Wednesday, 16 June 2010

My Diary of India: Sixth Extract

We docked in Varanasi’s Old City, near to another cremation and many vendors selling wood. Kids played in the water. It was an indescribable experience and so surreal. We walked up the steps into the twisting, narrow lanes, where shopkeepers leaned out of every hole, nook, cranny; you can’t look anywhere without being harassed. Occasionally hitting the sides of the streets so a moped could pass, trying to dodge dogs, cows, raw sewage, red ants and grasping hands was uncomfortable, but I felt as if I was obliged to appreciate it as a cultural experience, however revolting. The stench was unbearable. We stopped in a silk shop where a man gave us masala chai in clay mugs and afterwards, we were led through the most ridiculous security to Vishwanath Shiva Temple- the most holy spot in Varanasi. But it seemed like the least spiritual place ever; the floor was covered in mud, people barged past down the narrow alleyway. I felt like I shouldn’t have been there, like an intruder, what I don’t understand is why they allow their Gods to reside in such disgusting conditions. It was probably the least welcome I’ve felt so far.

After this, we were led to a silk weavers, where we could see what happens in so many small firms in Varanasi. Nothing was mechanical and I couldn’t fathom how long it must take to teach someone this process. The intricacy was incredible. It can take months to make a single scarf. The amount of workmanship was astounding. Men sit, suspended on planks, working on the silk weaves all day. Afterwards we were taken to Paddy’s commissioned silk shop and shown some of the most amazing tapestries and furnishings ever. They were, however, priced in dollars and it was difficult to know whether they were honest prices or not. I bought some presents. We were feeling so empty once we got back that we headed straight to the restaurant for anything that wasn’t curry, like falafel. I was curious to go back to Mehboob’s silk shop, where I bought the beautiful things I wanted to buy in the morning, such a silk scarves, but for a lot less.

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