant gun, used by an ATM guard in Delhi. This is a good point to mention my favourite sign so far. At Agra railway station, window 6 is for 'Foriegn Tourists, VIP's holy men and Freedom Fighters! I looked for Osama in the Q but alas, it was just me and a Buddist monk.

That's about it for now folks. Am going to stay in Varanasi for a while, it's hot and fun and the Aussie company is good.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersein, good bye.


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