I thought Delhi was crazy until we got to Varanasi. Varanasi is considered a holy city and it blessed me with the holy shits. I don’t even know where to begin but I think I was starting to miss the quiet and emptiness of Mongolia. India can be overwhelming and Varanasi is no exception. Here there is no escaping the filth or the large-scale poverty. The sights can be difficult to stomach as malnourished children and animals populate your view. You become pregnant with ambivalence, guilt, sadness, and soon the thoughts go inward. Who am I to turn from such sights? How am I any different as a person? Do I think I am above this? We’ve been traveling externally for months and now I feel the path shift inward. The journey takes a different shape as I begin excavating my insides, trekking through all my gut reactions. I have seen poverty and therefore thought I was prepared but was surprised at the melting pot of emotions. They were bubbling over.
With that being said, Varanasi is also quite amazing. You are probably wondering how it can be amazing after a paragraph like that. But it is. There is no other place like it. Beauty takes on different shapes and it’s not just the clean and objectively beautiful places that are worth seeing. Our first day was quite insane. We didn’t realize it was a ceremonial holiday and the main ghat was packed, swarming with activity. We got lost in some alleyways where we encountered a man who showed us to the main burning ghat. And there we stood, watching bodies being cremated next to the Ganges River with the ashes of many latching onto our faces and clothes. Who are these people? What are their stories? Such a sight left an impression on me that hasn’t quite fully formed and I’m not sure when or if it will.
We left the burning ghat and found a tiny nook of a Lassi Shop with homemade lassies that are delicious.
(We went back every day). We sat, sipping lassis watching bodies being carried past us towards the burning ghat with ceremonious chanting. Nourishing myself as those that needn’t be nourished anymore traveled towards their salvation. Not your usual out the window visual.
So our first day included cremations, lassis, madness, and sights that left my heart both sore and swollen with beautifully haunting memories. The rest of the week we spent exploring the alleys, sitting at the ghats, and watching people bathe in the Ganges. The Ganges by the way is not the holy water you would imagine. When you think holy water you think pristine, clear, sparkling water that glitters in the sunlight as it tends to your internal and external wounds. This is what it is not. Think muddy swamp mixed in with corpses, probable diseases looking for hosts, wading trash, and who knows what else. As holy as it is, I couldn’t imagine bathing in the Ganges in good conscious. Swimming the East River in NYC is about as adventurous as I get when it comes to questionable waters. One night we took a boat tour downstream to the main ghat where they hold a nightly ceremony where people and boats alike gather. As it ended, boats all in a traffic jam headed back upstream. Or tried to. We got about halfway upstream when we realized other boats were passing us, as we were fighting against the current and bitterly loosing. We end up drifting away from shore and back downstream in the dark and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to know what bathing in the Ganges is actually like. The guide gets on his cell phone and the driver gets out of the boat and into the water (we think he is anchoring the boat in shallow waters with himself). In the distance we see another boat try to traverse the same spot with the same results. The Ganges wins. We try again. It takes us 30 minutes to get through the rough patch of water. Phew. Made it.
The last two days I spent in bed as a stomach bug held me hostage. It was only a matter of time.
Rick got sick in the first week, I followed suit the second week.
Welcome to India.