My life-changing experience in Varanasi


Amidst clatters and honks, amplified mucus clearances and shouts, I arise from slumber to the loud morning of Varanasi. 'Chai. I need Chai' I croak to myself. I throw on some clothes and masterfully manoeuvre the steep slippy decline to the land of breakfast. Here Hindustan Times and banana porridge in steel bowls fuels for a mission into the madness. Ok. Now I am ready to take on the holy city!

Out I stumble, unsure of my footing in this early morning moment, and unsteadily acclimatising to the cowpat dodging and shoulder grazing. Namaste! Namaste! Head down, I avert eye contact with bicycle rickshaws and think mainly about left foot in front of right. With so many senses, such pyschic overload so early and so full on, it seems easier to disengage and power on rather than to encourage the brain to savour the cacophonic explosion. Save that delight for later. On I saunter, beginning to feel more awake on my daily visit to the self proclaimed 'Mr Coconut'. Mr Coconut seems unwilling to engage in familiarity, but here unspoken language comforts the silence. Carefully selected coconuts are masterfully positioned in elegant pyramids, amidst the white smiles of radiant Indian faces passing by.

Some hours pass, how many I cannot be sure. A fresh salad is resourcefully produced, coriander and cabbage, tomatoes and cucumber line the fresh chapati. Some chats pass by. The heat penetrates the rooftop and the fan welcomes me to the bedroom, from where I can see monkeys grooming. Mummy strokes baby. Baby strokes brother. My stomach slowly begins to remind me, as does the change in light in the alleyway below, that evening is coming. As rumbles accompany food plans, something always draws me to the river. The Ganges asserts its power and energy. Its majesty seduces even the most cynical of seekers.

Here the succulent circus emerges. The ghats overwhelm with their activity! Through rows of snack stands, punctuated by german bakeries, the sounds of prayer time waft. A crocodile of mask-wearing koreans seem terrified, not enchanted, by the life and death, love and suffering that enact on the steps. A three-legged flea ridden dog locates itself next to a man with no arms. Companionship and strength in its most tender. The prayer fire passes and the gentle eyed priest utters a blessing. The ritual begins and thick incense fills the air. Candlelights form a string, a crocodile like the koreans, that slowly drifts upstream. It seems a gentle reminder of the journey. A visual representation of the energy that pervades this city perhaps - the passing of lives and bodies. It is beautiful.

But enough of all this! Shouts my stomach. Come on! Fill me up! The delicious Indian thali dish beckons and I eat gleefully. Friends come and go. So do mice. And so to bed; tomorrow the wheels will turn again in the smokey haze of the holy city.

S Burns

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