Varanasi- Old City
Little seemed to have changed in Varanasi since my first visit fourteen years ago. Renowned for being the holiest Hindu pilgrimage site as well as the oldest city in India, it remains a place from “back in time.” Here, life seems to continue as it has for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. The dusty streets are constantly filled with traffic—rickshaws, motor bikes, carts, cars, trucks, people, holy men, and cows. The cacophony of sounds—bells, yells, horns, motors, and moos are simultaneously overwhelming and delightful to the ears. Most of the streets remain unpaved and all roads seem to eventually lead to the ghats at the banks of the sacred Ganges River. Flower sellers line the street curb near the river ready to show their best picks to pilgrims making offerings to Mother Ganga.
It’s wedding season in India and brides and grooms decked out in their matrimonial finery zoom by in rickshaws and climb out of family filled boats on the Ganges while brass bands blare their horns in wedding processions that block the already congested streets.
Inside the labyrinthe of the old city, shopkeepers ply silk scarves and bangles to locals and tourists, school kids line up to buy deep fried snacks, and devotees form long queues to enter the Golden Temple. There is an uplifiting vibrancy to Varanasi as well as a palpable sense of decay and death. People prepare for days of celebrations on the banks of the Ganges but also embrace the daily business of cremation. Crowds in the streets move to accommodate processions carrying ornately draped bodies of the deceased headed for the famed burning ghats.