"You want a holy haircut?"
Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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Up until now it was as if we had been in an endless summer. It was rare for us to experience an evening temperature of less than 75 degrees, but here in Northern India it actually gets cold at night! So we are trying to pack our sightseeing in the north into rather short time so we can head south to the warm beaches and more comfortable climate. Keeping that in mind, we only spent one night in Amritsar, boarding a train our second evening to travel the 715 miles to Varanassi. The journey was ONLY supposed to take 22 hours, but not surprisingly ended up stretching to 27. Even though our train car was comfortable and climate controlled, that is still way too long to spend in that close proximity to the snorers surrounding us!
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in the Hindu faith
This city is quintessential India...on steroids!!! Virtually every stereotype of India is present all over the city. Cows wandering the back alleys, people of all ages bathing in the river, bizarre naked sadhus (monk-like male pilgrims) smeared in ashes hanging around meditating, decrepit colonial-era buildings, kids playing cricket in any available space, women furiously beating laundry on stones lining the riverbank, devotees placing flowers and offerings at the shrines on almost every corner, merchants vending large piles of aromatic spices or flowers, it is all here! Other than the occasional shop offering Internet access or cell phone repair, I don't imagine the old city looked much different 300 years ago. There is no place like this on earth, the variety of sights, sounds, smells, and experiences you can have during a simple wander through the old town is incomparable. And if all that wasn't enough, if you walk down to certain places on the riverbank, you can view cremations on wood pyres taking place
During my last visit four years ago, Varanasi was the first place I went to in India. Being a novice at traveling in the developing world, I found it completely overwhelming. The oppressive summer heat, mind-boggling congestion, proliferation of trash, and completely foreign culture had me in a state of shock. Now with a bit more travel experience under my belt, I'm finding it utterly captivating. In fact I think I'm really appreciating India a lot more the second time around. You can get such a rich and authentic experience here, yet still stay in comfortable hotels, ride in somewhat modern trains, and communicate with most people. Yes there are plenty of difficulties and frustrating moments but I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyplace that offers as many blockbuster sights and incredible culture as India while having the relative ease of travel and communication.
Our train ride to Varanasi was sooooo long..
We finally arrived in Varanasi in the dark, and for the first time had the overwhelming feeling that we were REALLY in India. We drove past 3 wedding processions parading down the street with blaring music and carrying poles with fancy lights attached to them, as well as a man holding what seemed to be a giant sparkler firework spewing fire (all the while dodging the typical cows, cars, bikes, auto-rickshaws, pot holes, etc.). Apparently we arrived on an auspicious day to get married.
When we arrived at the hotel, it was too dark to really see any of the surroundings, so waking up the next morning was a huge surprise/shock
I'm glad to have had the experience of visiting Varanasi, but it is truly the first place that made me want to cry, puke, laugh, stare, scream and faint all at the same time.