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    All These Colors Tour: India Part 31

    Sunday, October 14, 2012
    Varanasi, India

    Massive piles of firewood for cremations at Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, India.

    For the past few days, I’d been thinking about checking out the ghats North of the Alka Hotel, and finally mustered up the motivation to go for it. After walking Northeast for a few minutes, I entered the area of Manikarnika Ghat–the main burning ghat of Varanasi, which I got an impressive view of from a rowboat on the Ganges river a few days prior. Since this was the first time I’d approached it on land, I wanted to explore it a little bit. The touts there were super aggressive, and, since all of the walkways around the building and between the stacks of firewood were really narrow, I knew there was no way I’d be able to give them the slip. So, I was forced to submit to the good ol’ smoke and mirrors treatment.

    The Leaning Shrine of Varanasi, India.

    One of them zeroed in on me straight away and started to lead me upstairs. I told him, “I don’t need a guide.” He said, “I’m not a guide. I just work here.” What a crock of crap! (A guide at the goat sacrifice area of the Kali temple in Kolkata said the exact same thing, but I was able to ditch him because the walking areas there were more wide open.) Anyway, I asked him how much I’d have to pay, and he replied, “As you wish.” He led me up three stories through some dank, dusty rooms where old Indian women were hanging out, uh, just being old. He told me it was a hospice for terminally ill elderly people.

    A swell example of color, line and texture on a wall at the Ganges river in Varanasi, India.

    Up on the roof, I got a good overview of the massive piles of wood out back and the smoke- and ash-spewing cremation activities out front. The weasel said photography was prohibited in front, but I could sneak a quick one if I wanted. I declined because it’s offensive to the families, and because I knew the guide would try to use the photo to extort more money out of me. He also spouted off a bunch of info about the whole cremation process and its significance in the Hindu culture, which I had already read about anyway. I told him as much, but he said he gave me even more info than is available elsewhere.

    A little boat repair never hurt anyone. Ganges river, Varanasi, India.

    As we descended down one floor, the guide told me to kneel down in front of an old woman, who tapped me on the head with both hands several times and muttered a few words. Then he tried to persuade me to pay 500 or 1000 rupees. I sternly told him, “I don’t have that kind of money!” and gave her 50. He told me I should give a lot more because money comes and goes, but karma lasts forever. As we stepped back outside, the guide told me to give two more old ladies money. I, Mr. Walking ATM, gave them 10 rupees each. For the grand finale, he then asked me if I liked the info he gave me, and requested payment. I gave him 20 rupees, then he asked for 100, then 500 as I walked away shaking my head. I wonder how good his karma is for doling out deception and intimidation to tourists every day?

    A weathered ghat in Varanasi, India.

    I knew what his mo was from the get-go. I just allowed him to get away with it because I really wanted to see Manikarnika Ghat up close. Mission accomplished. Just remember, if you ever come to India, you have to completely ignore these guys, or, if you really want to see an inaccessible spot, you have to stand up to them and shoot down their demand for outrageous sums of money. If you don’t, they’ll walk all over you and bleed your wallet dry. India is not for the timid or the faint of heart! Next, I just walked along the sparsely populated riverbank all the way up to within a half mile of the Northernmost ghat, Raj Ghat. I was psyched to capture a whole mess of video and a few photos of some water temples and boats, and all the towering riverside buildings and their insanely detailed, weathered walls.

    Roll over photos for captions.
    Words and photos ©2012 Arcane Candy.

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