The haunting beauty of Varanasi, India.
Varanasi is a strange mixture of haunting beauty and desperate aggravation. It’s a holy city, sprawled out along a sacred river. A river people use to both wash their dirty laundry and wash away their sins. People bathe there. Cows bathe there. The dead are burned there.
Daily, we’d witness the cremation rituals held at one of the ghats. They were hard to ignore. Dead bodies wrapped in white cloth, wrapped again in colorful fabrics with sparkling gold trim, were paraded through town on a wooden ladder accompanied by chanting and sometimes drums. Once at the river the bodies would be unwrapped and placed on a wooden platform before being set on fire, burning to ash in front of onlookers and loose cows.
It’s a city that you would expect to be solemn, reverent, respectful.
You would expect.
But it was also a city where the cab driver kept refusing to take us to the hotel we asked for. A city where after taking ride on his boat the man demanded more money than we’d agreed on. A city where a man in a “fashion police” t-shirt followed us home, yelling at us and demanding that we pay him because he saw us taking photos where we weren’t supposed to (we hadn’t been). A city where kids would jump in front of our photos and then demand money. A city where I was awoken in the middle of the night by Jaime because there was a rat in our bed.
Top that off with skyrocketing heat made no better by burial bonfires, and it was hard to leave our room sometimes (rat and all).
It was exhausting. A word that I know I’ve used far too often to describe India, but the touts and greed of Varanasi took the wear of the country to a whole new level.