Varanasi: Spiritual, Magical, and Chaotic
Emma and I are waiting for Amrita and Joseph at a Japanese Tea Shop. Inside it’s quiet and cool, but every time the door opens you’re reminded of the heat and the noise that’s just outside.
I’ve always said that India is like no other place you’ll visit, but Varanasi takes that to a whole new level. The city is intense. It’s crowded. Hot. Teeming with cows, goats, and dogs. And all the shit that comes from animals freely roaming the streets. Yet it’s magical, mystical, spiritual. It’s an incredible place.
We are staying at a hotel along the Ganges River, which is a lovely location once you’re at the hotel. Getting there is a major hassle. There are main roads that intersect the city, but close to the ghats, it’s only narrow pathways. No cars, only bikes, foot traffic, and motorcycles, which reign over the paths. You hear one honking, you better quickly move to the side for fear of being run over. We hired a car from the airport; they take you as far as they can, but then you’re on your own. With your luggage. On streets that are crowded with cows and shit. Lucky for us, an eager young Indian boy latched onto us and began walking with us, talking about politics.
Obama land, he told me when I told him that we were from the states or America, as you have to refer to the homeland here in India. He proceeded to tell me that Bush was bad and that Obama visited India. We agreed on politics, so I let him continue walking with us. When I told him where we were staying, he led the way, pointing at the signs that marked the route. I’m no liar, miss. This way. He led us all the way to our hotel. How we would have made it there without his help, is beyond me. As it was, we had to carry our suitcases up and down stairs. And it was so hot. I cannot imagine what we would have done without his help. I paid and thanked him, and then he left.
There have been lots of people helping us. Yesterday, we turned the corner on one of these narrow roads and found a massive cow staring us down. He was completely blocking the road. Emma looked and me, and I pointed towards the cow, motioning that that’s the way we need to. Neither of us are real comfortable slipping by or between cows. A little boy (like 7 or 8) saw us hesitate and came to our rescue. He slapped the cow’s behind. When the cow didn’t move, he backed into it with all his weight until he was able to nudge it to one side. We quickly went by, thanking him while we laughed at a young boy having to save us from the cow.
Getting lost on maze-like streets has had its advantages, everything is so picturesque. I have taken so many pictures of doors and colorful walls that I think Emma is starting to get annoyed with me. Yesterday, we stumbled upon the ghat where open cremation takes place. I have witnessed this before in Kathmandu, so it was nice to be able to explain some parts of it to Emma, though I did notice several differences. In Nepal, the women in the family sit back, completely removed from the ceremony aspect of the cremation until they are invited to sprinkle water on the body. In India, women don’t attend at all. We took a boat ride on the river today, and I learned from the man rowing that women stay at home because if they go, they cry, and then everyone cries. Gosh, we women are so emotional, aren’t we? I always find logic like this entertaining and ridiculous at the same time.
We also found the Nepalese Temple while trying to find our hotel. It was nice to share that with Emma given all that Nepal has gone through lately, and it is a place I have visited and very much loved.
This morning we started our day with a two-hour boat ride. We woke at 5:00 am so that we could watch the sunrise and beat the heat, but the most amazing thing happened – it was so overcast that it was comfortable. A breeze and no sun. It was so peaceful on the water. I loved every minute of it. Emma loved about the first 30-40 minutes. I found it fascinating and could go out every morning and never tire of the ride. The river is the livelihood of this city. There were people swimming, praying, bathing, doing laundry, playing cricket, selling marigolds. The cremation ghats were busy. Laundry was put out to dry. Women chatted in colorful saris, while their feet dipped into the water. Cows slept or ate trash. Monkeys jumped from building to building. There was so much to take in. An overload of your senses, which is what Varanasi is all about.