Welcome to the A to Z Challenge, an initiative that invites bloggers to post an alphabet-themed post every day (excluding Sundays) during the month of April. As part of this challenge, I’ll be sharing some of my travel memories to known and unknown places in the hope to inspire your travel dreams.
V is for…Varanasi (India)
The holy city of Varanasi is a must for most visitors to India, and with good reason. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to the 11th century BC and is one of Hinduism’s most holy cities. Hindus believe that if they die in Varanasi they will achieve nirvana, releasing them from the cycle of reincarnation. Because of this, many people make final pilgrimages to this city when they are close to death.
If India is considered the graduate school of traveling, Varanasi is where you defend your dissertation. Here you will come face to face with life and death, your senses will be inundated, and you will have to endure the near constant bombardment from touts. It is smelly. It is filthy. It is crowded. It is intense and overwhelming. You will want to cry with frustration, with sadness and with complete adoration for what you see and experience. This is India in it’s most extreme form.
But if you persevere past the harshness of this city, you will be rewarded with memories of a lifetime. In it’s own way, Varanasi is magical. For the visitor, the ultimate sight is to ride along the Ganges at sunrise watching the pilgrims do devotions in the murky water, hoping to cleanse themselves of sin. It is also walking along the ghats at sunset watching the twinkle of lights. And getting lost in the narrow car-free winding lanes that all look the same. Some get lost hoping to see the open fires with burning corpses. For others that is just too much to bare.
When we visited in 2011, the ghats were flooded due to a late monsoon showers. We didn’t get to experience the magicalness of walking along the ghats or the sunrise boat rides. Instead, we waded knee deep in the dirty brown water along with the devotees, searching for higher ground. We spent hours walking the lanes, getting lost, not worried about finding our way out. Having our baby with us meant that instead of touts pestering us, we had aunties and uncles coming to say hello with the wish to touch our son’s head for good luck.
In the end, we didn’t get the experience we had longed for, but we walked away with a view of Varanasi that many others have never seen.