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I left my heart in Varanasi

Written on: Thursday May 14th, 2009

A journal entry from: India

Up North now! Varanasi. This is going to be a tough one to paint.

Set along the Ganges, this is the holiest city in India (have you seen the film "Water"? It is set here). Old town, where we are staying, is an elaborate maze of tiny stone streets, much too small for cars. They are filled with soldiers, holy people, people heading to worship, tourists, cows, processions of dead bodies, hole-in-the-wall (literally) shops, and randomly placed colorful buildings. As we walk from one place to another, we literally have to pick landmarks on every corner as we walk so as to find our way back. "Red door, 3 cows, blue tarp, man washing dish..." has been the dialogue as we journey. From our hotel we can look out over Ganges and the colourful array of rooftops crammed together to form the city - amazing, and stunningly serene compared to the mad bustle that lays below.

Varanasi centres around death in many ways... for one to die here means they are released from the cycle of life, and will enter Nirvana. Thus, the street processions of bodies covered in colourful fabrics on wooden stretchers is frequent, and burning of bodies runs constantly 24 hours a day (in public).

The Ganges River is extremely holy and, though also outrageously polluted, people can be seen bathing and drinking its water to cleanse themselves. The "Ganga" is life. As we floated in a canoe down the holy river, we passed many colourful Ghats (sections of stairs leading down to the river), including those with bodies aflame, laundry, swimming lessons, and religious ceremonies. Once and awhile a body that had been deemed too sacred to burn and had instead been thrown into the water, would slip from its anchor at the bottom and float past us in the waves. Funny how... casual it felt. Normal. The banks opposing the Ghat side of the river are covered over during monsoon season, and thus when they can be seen are filled with debris and bones from human corpses. We were able to wander the banks a little bit and take in some of these sights. The smell and maggots got me a little here, but again, it was all unexpectedly... normal.

It is really hard to explain such an experience as being in one of the most holiest cities in the world, and seeing things you never have and likely never will again. It is even harder to explain how seeing death so up close in a backdrop like this can feel nothing like what you'd think it would. It just... is. It is frustrating trying to put it into bloggable terms. This city was the most unique, memorable, and powerful that I have ever experienced in travels. Unforgettable on all accounts.

Pics finally up! (For previous blog as well)


From Grammar/Syntax Nazi on May 19th, 2009

Once in a while Jennelle, once IN a while

From Jennelle on May 21st, 2009

MP, is that you??

From Andrew on May 22nd, 2009

Great write-up, you did an ace job of making me feel like I was there.