Varanassi – The Ultimate Indian Experience – Part I
Before recounting the actual journey and stay in Varanassi, let me just say that Varanassi encompasses everything that is India, at is utmost beautiful and at its most horrible. If you think of everything you have ever heard said about how terrible it is in India, and everything you have ever heard about how wonderful it is in India, and put them all together in one place, that place is Varanassi. It is India at its worst and most magnificent. It is true dichotomy on all levels.
It has left all my senses bruised and raw and painful, and not just my
physical senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. But my sense of compassion, humility, decency, acceptance, understanding, revulsion, pity, piety, anger, justice, proportion, disgust, wonder, amazement, sympathy, decency, divinity, purity, abhorrence, delight. And so much more…words are completely inadequate to recount this experience in its entirety. Hopefully the pictures and videos will also be of assistance in translating this journey into a language that does even minimal justice to what it truly was.
Varanassi is, first and foremost , one of the most sacred places on Earth, the oldest, continually inhabited city in the world. But for me,
But for me, the physical reality of Varanassi did not allow me to fully appreciate the sacred energies of the city-and despite this, the experience was still an extremely powerful one for me on a personal level with two very important insights and messages given to me while there. The overpowering, chaotic press of humanity and squalor which overshadows all else that Varanassi has to offer left me feeling assaulted on all levels for the entire time I was there and grateful to be back in the tranquility which is Rishikesh.
Varanassi is a city of relentless touts, stench, squalor, muck (made even worse by the first two days of drizzle and the last day of full rain – the streets were squishy, slippery and slimy with shit and you name it after and during the rain and extremely difficult to navigate), persistent beggar children, inhuman poverty and misery, never-ending approaches by innumerable people with something to sell or wanting something from us, (I don’t mean every so often – I mean every few seconds – no sooner would we get rid of one than the next one would approach).
Varanassi is a photographer’s dream and a tourist’s nightmare. It is really as bad as they say – there is a special smell/perfume of urine, shit and burning ghats which cannot be described and is ever present – plus the additional smells of sewage being dumped down the ghats from the flats above directly into the river! The tout hassle is truly beyond belief and only seeing it as a joke made it possible to walk at all. I cannot truly find the words to describe my first day’s walk in Varanassi-it is impossible to walk more than a minute without stopping to look at something new and never before seen or experienced.
I did not feel frightened or stressed by any of it, just overwhelmed. This is a world beyond anything we can imagine.
In the same river spot, laundry, body washing, puja, swimming, drinking and sewage dumping all take place! And this repeats itself all along the entire length of the ghats…
Varanassi captured my curiosity, my revulsion to human misery, my amazement, – it enthralled me and had me open my eyes in wonder every second in all directions.
But it did not enchant me or bewitch me or engender love on a soul level as other places in India have. I feel a sense of overload not conducive to tranquility and peace of mind. It is a place, almost unearthly in its diversity of extreme emotional impact – but for me, a place to experience and then leave – hopefully never to return!
END OF PART I….Part II to follow shortly.