Asia

Exploring Varanasi

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We had only been scarce for 12 hours in India and who would have told me that I would be dying of cold. Last night we landed at one o'clock in the morning in a Delhi completely covered by fog (so much, that seconds before landing I thought we were still in the clouds) and with the streets completely deserted. That was not exactly the typical image I had of how it would be one of the most populous cities in the country. Not a soul in the street, not a car on the roads, everyone was sheltering as well as he could from the strongest cold wave of recent years, almost from the glaciation, sure.

The taxi driver parked near a market and accompanied us through a maze of alleys to our hotel in Varanasi, the Scindhia Guest House, in front of the Ganges and right next to the ghat Manikarnika, the most active crematorium in the city. In the thick. And there I was, dodging with the suitcase the cows, their poops, the irregular cobblestone and the hundreds of steps of the stairs that give access to the ghats, until we finally entered the hotel.

In the room it was colder than in the street, however impossible it may seem. Perhaps the huge window without glass in the bathroom was to blame. The room had a shared balcony overlooking the Ganges and the first thing we did was go out there to finally start the trip: before us the Ganges stretched out, with a horse much larger than I expected and dirty, very dirty. Boats full of pilgrims or Indian tourists were sailing through its waters, on the banks there were some brave ones purifying their souls bathing in their waters and on the right, the steaming traffic of those who were being cremated.

We went out and down the stairs of the Scindhia Ghat. It was all very dirty. There were cows and cow poop everywhere, abandoned dogs and puppies feeding on the garbage that was everywhere and mortuary ashes rained on us. Surprisingly, it smelled nothing, neither good nor bad. My nose, which is already stunted, did not detect any foul smell even though my brain was telling him otherwise. It was probably because the cold it had made me frozen and anesthetized my nose. We were prepared for the cold, but we didn't expect it to do so much. I was equipped with tights and thermal shirt, fleece, gloves, scarf, hat ... and despite that I was dying of cold. Worst of all, the people who were there were having a hard time. Nor were they prepared and equipped in the hotel for so much cold, and you saw the poor Indians dressed only with saris, punjabis and flip flops (without socks) and only warm with a small shawl.


We set off in a southerly direction, crossing the west bank of the Ganges. Just take a few steps, in front of us paraded five bodies moved on bamboo stretchers and wrapped in colored shrouds that went straight to the Manikarnika Ghat to be cremated We were surrounded by people and lots of wooden logs that were sold just behind theghat Crematorium, not a single foreigner. We approach the Manikarnika Ghat and we saw from afar the pyres that were lit.

A man warned us very seriously that we should not take pictures, since we could take away the karma of the dead. We keep walking through the Lalita Ghat, he Meer ghat, he Man Mandir Ghat until you reach Dasaswamedh Ghat. Along the way, people stopped us and asked us where we were from, our names, profession, marital status and then said goodbye. This same questionnaire was a constant throughout the trip, but it was nice to interact a little with people. I liked that they were so open and that they had so little shame and, above all, so much curiosity and desire to ask despite the limitations of their English.

To get to Dasaswamedh Ghat we climbed the stairs to travel the Dasaswamedh Road, which is a commercial street where we were looking for a bank to exchange money. Something that seemed so simple a priori, it ended up becoming a chimera. We barely saw banks throughout the trip, at most ATMs and that's it. We had almost no money on it, because the change they gave us at the Delhi airport was quite bad, so there we just changed a bit and decided that in Varanasi it would be easier to find a place to exchange currency at a good price ... Well no! There was no way. Apart from ATMs, the only thing we found were commission agents that gave us worse change, so in the end we decided to get a little out of the ATM thinking that the next day, with more calm, we could find something better (but it was not the case).

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