The Face of Varanasi Undergoing Change

Early one morning, we met Santosh, his sister Rani and our French friends, Helene and Remy, all with our cameras.

We followed Santosh along the ghats and back through the winding lanes of the city, stopping for chai along the way.

It was a beautiful morning, still cool and fresh. This year, the air in Varanasi has been unusually clear, the polluted Ganges deceptively blue. Santosh has an excellent eye and even after living here his whole life, he still finds what is unique in Varanasi. He’s quite aggressive giving Gerard the courage to go closer.

Finally a real sadhu.

This year, the big surprise was seeing firsthand the demolition starting around the Golden Temple, making its way to the Burning Ghat. It looked like a war zone. Gerard asked a man standing beside him with an expression of horror on his face, “How are they going to remove all the rubble?” He replied, “Ask Modi. Modi, Modi everybody says. But to me he’s foolish Modi.” The ironic plan is to give a clear line of sight from the ghat to the Golden Temple. But the Temple sits too low to be seen from the ghat! Dissenters of the project say either the Ganges has to be lifted, or the temple has to be lifted. Right now the line of sight is to a large mosque! Like in most countries, the public are like sheep, they just follow and never ask questions.

Gerard has asked several locals what they think of the “beautification program” as Modi calls it, and only one spoke favorably. He echoed Modi’s line that the little temples currently hidden way inside houses will all become visible. At the other extreme, a shopkeeper says it’s the beginning of the end of Varanasi. From being such a historic city, it will become yet another concrete and steel modern monstrosity. A particularly depressing opinion. Everyone in between say it’s a huge waste of the money that could have been used in so many other constructive ways…cleaning the river, putting in a sewage treatment plan, repairing the ghat…and so on.

There’s been less socializing this year in part due to my hearing loss and in part because Gerard caught the heavy cold that is circulating and which spread to his chest precipitating a hacking cough. We visited one of our friendly pharmacists who listened to Gerard’s chest and at our request gave him some heavy duty codeine cough mixture, supposedly now only available with prescription. Twenty four hours later, he was feeling much better.

We missed an evening boat ride with Santosh and family. A new addition to the family is a large but gentle and quiet German Shepherd. Having a pet dog is becoming a trend among the middle class, but it seems strange to us. Keeping a dog housebound, only walking him twice a day, fighting off the stray dogs. What a contrast, these house pets are to the roaming street dogs, living on whatever they can find.

The family set out before sunset and watched the Arti ceremony from the water along with hundred of other little boats. The Arti performed nightly on the ghat is a major event for pilgrims, and also visiting tourists.

Now in our last week here, as fascinating as the city still is, I find it difficult. Just this morning, we met an interesting couple from Canada; I really wanted to talk with her but because of the background noise it was impossible. I have the same problem in Boston but it just seems all the more pronounced here. In our room at the guesthouse, it’s easier.

I make the effort to go out at sunrise because the city is at its calmest. Cool and mystical in the early morning light it’s perhaps the best time to be on the ghat. Locals and pilgrims bathing, sweepers already cleaning away the previous days refuse.

8 thoughts on “The Face of Varanasi Undergoing Change

  1. Hey Bobbie and Gerard! Thanks for posting these beautiful photos again along with the insightful commentary. I’m sorry to learn about your hearing loss Bobbie. You seem to be coping appropriately though. By which I mean, you recognize the impact on your life, but you are not letting it get you down or change who you are. It’s wonderful you are able to make these seasonal sojourns to India to be physically and spiritually refreshed. Your postings allow those of us who have been to Mother India to wax nostalgic and to remember Him who drew us there in the first place! See you when I see you! Much love, Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have found Roberta’s blog particularly POIGNANT this year. Nostalgia seems to be lapping at the Wiggins’ footsteps by the ocean and rising in their dust in Varanasi. As someone who secretly harbored a vague hope of making it to Varanasi one day before i kick the bucket, the possibility or probability or just witnessing a modernized makeover is devastating. Still it is great to follow your voyaging and discovering for one more year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. what a great photo of gerard it all looks wonderful g looks like he is really going native..tell him a new move out about laural and hardy they

    play small venues in england the 50s..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great photos. Interesting to hear about the renovations in Varanasi. They are also trying to beautify the old ghats in Vrndavan. The ones they have done look good, but a lot of people had built homes illegally around other ghats. So a lot of drama this winter as they demolished those homes. I know it’s a risk you take to build illegally. But our plumber lived in one of those homes, so I can relate to their point of view as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is far from rennovation. No houses being rebuilt, just demolition — with the exception of the house temples.


  5. dear bobbie and gerard,you are truly Bearing Witness to a profound shift. Of many aspects of life,dogs indoors (soon they will have strollers and daycare) and urban renewal as we call it here in NYC. Only time will tell the ever unfolding story of History or as Walter Mosley calls it ,Posterity.
    with the added perspective change in your new way of hearing and hence experiencing, your up close and personal report is ,if possible ,even more fascinating to read!
    thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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