Why I love India… Lost and loving it in Varanasi (2017).
India’s ancient city of Varanasi is one of the holiest places in the Hindu religion. For thousands of years and to this day, Hindus make their pilgrimage to the banks of Varanasi’s Ganges River. The journey for three Westerners — Dan from the Canada, Scott from Australia, and me from California—culminates in this Mecca of Hinduism as well.
Mice in a Maze
Our hotel is nestled somewhere east of the Munshi Ghat, inside the heart one of the oldest areas of Varanasi. Without map or directions and only the hotel’s name, we try to negotiate a dark maze and soon realize our folly of arriving at night. In the pitch black, I stumble onto a chubby patch of short hair. A strained and bellowing Moo! sets me aback. I don’t know who is more scared shitless, me or this cow? After nearly an hour more of cattle dodging, countless wrong turns and possibly going in circles, we expert navigators find the hotel.
The Lost Boys
In the morning, it’s the Scott and Zack show exploring Varanasi (until Dan arrives at lunch). Much easier navigating in daylight, right? Not so fast, lads! Scott and I prove just as useless as we were last night. An earlier rain slows our progress, especially me in my flip flops, skating around in a quarter inch of soupy mud. But where do we gotta be anyway? As we slip around the slim spaces between centuries old, claustrophobia-inducing structures, it’s now official—we are going in circles. When a black cow glares at me, I whisper, “Sorry about last night, girl.” Bessy grunts through her bovine nostrils. She’s not the forgiving type.
After a lighthearted hour in the maze, we finally see beams of sun—a welcome contrast to the greyish light trapped in the alleyways. “Hold up,” I call out to Scott, who’s marching ahead. I stop and cringe at my brown-coated feet and splashes of mud nearly up to my board shorts. He turns, clean and comfy in his jeans and shoes. “How’s all that cow shit on your legs treating you?” he chuckles.
“Cow what? Isn’t this just mud?” Arrgh! I failed to put together the obvious. I turn, shake my fist in jest, and yell back down the shadowy path at “BESSYYYYYYYY!!!”
The Ultimate Reward
As I trudge on and catch up with Scott, the serene chatter of the alley echoes the bustle of a thousand voices. Together we emerge from the alley into the sunlight and fresh air. A river of people flow around a herd of wandering islet cattle. The range of emotions is endless. For many pilgrims, their lifelong dream is nearly fulfilled as the salvation of the sacred Ganges is only a minute away. A hunched lady in her nineties weeps as her diligent grandsons help her along. A middle-aged man beams brighter than the daylight and chants a Hindu hymn, almost skipping towards the holy river.
Besides the sheer volume of people, the spectrum of colors adds to sensory overload. From womens’ head scarves and shawls draped around beautiful caramel skin to a nearby vendor bubbling small vats of spicy curries over glowing embers. There’s every color imaginable! Bold, faded, chalky, patterned, pastel, fluorescent – you name it, it’s here. Scott too, struggles to process the scene as I yell over the pleasant commotion, “What are we seeing right now? This is just—”
A horn blasts, startling us both out of our scattered thoughts. Right by our feet is a snake charmer and a dancing cobra. “This is India!” Scott shouts back in dumbfound amazement that must rival mine.
Get Out There!
This is why I love India—the fun and fulfillment of getting lost in the Third World, then the rewarding culture shock of quintessential India. And upon leaving this great city—the most obscene batch of curry you’ll ever lay eyes on. One for the road, my friend!