There’s no question that Varanasi is a beautiful city, and nobody doubts its credentials as one of the holiest places on Earth. However, the big question hanging over Varanasi is why anybody would go out of their way to visit, especially when you consider the crime and pollution in the city.
All travellers to India know that there will be something of a culture shock when landing in the country (usually in Delhi or Mumbai for westerners), and pollution and poor hygiene is par for the course. Yet we tolerate this because we actually LOVE much of the country (and its people), and we wish to see wonders like the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort in Agra, as well as Amber Fort in Jaipur, Bengal Tigers in Ranthambore, sample some classic street food in Mumbai, and perhaps enjoy some relaxation on the beach in Goa or on the long Chennai coastline. But what of Varanasi? It is a city we hear a lot in the guidebooks, but unless you’re spiritual yourself, would you venture somewhere that is known to be so DIRTY?!
Admittedly, this “dirtiness” may be part of the attraction for some people, but I have heard just as many travellers state their displeasure with Varanasi due to its uncleanliness and pollution as I have with people who enjoyed their time there. It seems to really divide opinion.
I have been to most major Indian cities (apart from Bangalore and Hyderabad) so I am pretty experienced when it comes to knowing what to expect from India. Yet Varanasi appalled me. The city is literally crumbling, and the less that is said about what floats in the Ganges the better! I cannot believe people still come here expecting to see a Holy City. Imagine if Venetians bathed and excreted in the canals beside St. Mark’s Basilica – would that not turn away tourists, regardless of the city’s history? Yet we, for some reason, are more inclined to tolerate such behaviour from people who live far away.
Of course, as far as the locals in Varanasi are concerned, why should they care about tourists? Its their city, and as long as they are within the law, then why not let your children poop in the river as swathes of tour boats sail past? Different parts of the world have different cultures, and it is wrong for westerners to impose their own standards on people they visit – yet does the holy reputation of city of Varanasi deserve better from its authorities, if only to help living standards for its own people?