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Photographer's Note

While the outfits of these two gentlemen look traditional in the most idyllic kind of way Ive known for quite a long time that, more often than not, they are worn not for ritual purposes but to facilitate the process of extracting money from tourists. Im not trying to say thats wrong, since when is it not allowed to charge money for posing for photos? Also, the amounts in question are not worth worrying about. I paid a 100 rupee to each of these models, the equivalent of 2.5 dollars in total.

But at least I thought those people were locals, trying to tap into the stream of money flowing from the tourism industry. But its not always so. A few hours after this photo was taken I was sitting on the steps of one of the Varanasi ghats, reading my guidebook and generally minding my own business, when a man dressed in a similar fashion sat next to me and we started talking. Or rather he started talking and it soon became apparent that he was hoping for me to buy the service he was offering, which happened to be fortune telling. Apparently, it cost only 300 rupees and was great fun. But I was enjoying the then present moment and was not in the mood to talk about the future. He didnt insist but, instead of walking off in search of more willing clientele, he told me his story. He lived in Switzerland! Yes, in one of the richest countries of the Western Europe.

So what was he doing there, by the Ganges, dressed as if for the Kumbh Mela festival? The answer was in fact very simple and not as romantic as you might expect. He didnt like Swiss winters, so he spent the coldest months of the year in a much warmer country. While back at home, I suspect, his dole was being paid into his bank account, he was also earning a few bob working abroad.

At least I didnt feel bad that by refusing I deprived him of his livelihood. He did not really need my money, just like I didnt need his fortune telling.

But this is not the titular funniest con. To find out about that you need to keep reading.

In the last two posts I described my early morning boat trip along the Ganges. It was booked via my hostel and cost 300 rupees (plus a small tip for the boatman). I loved every moment of it but took few good photos in the low light of the early morning so was hoping to do it again in the early afternoon. While the price was good, I expected I would be able to find even better offers from people who were not sharing their earnings with a tourist establishment. But it turned out that everyone quoted 400 rupees. I was intrigued and decided Id keep asking around. It was then when I stumbled upon an elderly, miserable-looking man. He was clearly frail and malnourished, so when he offered me a boat ride I felt I really should accept it. He quoted well over what I had already found out to be the market price but when I pointed that out, he lowered it to 500 rupees. Considering his age and obvious poverty I thought I should not haggle any further. Especially that he kept mentioning how difficult he found rowing at his age and how his boss would grab the lions share of his earnings. He said that, to ensure he, not just his boss, gets paid, I should give him a tip (I quote: any amount of your choice as long as its at least 2 dollars). Then, in the boat, he asked me to hand over the tip far away from the place where he had picked me up me so the boss couldnt see me give him money because he would then demand a share. It all looked very genuine and I gave him 2 dollars.

He didnt even touch the paddles. We floated with the current for a mile or two. I was hoping we would go back at the same pace so I could take more photos. But, instead of rowing, my boatman attached a line to someone elses motorboat and off we went, at high speed, back to the pier where I had met him. It was quite an expensive and fairly short ride but I still felt sorry for him and kept thinking of that awful boat owner that exploited his labour (he didnt exactly do any rowing, but he spent his time taking tourists up and down the river).

When I got off the boat, I asked about his name. "Kanhayi", he answered, "Just like on that sign". And he pointed at a sign on a new, richly decorated boat, not like the old one he offered me the trip in. The sign said: "Kanhayi Boat". It was then that I realised he not only owned the boat but he had a prospering business with more than one vessel and maybe even employed (and exploited) other locals. Seeing the look on my face, he realised his faux pas and tried to mitigate it by saying: "It's my boss's name too".

Of course. It was his boss's name as he was his own boss!

I found that incredibly funny. Worth paying a few extra dollars for.

In WS you can see Kanhayi's other boat and a photo of yet another boat and boatman. I was planning to post Kanhayi's story in WS but it was apparently too long.

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Additional Photos by Kasia Nowak (kasianowak) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1692 W: 9 N: 3498] (17672)
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