Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Varanasi
Varanasi. How to capture that experience? The air is sweet and filled with dust. The traffic, like in Delhi, is wild and chaotic but, here, filled with rickshaws and cows ambling down the road among the weaving cars and motorcyles. The cows are beautiful and I want to touch each one we pass. On our way from the airport to the hotel, we pass into Old Varanasi, a place different from any other I’ve ever seen. Old Varanasi is built of alleys, not streets, and every alley is smaller than the last.

We learn that our hotel, which sits on the Ganges, cannot be reached by a street. Instead, we must thread our way through alleyways. A wheelchair has been provided. Two young men have also been provided to push the wheelchair over the ancient and often gaping cobblestones. I get out and walk when the alley becomes too rough or too steep. At one point while I am walking, everyone in the alley starts screaming at me. I stop, feeling confused, a rough force brushes me on the right, almost knocking me off my feet. A cow has scented water from a watering spout just ahead. The cow is beautiful, dark brown with short, curved horns. I call it a cow but I’m not sure.

That night we thread our way back through the alleys to an evening Aarti on the Ganges. This Aarti is a yagya performed every evening by eight pandits dedicated to Mother Ganga, the deity of the Ganges. We appear to be the only westerners. Chants rise over the Ganges in this moving and memorable event. Offered rose petals are passed among the crowd and one petal floats over and lands on my arm.

Afterwards, we thread our way back through the alleys, homeward bound to the hotel. In one alley, we stop to let a uniformed band pass, one by one, in file. A bridegroom, resplendent in beautiful regalia, sits astride a horse. There is no sign of a bride. Single file, the wedding party barely fits in the narrow alley.

Later, Linda and I enjoy the evening, sitting on my balcony above the Ganges, enjoying the freshening breeze.

Feeling at home in an ancient and exotic culture.

Images: First image courtesy of Richard Furlough. Second image is a representational painting of an Aarti hanging in the lobby of the Zeeras Hotel.

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