39. Varanasi

Varanasi: Our second to last stop in India and one of the holiest cities in a very holy country, Varanasi was the most interesting and most difficult stop of this trip. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus looking to cleanse their soul and/or take a shortcut to Nirvana. The former you accomplish by washing away your sins in the holy Ganges River (above), which is ironic because the water in the Ganges is literally septic. The latter is accomplished by dying in Varanasi or being cremated on the banks of the river, at one of the temples designed specifically for cremation. This is the place to address your Hindu afterlife and the result is a riverfront that’s chaotically packed with temples, bathers, worshippers, tents full of yogis and priests, people lying on the riverbank waiting to die, burning bodies (200 a day), random herds of water buffalo (why not), children playing cricket, parades of tourists gawking at all of this and dozens of entrepreneurs trying to sell boat rides or postcards to them/us. You know we went for the boatride. At sunrise no less.

The energy flowing in and out of Varanasi is of a rare kind, we didn’t experience anything else like it in India. It makes for the kind of sightseeing that’s a rich reward but physically and mentally exhausting and it got both of us sick with cold/flu and stomach bugs. In the end, watching people bathe themselves and mourn the cremation of their loved ones was all a little too voyeuristic for us. We mocked the group tours with their loudspeakers, super zoom lenses and giant video cameras, until we realized we were really a part of the same. And then it was time to leave, for a place with absolutely no tourist appeal, the Taj Mahal.


  1. rja72 says:

    thanks for taking us along for the ride…

  2. Anonymous says:

    I see your shadow in there!–JLE

  3. S says:

    That can’t possibly be my shadow. Must be Shiva.