When we arrived in Varanasi, the sky was overcast and the locals abused by an unexpected amount of rain. An hour later, following a trip through swampy roads, we came close to the Ghats. The car left us at a road intersection where only pedestrians were allowed. We started walking through an enormous mass of locals, tourists, sadhus, pilgrims, cows. A frazzled boy was selling fruit on a torn dirty piece of garment. Right next to him, another was cooking in a gigantic wok. Men were standing in line at an improvised barber shop. Another was milking a cow. A sac of garbage was set on fire. Another man sat next to a small hindu statue making flower garlands; ringing bells, intoxicating pungent smells were mixed with oriental incense; this scene was obsessively repeating with each step. My senses were saturated. I felt incapacitated, unable to comprehend and unable to follow all that was developing in front of me.
After a few more steps, we arrived at the Ghats. The Ganges seemed enormous, and the people became more numerous. Tens of small shrines and temples, with candle lights, flowers and statues of Hindu gods, were scattered all over. Bells, incense and lights initiated the evening prayer ceremony. We sat down to listen and watch.
Walking back, through the same disarray, my mind was racing. As a westerner, I felt misplaced. The day was a day of too many people, beliefs, concepts I could not understand. Inside though, I developed admiration for those around me, who had the ability to feel happy and content with less than imaginable, for their powerful religiousness and their force to see way beyond the attainable.
The next day, at dawn, more of Varanasi became available to us, from a wooden oar boat. The first rays of sun caught hundreds of people in their ritual morning bath into the Ganges, saluting the new day. Burning ash at cremation sites made place for the new bodies that were going to be burnt by the river and freed from the samsara. Motionless sadhus were sitting on the shores, facing the rising sun, in their perpetual prayer; they were away from this world, from the visible, and into a better place.
Varanasi depleted me by overwhelming my senses and my thoughts. Varanasi is timeless, and so are its people. It was the same a thousand years ago, and will remain unchanged for another thousand. After two days in Varanasi, I had to take a few days, away, and liberate myself from too much unknown…