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Friday, March 16, 2012

BURNING GHAT SHAKDOWN

BUMPY TRAVEL THROUGH INDIA

I decided to do something a little different today. In India, this is possible everyday. If you have money. I don't have a lot but if you know how to barter, a little can go a long way.

When I got into country, the nice man at the train station gave me a map for free. This was very nice of him. Through exploration and owning a working compass, I discovered that the Indian folks are worse at mapping than I'd feared.

I'm pretty sure that everyone has seen something like this on a map.It's on my map. The problem is that it should be upside down. My guess is that it's just another meaningless symbol that is suppose to appear on the map to the map maker and so he put it on as is.

I'm not even joking.

Hence, through trial and error and a lot of saying 'WTF is wrong with people', I've discovered that 'south is up' on this particular map. I've shown it to other tourists, pointed at the 'north arrow' and gotten some 'WTF's' from them as well.

Good times.

Don't trust maps in this country.

Anyway, I am staying in the northern part of the city at a place called Assi Ghat. It's pretty quiet aside from the violent hippies that periodically infest the region. I wanted to head south to look at some of the other ghats. In this town, it seems that all of the interesting stuff is close to the river.

I have walked a ways south before exploring but I wanted to go further south than I'd been before.

Hence, I decided to take a boat.

Boat prices are usually pretty expensive but one of the girls at the 'usual tea place' told me about paying only 50 RS for a ride.

What the hell I figured.

So I did the bargaining technique where I took out only the money I wanted to spend and put it in my hand to walk along the banks of the Ganges.

I heard crazy quotes. The highest was 400 RS. That was the 'hello, you look stupid and rich' price. No takers at 50 RS. Just whining. So, after I got free of that group of boatmen, I swapped the 50 RS for 100 RS and tried the same trick with the next group. Got a hit that time.

I had him take me to roughly the middle ghat on my list. Still a bit north of the burning ghat but close enough to walk around some more. For those curious, the actual distance is under 4 KM or so. But the boat was less dangerous than walking the chaotic streets of India. Well, it was in some ways. The last scientific facts I'd read on the Ganges showed that it was pretty much all sewage according to their numbers. It doesn't look nice. Not quite so bad that if you tossed a lit cigarette in that the river would burst into flame, but not anything you'd swim in if you had any common sense. Religion, however, trumps common sense. Many Hindus drink a mouthful of water every day. I'm sure their immune system gets a great workout. For us unaccustomed foreigners, I don't recommend even washing your hands in it.

So, I went on the boat ride. (See videos below).

After I got dropped off where I wanted to be, I got a shave right there Ghat-side (30 RS). I could have probably gotten it a lot cheaper but it's good to be nice to the man with the razor at your throat.

After that, I was feeling a bit peckish. I spied 'Dolphin Restaurant'. A dolphin sounded pretty good right then so I hiked up the many stairs to it. You can't get 'french fries' for 100 RS there. A typical meal is 300-400. Screw that, way too much to eat Flipper.

So, I made my way to the famous Burning Ghat.



BURNING GHAT SHAKEDOWN

I wasn't even on the ghat but I took a couple pics of the wood. Such a lot of wood they have.

I'm not really interested in getting a picture of some guy's grandmother getting cremated. I wouldn't say that it is because of 'basic human decency' - those who know me well may already be laughing - but I just don't have any interest.

Some short guy saw me taking pictures from a distance and came right over. He told me that this was very disrespectful of his religion. He told me the only way to make it right was to come and give an unspecified amount donation to the 'old people's' fund. I was threatened with all sorts of horrible things - seizure of passport, jail time, heavy fines.

Con Man: "Don't you respect our religion?"
Logan: "Your religion? Yes. You? No."

Then, the danger level went up as more people wanted to come over to assist this con man. I just said "Hey, sorry. I'm out." and left despite their protestations that I could not leave.

Nobody tried to stop me. The barking dog had no teeth.

I did wonder if it would come down to a bit of fighting.

The sad thing is that with a con like this, you aren't totally sure if it is true or not. People do a lot of things that - were 'religion' not assigned to it people would say is totally moronic. Since 'religion' is assigned to it, all sorts of sacred emotions get tagged on. Best just to GTFO.

First hippies, now thwarted con men. What next?



RETURN TO THE BURNING GHAT

Those who know me know that I am very stubborn. I came to see the burning ghat, I will see the burning ghat.

I worked my way around the serpentine streets to the opposite side of the ghat. I put my had I'd been wearing into my bag and donned a necklace of flowers (5 RS) and bought a juice box (10 RS). Simple changes can make all of the difference for a disguise. If I had different pants and a shirt that would have helped but as it was the disguise worked.

Making sure not to have my camera in my hand - at all - I wandered around the burning ghat some more. The con men didn't realize it was me. I did keep away from them as I have a pretty unique appearance. But I got to see it.

The best way is to probably surreptitiously photograph the scene from a boat on the water. Note that I'm not advocating trying to get close ups of burning corpses but the scene itself is pretty interesting. Grim, possibly sad but interesting. Death is big business there.

I didn't actually see a corpse. Don't care, seen corpses before. Hell, seen a live autopsy. Don't care. Some people have a lot of problems with corpses. If someone is dead, I view them as just the five dollars or so of chemicals and goo left over afterward. Not really useful.

After that, my peckishness returned.



DRAMATIC RETURN OF THE PECKISHNESS

I made my way to the more reasonably priced 'Sankatha Guest House' and spoke to the owner Malu.

In asking him about the shenanigans at the burning ghat he told me never to give money to anyone there. There are a lot of people hustling foreigners there. Many problems with it. "Fucking police do nothing." he told me. I asked why and was told they get bribed. That's kind of sad in such a solemn and very religious place.

For those interested, rooms there go from 300-900. Hot water, wifi has been broken for two days, TV and in the more expensive rooms, AC.

The food was decent, I had a main, rice and a bottle of water for 130 RS.

I enjoyed spending an hour or two chatting with some nice folks from France.

After that, I went forth to find transport back to my guesthouse.



BIKE RIDE TO THE GUESTHOUSE

In India, you are never really done with being shaken down for money. I negotiated the price for the 3-4 KM ride back to Assi Ghat. The driver really didn't want to do 50 RS but some other guy started yelling he'd do it for 40 RS so he suddenly accepted my less than generous offer.

The amount of cut throat competition for a dollar is fierce.

On the trip, he tried to beg off me. Here are a couple snippets of the things he tried and how I responded to it. I call him 'bike'.

Bike: "I am very poor man."
Logan: "Excellent."

Bike: "It is many kilometers to Assi Ghat."
Logan: "You'd better pedal harder."

Bike: "It is a hard life with no money."
Logan: "That's super!"

Bike: "Do you think...?"
Logan: "Less talk, more pedal."

Eventually, he got the hint and shut up. I played the cheerful "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. It made him seem more happy and cheerful.

When I got off of the bike and handed him the earlier agreed upon 50 RS, he looked as though I'd just kicked him. When he gave me that look, the thought of kicking him did in fact cross my mind but I opted for tea instead. Yummie tea.

Fucking hate beggars.



SPELLING

I was just pondering spelling. Before the age of the computer, you needed to learn how to spell. They would have 'spelling B's' in school and such to try to test spelling and reward those who did well. And, of course, shamelessly mock those who didn't. Today, if someone is good at spelling you can always say "Gosh, you function as well as my spell check on the computer. So happy you spent all of that time memorizing the stupid spelling we have in the English language!"

Sorry kids, you only need to learn to spell well enough for spell check (or the internet) to figure out what you are trying to write.




VIDEOS

Boat Trip 1
Boat Trip 2
Ride back to Assi
TJ 2 Cows
TJ 4 Cows

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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