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Varanasi - "It Will Scare You"

Varanasi. The holiest city in the world. A city whose air is made of ash, incense, and dust. Where alley ways are narrowing stone paths where bulls herd people and vegetables are sold on door stoops. Where her waters hold the source of India's life and all evidence of Hindu's deaths. Where bodies are cremated along the shore. Where chanting and prayer pour out of speakers on every street. Where the people pray... worship... and live - the same way they have for thousands of years. Where time changes nothing. This is India. -

We got to Varanasi sometime in the final days of March. I can't even remember the day because all of these trains, tuk tuks, and blazing bus horns are deafening my memory perceptions. When we arrived, we hopped off a train (a train that was several hours delayed and sat stagnant in mid day Indian heat - mind you) - we hopped off and made way to our hostel and immediately head out after we shower to go on a stroll through the holy city of Varanasi. - I had had a headache for the past few days, most significantly pointing back to Agra at the Taj Mahal. I thought it was the heat. And the dozens and dozens of hours spent on overnight sleepers. In Agra I had a pretty severe headache. In Delhi I felt really faint after our half marathon. REALLY faint. Like I almost fainted faint. But I attributed that to having busted out 13.1 miles after not having a real bed in five or so days. On the train to Varanasi I had a headache. The entire time. We were in the sleeper class and there was no AC so I attributed it to the heat. I loaded up on fluids during that train ride, probably taking in at least five liters. The headache persisted. Anyways. -

When we ventured out on our stroll through the holy city of Varanasi, bloggers' descriptions of the holy city were ringing through my mind. "Cremated ash will float through the air and cover your clothing." "You'll see dogs eating... body parts from the Ganges." "It is the smelliest of all of India." "It will scare you." - We start winding through the tiny stone alley ways and are herded to the side repeatedly by bulls. Full grown bulls. These are not female heifers ladies and gentlemen. These are bulls. Full grown bulls. And they've got their balls. And they run the streets of India. In India, every window peeping out to an alley way is a family's home turned pop up shop. Their window will hold anything from hair clips and q-tips to eggplants and cucumber for sale. The winding roads of Varanasi are enchanting. I love them. (And hate them at the same time 😉). Just kidding I love them. Entirely. I only hate the screaming bike horns of those winding roads. -

When we finally popped out of the winding alley ways, my first sight on the ground in front of me was a typical Indian produce market. A woman sitting cross legged selling all of her fresh produce. Street dogs surround her asleep on the ground. To the right of that is a bull laying on the ground. And behind the bull is a man laying down on his side. His legs are completely swollen and the skin on his feet and calves is blistering and peeling off. I lose my breath. And pause for a moment staring at the man. I'm unsure if he is dead or alive. We walk forward. As we walk forward the stone street widens but the crowd thickens. There is a line of the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the disabled and the deformed, the elderly, and children lined up on either side of the walkway holding out tin cans asking for money. We have been in India a long time and I have never seen this sort of lineup of one horrific image right after the other. One person in more need than the last. After walking down the aisle of the suffering, we approach a large Ghat. We hear overwhelming chanting. We see hundreds of Hindus sitting on the stoops, filling the rowboats out in the water, we look left and right - the entire Ganges as far as our eye can see is filled with thousands of Hindus. Chanting. For what... we don't know. -

This was the moment. The only moment in India my stomach flew up to my throat. I had no idea what was going on. What religious ceremony this was. If I had just walked into a multi funeral cremation ceremony. I had no idea if the man back on the street was dead or alive. I had no desire to walk back through the aisle of the suffering. I had no idea if I was about to see a dozen more dead bodies preparing to be cremated. Or if I was even allowed to be there. I was completely stunned by the rawness of India I was standing in. And slightly terrified at the same time. And I had no regard for my headache. -

After a few moments I noticed a few other tourists. They were walking around and taking photos, so we did the same. Apparently it was acceptable. On walking back to our hostel that night I was filled with a heavy spiritual curiosity. I could not wait to get back out and discover the rawness that was Varanasi. I woke up the next day and was flushed with a 103 degree temperature. Zach took me to an Indian hospital where they attempted to admit me for two nights. I had contracted Dengue Fever - and could keep nothing down. And my excitement for Varanasi came to a screeching halt. - - -AS @travelingsnow

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