Invisible City

“Don’t start your trip to India in Varanasi,” a French Ayurvedic doctor cryptically warned me in Darjeeling, about the city that Mark Twain said was “older than history, older than legend, and looks older than all of it put together.” Sikhs in knotted turbans, Muslim women in high heels and burquas, Hindu women barefoot in Saris…Jains, Zoroastrians, sects of world religions colliding in this holy ancient city as many make their final pilgramage to the ghats along the holy Ganges river in hope to be cremated and have their ashes thrown in (I’ve witnessed several cremations since my arrival).

cremation parlour

cremation parlour

Varanasi is magic! The color! The people! The colorful people! I can’t stop looking and a day is easily exhausted just sitting and looking, distracting myself from the sticky sweltering humid air that hangs and suffocates without a breeze (I run to the nearest bucket of water every time it gets unbearable and dump it over my head…refreshing…but that doesn’t help at night when the power goes out and the fan stops working). There is so much to observe, best done in a cycle rickshaw after enjoying a bhang lassi. Every time I think I’ve seen my favorite wise-old-man, another sage comes hobbling along, trumping the last with a fantastic hairdo or beard-do, some stunning color combination, rivaled only by a Marni fashion show, layered up and knotted around his body, beautiful necklaces of Shiva beads. The people are as ancient as the city and I want to know everyone’s story. In just a few days my mind is overwhelmed with thoughts. “It will make you understand the world,” The French Doctor also said after his initial warning. Varanasi is the world.

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I’ve been traveling with Jang, a Thai hippie dude I also met in Darjeeling- he’s been coming to India for the past 12 years, and knows da streets: the best place to get thali



or a South Indian breakfast,

south indian breakfast

south indian breakfast

his favorite chai vendor, the maze of tangled alleys behind the ghats, and what feels like many of the locals who are excited to see him every July. I feel like I’m in a movie for sure. The first lady. The mafia boss’s wife. Frank Lucas’ Eva. He has a history with the people: sponsoring a now 17 year-old boy to go to school the past seven years, sponsoring a good friend gone bad’s bad habits (If you know what I mean). The underbelly of Varanasi.


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Well, I made it out in one piece, my only obstacles a 24-hour cold and some minor food poisoning. No biggie. Jang told me I was a good, strong traveler- not a lot of people make it to Varanasi in this season- unless they’ve been in India a while- and survive.

restaurant sign: a testament to the cleanliness of Varanasi...

restaurant sign: a testament to the cleanliness of Varanasi...

On the night train journey out of Varanasi, the sunset on the Indian plains was the most marvelous I’ve seen on my trip so far.  A travesty that I cannot show you with a photo! Another memory I’ll have to keep to myself I suppose…


~ by ceciliabien on July 6, 2009.

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