The beauty of India reaches far beyond what one can imagine. The history of a country that goes far beyond the history of Europe or the great Roman Empire that many of us know so well. Nothing can prepare a person for the unique experience that one will have visiting Incredible India.
There is no way to prepare for the disastrous consequences of the Indian Mafia.
Everything in India is magnified; the colors, the smells, the experiences. This is in essence why it has been designated incredible.
To try to explain the vastness of a country with such great variation, such humility and kindness, such a range of possibility simply cannot be put into words. A picture is worth a thousand words, but to experience India is much more than that.
To experience the Indian mafia first hand is without description.
As a tourist that travels to foreign lands one must understand that this is not our home. When traveling outside a home country we are but guests in a foreign culture. One must adapt, respect, and follow local customs.
Appreciate them and always remember that there is no best way to do things. There are simply different ways.
One must understand that a country such as India hosts 25% of its population in abject poverty.
Does that give locals the right to take advantage of tourists? Does that give locals the right to push tourists to their breaking point? Past their highest levels of patience and understanding? No it does not.
One must understand that in dire circumstances locals may use the tourism industry as way to feed their families. It is in all meaning of the word, their livelihood.
The Ghat Mafia: Varanasi, India
Approaching one of the two burning Ghats where bodies are cremated to enter the afterlife is one of the most holy of places. Alongside the holy Ganges river this is the holiest of places for Hindus. A comparison would be the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem for Christians and Jews and the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for Muslims.
We approached the location where men (and women) come to die.
Peacefully entering the arena a handful of young men approached and stated, “no pictures allowed beyond this point”. It was understood, it was a holy place.
The young men were dressed head to toe in brand new western jeans (not cheap in India) and brand new watches as well as expensive jewelry. It seemed as though they were concerned with nothing but our behavior in this holy place.
If it was that important why is it that the military or police were not around. If it was that important why was there not an entry fee? Why were there just a handful of young men trying to control our behavior in the most holiest of places in India?
Is it not clear this is exactly how the mafia operates?
A lucrative business is found and whether it is morally acceptable or not it is taken advantage of. The group of infidels the mafia was following were certainly not allowed certain behaviors. It was our group who were the infidels.
The group wasn’t allowed to walk here or walk there, to sit here or sit there, and taking pictures was the highest of offenses.
It was stated that the group should walk up to the top of a building where a good few of the burning Ghat could be witnessed. The 2nd floor was off limits for whatever reason. Interest was piqued and I promptly walked into the 2nd floor through the yelling of one of the members of the Ghat Mafia.
In layman’s term I told him to shut up as I wasn’t going to be ordered around by a young man that didn’t have any official authority.
After walking in the forbidden 2nd floor two young men were found and they kindly requested me to have a seat. “Come and watch the holy procession” they stated, happy to be rid of the Ghat mafia I quietly obliged. It was a moment where I could actually enjoy what I was witnessing.
If it wasn’t allowed why would a person be greeted with a such kindness and humility, great traits shown by most Indian people.
After 15 minutes ensued I returned and followed the group into the 3rd level with the Ghat mafia where we were initially requested to go. The leader of the current pack followed me and said “why did you go in there” and I promptly replied “because I felt like it.”
The look of disdain on his face was enough to scare a child.
Why is it that this mafia takes it upon themselves to control the activities of the tourists? Why is it that when I returned in the evening there was no mafia telling our group of infidels where to go, where to sit, or not to take pictures?
Because they wouldn’t be given the supposed “mandatory donation” when visiting the Ghat is why.
The hypocrisy of the situation ruined the experience at what is supposed to be one of the holiest places in India. The Ghat Mafia only wants money and they don’t care about it being a holy place or not. This explains why they are dressed with brand new clothes and jewelry.
Since the incredible food in India cannot be tolerated by our stomachs weight has been gained eating junk food. Both the digital camera and GoPro video camera were mounted steadily in my hands. I stood at the 3rd floor balcony (trying) to enjoy what I was witnessing.
A man comes up and demands to know why pictures are being taken. There was no banter, no patience, only a demand to know why the holiest of holy locations in India was being violated.
I promptly turned and stated there are no pictures being taken.
The Ghat Mafia assembled as I turn and one young man gets into my face. A defensive stance is taken by the young man and an aggressive move is made to staunch an attack to deter a predator. Realizing the behavior I am witnessing I step into the aggressors face after placing the digital camera into a pocket. I promptly relieve myself with strong language.
I let it be known this behavior will not be tolerated.
This is the PG version you are allowed to read. A move is made, his neck is quickly in the grasp of my hand and the Ghat Mafia disperses. I turn and only then decide to take the pictures. If they were going to violate this place of worship then taking pictures should be the least of anyones worries.
The pictures bothered no one at that point in time and I proceeded to leave the Madame WanderingTrader and group of infidels alone on the 3rd floor.
It was possible that mafia reinforcements would approach. The battle was won but the war was far from over.
After leaving a member of the group of infidels was asked for a donation by the Ghat Mafia. It was no donation, it was a coerced attempt to make a living through extortion.
A donation was given to the sweet old woman standing at the entrance of the third floor. As a true mafia member, he sticks out his hand in anticipation that the money would be turned over.
The women clenches her fist and places the funds in a place where the mafia would not dare to go, inside her clothes near her crotch. She looks at the man and with a slight motion of her face, with no words being spoken, her head shakes to signal no, that money will not given away.
Is this behavior necessary is the question?
There is no need to swindle tourists for a benefit of the Ghat Mafia. At any point traveling around the world I reward honest behavior with the most generous of tips. Often times triple or quadruple as much what it should normally cost.
We returned later that evening following a body being carried from the main street all the way to the burning Ghat, the cremation center. Was there a mafia waiting for us? No.
Was there someone to advise our group of infidels where to sit and where to stand, of course not.
The visit to Varanasi is now unfortunately marred in history by the behavior of the Ghat Mafia. As Pushkar was stained by the Gypsy Mafia, Flower Mafia, and Locker Mafia. In Mumbai, it was the Holy Mafia.
It is understood that tourists will have to deal with this behavior in markets, to take taxis, and in many other situations. But to experience this at the holiest of places in India is the highest of hypocrisies and monumentally unacceptable.
It will not be tolerated by this tourist.
There was no mafia regrouping, there was no attempt to continue barraging our group of infidels with demands for behavior.
If one is ever in Varanasi stop and make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated. Don’t feel uncomfortable by saying no. Stop walking, place your hand around their shoulder ever so firmly and make it clear that it will not be tolerated. It is a holy place, not a place for a mafia.
Sadly, my experience in Varanasi has been altered forever.
Don’t let your experience be stained by this activity. It is best to stop the behavior before it starts. The more tourists stop supporting this behavior the faster it will end.
It would be in the interest of the Indian government which hopes to encourage more tourism and foreign investment to monitor this type of unwelcoming behavior. It is not in the long term interest to tolerate this type of hooligan behavior.
When one talks about Incredible India this should not be one of the things to remember. India has enough exotic visual experiences, crime syndicates should not be part of the equation.