<<  Varanasi, 13-Feb-2015  >>

Varanasi, here we go again!

Back in the city of most auspicious dying, in the holiest and most amazing Varanasi. North Indian quick run begins

North India, and especially Varanasi: India at its most crowded, dirty, nerves breaking, brain bending, but most spiritual and simply hardcore Indian, for better or worse.

It’s becoming sort of tradition to celebrate my birthday on banks of the Ganges. 2 years ago I was “celebrating” with 70 000 000 Indians at Maha Kumbha Mela in Allahabad, some 130 km east of Varanasi, and this time it’s right here, in the center of Hindu spiritual universe, in Varanasi.

This is my third visit of Varanasi.
If I don’t count cities where I worked, or visited for working purposes (Chicago, Milan, New York, Tbilisi) or cities just around Bratislava (Vienna, Prague), there are only 3 cities that I had visited 3 times on 3 separate trips: Rome, Venice, New York and Varanasi. And if I count up the days spent in cities abroad (again with exclusion of places where I worked or studied – Lisbon, Byron Bay), Varanasi is actually #1 city on my list. Nowhere else did I spend so much time outside of Slovakia as in Varanasi. After this trip is comes to 3 weeks of “holidays” in Varanasi. This gives you some idea how much I like Varanasi.

This being my 3 visit to Varanasi, there were no too many novelties. The standard Varanasi menu was served: human corpses carried through narrow lanes of the old town and then burned on public cremation grounds on banks of Ganga, smell of cooked human flesh raising in the air, kites, roof-top restaurants with refreshingly western cuisine (may Shiva bless Brown Bread Bakery), traditional music concerts, early morning boat trips, dodging the cows and bulls patrolling the narrow streets, great lassi, people doing their private puja (worship) in the river, swimming in the river, washing the clothes in the river, bathing in the river, washing the buffaloes in the river… everything happens in and around the holiest of the rivers – divine Ganga. It’s still very polluted river (although Hindu doctrine bravely claims that Ganga is clean, which is why the Indians don’t hesitate to bath in the river or even drink its water) but it seemed bit cleaner than the other times.
Actually this was one novelty: Varanasi is getting cleaner! The streets that used to be swamp of cow shit were now almost clean. They must clean them now! And the ghats (the area just around the river where people can go down to the river to pray and study about them good old ways) are hosed every day! What? Change is in the air in Varanasi. 6 years ago when me and Jirka flew here from Delhi I remembered Varanasi airport as one of the smallest and crappiest I had ever seen. Now they have a new, fancy, modern airport. One guy told me that there is even plan to build metro in Varanasi. Well, good luck with that :-)

The only thing that seems to be going worse and worse in the traffic. Luckily the streets and lanes of the old town are too narrow for any motor vehicles, but once you get out of there and try to walk or take a rickshaw anywhere it becomes a nightmare. Or more precisely like a bad drug trip: never ending, hallucinogenic trip of weird visions and non-stop honking. It almost turned me insane. Just like bad LSD trip (as I imagine it, not that I would have ever had LSD).

As interesting as it is, I think 3 times in Varanasi are just about right amount for now. I really hope I won’t get the great idea of coming here again during next 10 years, but unfortunately I know I will. Too much addiction.

Irene naturally loved it here. Everybody must love it here, especially for the first time. The immense spirituality and full-on Indian-ness of Varanasi are simply captivating beyond description.

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak