Here’s a sentence I never thought I would utter. I’m pretty sure my laundry was washed in sewerage.
I thought that after 35 days in India, I was pretty much acclimatised. I had seen it all. Public masturbation, public urination-even I had been forced to pop a squat in public. When Dave called out, ‘Mind the poo!’ I would cheerily call back, ‘Which one?!’ The rubbish in the streets had become just a colourful blur in the corner of my eye as we walked down the dusty streets. The other day, I found out that all the mutton curries I’d been gobbling under the impression that it was aged lamb, were in fact made with goat. These were probably the grubby little goats that I’d often see frolicking through the aforementioned rubbish on the streets. I didn’t even flinch. I just kept stuffing the delicious billygoat into my face.
Then I went to Varanasi. Dave saved this place till last. He’s very smart, this Irish fellow. I think he knew that if we had come here first after our arrival in India, I would have turned around and gotten back on the plane.
So, we’re in Varanasi, backpacks hoisted on our shoulders, wandering around some narrow, winding back lanes to a place that Dave had stayed four years earlier. The place we were searching for was called Pooja Guesthouse. Yes, that’s correct spelling. This name, as it turns out, was very apt, as it was what the streets leading up to it were covered with. I mean, I’m sorry to get graphic but it was just spread across as far as the eye could see. I could see more poo than street, in fact, there was more than I had seen in the last 35 days combined. I didn’t want to breathe through any hole in my face for fear of inhaling poo pathogens. I’m no scientist but I’ve decided that that’s a real thing.
|For once, my mouth isn't the dirtiest thing here.|
In Indian culture, Varanasi is known as very spiritual place as it is home to the river Ganges or as it is locally known, the Mother Ganga. Essentially, people come here to die because they want to be burnt on the Ghats (stairs leading down to the water) and have their ashes spread over the river. This practice is said to stop the cycle of birth and death and finally release the deceased to an eternal afterlife. Each ghat surrounding the Ganges has a specific purpose. Some are burning ghats where these cremations take place. Others are bathing ghats, where Indians perform all the activities that one might do in the privacy of their own bathroom. One thing is certain though-the Ganges and its water are considered holy.
|60,000 people can't be wrong|
They are also the dumping ground for some 30 sewerage plants around the city. The water has been declared septic- no oxygen exists in it. I think I read that when the water was surveyed, it had something like 1.5 million different types of bacteria per 500ml. Now look, you can’t mess with a culture’s dogma. Indians believe that this water is sacrosanct and there is no telling them otherwise. It would be like someone coming up to me and telling me that Meryl Streep is not the greatest actress to ever walk this earth and that I shouldn’t worship her like my own deity. I will simply always stand by her, even when she appears in movies with Alec Baldwin. (Don’t even get me started on It’s Complicated.) At the end of the day, people will believe what they want to believe and we should just live and let live. Gosh, I’m so spiritual.
|I'm not judging, I swear. I'm grimacing because I'm wearing Crocs.|
However, that doesn’t mean that my stomach didn’t turn when I witnessed people brushing their teeth with the water. Oh look, someone’s Auntie Mildred is drifting by, that’ll add a bit of grit when you rinse out. Mouthwash, Mother Ganga flavoured! At one point when we were walking along it, my really attractive black Croc knockoffs sunk deep into the mud and I was forced to rinse off the muck in the Ganges. I didn’t feel blessed, I felt bloody panicked that Tinea was already forming underneath my toenails and I scrubbed my feet raw when we got back the guesthouse.
|That's just a normal, everyday, run of the mill dead body.|
Something positive that came out of visiting Varanasi was a bit of Facebook stalking. That’s right; some more good can come of it than just creeping on your ex and your ex’s new girlfriend to see if she’s a skank. (She is. They always are.) The wonderful Meagan Babore, fellow drama school wanker, had seen my India photos and we worked out through a series of overexclaimated comments that we were in the same place. Half an hour later, we had a date to meet beside some smoking bodies at the burning ghat.
Excited to see her- it had been about 6 years and all; I decided to just run right past the fires burning up the deceased. Probably not the best idea in foam thongs and upon reflection, gosh, it was v.v hot. I reached Meagan and after our embrace, she looked at me and said something like, ‘I hate this place!’ I could have kissed her on the mouth right then and there. I had real life confirmation that I was not the World’s Biggest Debbie Downer. More than that, finally there was someone else to talk to besides Dave! We swapped notes about all the naughty horrible things that you’re not supposed to say out loud about Varanasi and also found time to stage a photo shoot by the Mother Ganga. It was bliss.
|Meagan's T-shirt has a starring role as the best thing about Varanasi|
|Hmmmm, faecal matter. Thank you, Mother Ganga|
My spirits lifted, I returned to Pooja to find my laundry was back. I had been suffering from a severe clean clothes drought due to being on the move so much over the last week. It was at the point where I was starting to eye off a few of Dave’s undies, wondering if I could pull off a Y-front. Upon arrival in Varanasi, I had put basically everything in my backpack in to be washed. However, this was before I took a walk along the Ganges and saw a few too many washerwomen for my liking.
So when I saw my pile of clothes folded neatly on the bed, I was not hundred per cent sure that they weren’t consecrated.
With hundreds of millions of dirty micro-organisms, that is.
So I guess that even though I’m leaving India tomorrow, I’m going to be taking a little piece of the Mother Ganga with me, like it or not. I’m either the dirtiest person who ever lived or one very blessed bogan.
Let’s go with the latter. I’m not ready to become a nudist yet.