The title of this blog doesn’t even begin to describe the sheer amount of activity and life crammed in to the magical streets of Varanasi, THE holiest of the seven holy cities in India and the oldest city in the world, still standing strong on the banks of the Ganges after 3000+ years: a melting pot, where both life and death come together. Devout Hindus come here to cremate their dead, and believe they can wash away their sins by bathing here – I’ll pass on that, respectfully, for now.
“Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, And looks twice as old as all of them put together” Mark Twain
On day one, as I navigated/u-turned my way towards the Ganges River through the narrow alleys of the rabbit warren, I was met with fervent locals, Steves, Goats, motorbikes, mopeds, bicycles, countless sacred Cows/Bulls lolling on past (giving each a touch of respect), cheeky monkeys looking down and making mischief, Men with shrouded loved ones aloft their shoulders on bamboo stretchers, headed towards the Ganga Ghats (river front stairs) to be cremated, or covered in ash (erm, it’s human ash) returning – all sharing the alleys, and sometimes all at once.
Until today I couldn’t say I’d seen a dead body, let alone 9 being cremated at once. I didn’t know how I’d react but I was strangely enamoured. Varanasi has its own flavour of magic, play, illusion, intensity, over crowding and esoteric party atmosphere (considering), yet somehow it’s peaceful, I like it. Who knows what tonight/tomorrow brings…
I’d recommend staying at Shiva Guest House – a little hard to find but inexpensive, a/c, helpful staff, and puts you right amongst it. For some good cheap grub, I’d also recommend hitting the Dosa Cafe.
My favourite tactic whenever I arrive anywhere new is to get high up from street level, get my bearings as well as a healthy dose of horizon. Tonight’s venue is the Dolphin Roof Top restaurant – a perfect spot to soak up the cocohophany of Varanasi by night and watch the sun go down over the Ganges.