Varanasi ghats

Varanasi Ghats

Traversing the ghats at Varanasi yesterday, either on foot or by boat, leaves me in a subdued and introspective mood.  On the one hand it is wonderful to join the escape from the cacaphony of road traffic, and ponder the timeless and holy symbolism of this place.  Still, one can’t escape the crowds and competing agendas – the handpainted advertisements on the sides of the holy men’s plinths, or the cricket-playing youths and importuning boatmen.  At dawn and dusk the steps are jammed with people absorbed in the widest range of social or intimate activities, bathing, promenading, reclining, gawking, doing business.  In a country of a billion people, there is no place without either history, sacred significance, or passers-by.  The habit of averting ones eyes, and expecting others to do likewise, is not just a personal affectation of the shy, but a necessary coping mechanism and a social convention.  Foreign tourists, rare quarrelling, and other strangenesses disturb the balance, especially for opportunistic bystanders, but the mark of fitting-in is to pass unnoticed, merging with traffic.  In spite of obvious differences, a sense of the common and normal – the reassurance that shared expectations make difficulties communicating momentary and trivial.  Travel as a process of discovering not differences but similarities – the same aspirations worked-out under circumstances more adverse or advantageous – hotter or colder, richer or poorer, more harmonious or competitive.


~ by Peter Harris on 29/01/2012.

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