India 2012: Varanasi

DSC_3929India, the most beautiful, most terrible place I have ever been and I ended those weeks in Varanasi. It’s taken me two years to even stop for a moment and write about being there, of all the spiritual places I have been, the one I felt the most from my feet to the top of my head. As I pack my bags this week for Nepal, my mind has wandered back.

Maybe because there’s a hum to Varanasi, that can be heard and felt, a thrum of life, of death, overlapped on each other – drum of a heart, sometimes brand new and as ancient as time. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities – all that swirling history of energy cannot disperse – it floats, it dances, it electrifies the air. That could explain the butterflies I saw everywhere that week – why so so many butterflies? Floating, dancing in the wind. India’s outstanding amount of humanity seems never seemed more present. I can see why people come to seek salvation at the end of their lives by dying on the shores of the Ganges, it just makes sense to me to want to be there at that moment, hopeful the next turn round will go well.

I went to to see the ghats, steps down to the Ganges by the dark of the chaotic night, by the light of a brand new dawn. What a juxtaposition. Life and Death, side by side.

IMGP0438By night, it was like being on drugs, absolutely overwhelming in it’s dimmed technicolor, endless beeping, shouting, the cows (always cows). Lepers, babies, beggars, shopkeepers, men, scooters, women, monkeys, pushcarts, giant vats of lentils, holy man, unholy people, bodies, widows, just everyone and everything, all in one tide of what looked like chaos but really flowing together like the holy river in front of us.IMGP0417

A race, on the bicycle rickshaw, through the crowd (please don’t get lost), down the slippery steps, to the boat, by the funeral pyres, stopping to listen to the evening service, off the boat (please don’t let me fall in), back through the crowd, find the rickshaw, get back to the electric light of the hotel, the hostel, the modern ordered world.

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And then by the light of a perfect morning. The streets almost empty and the way to the steps clear of crowds. Chants of early morning prayers. People coming to wash themselves clean and start another day over. Offerings made to relatives and family long since gone from the material earth. I thought of my father, of dear friends & family no longer here and I sent my marigolds and my flour & ghee to them – somewhere down the river, on another shore.

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