Climbing the Mount Everest requires preparation and conditioning for adaptation. Even a minor error in the preparation and conditioning phase may have lethal repercussions. Reaching the base camp and returning empty handed with a broken dream is painful, and wasteful, to say the least. I find in this an apt and interesting analogy for Kasi yatra (visit). Most of the people visiting Kasi/Varanasi have their expectations: great expectations, even before they start packing for their trip. There are stereotypes to which they want their experiences to conform to. The images below represent the stereotypical Kasi that is so well and widely known that it becomes very difficult to understand it. People visiting the city see what they expect to see, and not what they look at. They expect a spectacle, and they are given the same by media and by the whole tourism industry. Even Baudrillard would find the propagation of the image of the city definitely interesting.
(All the photos by Dr. A. P. Singh)
Kasi is stereotyped as the city of death, temples, religion, colours, river, boats and celebrations. Tourists and pilgrims visit the city, they come to only visit the city, for a couple of days: no preparation of the real and fruitful kind and no conditioning at all. They are not ready to invest time and effort, yet they feel cheated when they don’t get all that they had heard of the experience of the city. Well, I don’t know about other cities but Kasi is not to be chewed and digested in a day. In fact, one can only prepare oneself for the city and hope to find it as it is, if he is observant, persevering and lucky. There are no guarantees of success in ventures like climbing Mt. Everest or experiencing Kasi.
One of the ways to experience the real city is to go slow. It has to be soaked in. The process may take a really long time. The cycles of seasons must be observed, along with the way Kasi responds to the changes. (Here, I sound like claiming that I am a kasilogist. I am not.) There are people who can facilitate the process of experiencing the city by pointing towards the right times and places for the experience, but they can’t enter the reaction itself. The city and the visitor/dweller combine in some sort of reaction to produce a new person, post-experience. A kasilogist or a kasiphile can only be a catalyst, and never a reactant.
The ghats in the images below can perform dual function: they can confirm the stereotype and lead one to where they want to be lead, or they can act as the points of departure from which one may launch one an inner journey of the discovery of Kasi within.