If an India-overdose is what you are looking for – then head for one of the oldest, holiest, dirtiest, strangest and most exotic cities in the world; Varanasi.
It is said that Varanasi is India for intermediates. I have to agree to that. Some prior India-experience could come in useful. Anyhow, an overflow of impressions is guaranteed.
Varanasi is the religious capital of India
Varanasi (Benares), located north-east in India in the state Uttar Pradesh, is one of the 7 holiest cities in Hinduism. From the western bank of the holy river Ganges, the city welcomes a huge number of pilgrims and tourists. Varanasi is the home of Hindu God Shiva and the origin of Yoga.
The cow-dung is also holy, so don’t even worry about it
In Hinduism the cows are holy. So no wonder there is many of them in Varanasi. They share the street with about every other thinkable creature and vehicle. Be prepared to rub shoulder with it all. Don’t even think of avoiding to step in cow-dung, keep your eyes up – try to avoid to crash into someone or something.
My daughter has become half-Indian
On our first morning walk down to Ganges, I was struggling to follow my daughter Thea that was confidently navigating between all kinds of moving objects in the extremely busy narrow streets. When Thea was exchanging some sentences in Hindi with a shop-keeper, I saw my idea of being the most India-experienced one in our family vanish in the dusty air. But I was glad to give away the title and proud that she had dived so all-in, enough to stay in Varanasi for months learning Hindi and so extremely much more that comes with the package.
“Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” Mark Twain.
Close to death experience
Varanasi is a lot about death, and you are ringside. Close enough to feel the heat and smell the smoke from the never-ending cremation fires. After just one single walk along the so characteristic Varanasi Ghats (steps leading down to the holy river Ganges) – you are a part of it. The very basics, as I understand it, is that dying and/or being cremated in Varanasi increases the chance of breaking the souls endless circle of re-births and achieve Moksha.
Lots of sin-washing, cloth washing, cremation, wet funerals – and even a little fishing
Our 1,5 hour late-morning boat trip on the holy river covered all 80+ Ghats, and exposed us to more Ganges related activities than we could ask for. I have never seen so much sin being ritually washed straight out of people, so much dirt being beaten out of clothes, so much worship or so many open cremation fires.
Half way our captain stopped the boat for a while so we could drift with the flow and just soak in the ambiance. A small row-boat with a golden-paper-wrapped something hanging down both sides of the boat passed close to us.
-You know what that is? our friend Ramu asked me.
Though I hadn’t even heard about this sink-into-Ganges funeral option, I just nodded my head slightly as the parcel was rolled into the river in front of us.
The holy bow?
One of the boys working in my hotel had really targeted me when it came to paying respect. He had the deepest bow with the most repetitions I have ever seen. It even demanded a slight backswing to perform.
Lucky to be airborne
Relieved to be on the 2 hour flight back to Mumbai, I reflected a little on my fascination for India, that is much powered by contrasts; noisy-quite, simple-extravagant, rich-pore, energetic-relaxed, traditional-modern, clean-dirty etc etc etc.
In this city the contrasts seems harder to identify (at least on a weekend trip), since Varanasi seems so massively Varanasi. But for sure, contrast-rich by being horrible and fantastic at the same time.