Saturday, 22 February 2014

summary Varanasi

This is hard. Dispite the difficult start the staff at the hotel came round . Whether  this was due to our original complaint or because the majority of their customers are only here a couple of nights so they don't bother or because of our tips we shall never know. But knowing human nature and getting used to India I unfortunately have to say tipping works wonders. However we have enjoyed our time in Varanasi .  Varanasi is 84 kilometers square and has a population of 4 million plus the millions of pilgrims that come here each year. If you are Hindu you should visit this holy city at least once in your life, so there are hundreds of hostels for each state of India. These hostels are free for Hindu visitors although they are expected to leave a donation. So the population of Vanransi is transient and exceeds the usual 4 million on a daily basis. That's a lot of human life in a very small area, that's forgetting the cows, goats, donkeys monkeys dogs and any other wildlife that could possibly survive in this harsh environment. This is difficult but I have to say I believe they find western visitors a convenient way to make a bit on the side and no more. Each time you leave your hotel beggars and very nice polite young men hassle you. The beggars are obvious and you can choose to give them money or not. The nice polite men and sometimes children are a different matter. After striking up conversation with you they eventually get to the sales pitch of asking you if you would like to visit their shop, just to look. No pressure to buy, just come for a look. If you fob them off by saying we haven't got time today they say how about to tomorrow. You say ok to get them off your back. By this time they know your names. Next time you leave the hotel they appear, they call you by name and ask if you are ready to visit their shop and again you fob them off. It does become a nuisance . It's a game and you all know you are playing it. In the end you have to be truthful and say sorry but we are not coming because we are not interested. It is tiresome but it is the way here. Around every corner there is a sorry scene. Animals are usually in a state. Some humans fair no better. You have to accept you have limits as to who or what you can help. It's hard.  The Indians appear to do very little to help  one another whether man or beast. Mother India it seems expects that every stranger to her shore is ready and willing to part with their cash. This country more that any other we have visited expects something for nothing.  It appears to do very little to help itsself. You look at it and wonder how it has survived this long. Then you have to remember this is one of the fastest growing economies. But every man seems bent on just looking out for himself.
This  may sound harsh but Nepal is really poor, there we are treated as human beings. Here we are merely cash cows. Money talks. Nothing else. Fact. 
Same as the Hindu religion here. In Bali I was accepted into the temples and treated as an equal. I was allowed to pray to Hindu gods with all the local people. I did not feel marginalised. Here we have to undergo security checks. Leave all electronic goods and bags in lockers just to enter the grounds. Under no circumstance would we be allowed to enter the inner sanctums. I find this strange as Hindus state that they are fully tolerant of all other religions. However no other religions are allowed to visit their temples for fear of spiritual pollution. I find this hard and judgemental.
However its not all bad. Varansi as a holy city will not allow Hindus who have not eaten into the temples, so they make sure that all the beggars have something to eat each day. Many temples offer free meals, this is a good thing.  I also felt the energy of human devotion and faith, especially whilst on the Ganges.  The spiritual energy is something India cannot rob you of. Which I guess is why we westerners flock here and have for centuries.
For me the difference in tolerance between Hinduism in Bali, Thailand and India is marked. In Bali and Thailand we were free to join in and felt a big part of the culture. In Varanasi we are aware of a huge gap. Although on a local level we felt welcome to participate in Arti ceremony and ablution in the Ganges, we were definitely excluded from the inner sanctums. Our money is welcome our devotion is not. Although every Hindu we spoke to was quick to tell us there is only one God, I wonder if they feel that God could also be ours.
Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful to have visited this most holy of Hindu cities and we have had a wonderful time. The highlight has to be our bathe this morning with some of the pilgrims. For me that was a very personal spiritual experience . However I cannot help but feel based solely on my personal view Indian Hinduism is a totally secular religion that is marketed for the tourist trade purely to provide money and little much else.
That said we would not have missed this experience for the world. Tomorrow we return to Buddhism as we leave Varanasi for our final two days in Boudhgaya.

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