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Life Affirming Varanasi

INDIA | Wednesday, 16 April 2014 | Views [192] | Scholarship Entry

Varanasi is the holiest of 7 holy Indian cities.It is Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome. Hindus flock here to cremate their dead,cure their ills and pray for hope in the Ganges, river of the gods.All of life’s beauty and gore is on display,simultaneously frightening and mesmerizing.The narrow, crowded lanes are packed with people, shops, and the ubiquitous dogs,one of which,haunted my sleep for a very long time.I had been acclimating to the culture shock that is Varanasi when I first met him.I’ll never forget that I failed him.?
We were sipping pomegranate lassi in a dive with an open view of the street, when a funeral procession passed by on its way to the river.The corpse was wrapped in burlap and carried by 4 men on a stretcher.Intoxicating sensual scents emanated from the passing body.
He was picking through the garbage when I first saw him.?
Down by the river the scene was even more bizarre.?The 4-mile long promenade is saturated with garbage and cow dung,the homeless and deformed,beggars,touts,and the pious who have pilgrimaged here to dip in the mystical waters of the Ganges.The religious chant,dogs, goats and cows give birth and residents bathe here. Laundry is washed,men play cricket and families picnic here.Ascetics paint their faces white and,Ghandi-style,move slowly forward,barefoot,on their walking sticks,in seemingly no predetermined direction.At night,the ghats are lit by scores of funeral pyres as families cremate loved ones whose bodies they've carried from distant villages and towns.Dogs pick at the cooled down bones. Ashes are scattered in the river and candles are set afloat as an offering to the departed.No one cries. ?
The dog was curled into himself beside the river.His head had a huge gash and the skull flesh was exposed to the cold night air.Someone standing nearby told me that he had been in a brawl with another dog.A vet,he said, could dress the wound and give him antibiotics for a mere $40.I didn't do it. All night, while warm in my bed,I thought of him and his open wound,with nothing between it and the wet, frigid and windy air.He surely suffered much. An early departure prevented me from looking for him the next day.?
Varanasi affirms life-its birth, death and everything in between.I came to understand Varanasi as the truth.No sugar coatings here.Nothing hidden behind garden walls and fences.Humankind and the cosmos exposed in all their wonder and dread.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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