A hotel room in Paris back in 2012. I’m back from the annual event of my company, it is late night but I turn on the TV when preparing to go to bed. There is a documentary on Arte TV. I keep it as a background sound to let sleep come. But my look is attracted by the colors and visuals of what is on the screen. It is a documentary on Varanasi, the sacred Hindu city in India where the Ganges flows and thousands of pilgrims come every day to purify themselves in the waters. I am hypnotized. 600 km from Paris, Alex is in his apartment in Nice, doing some late night web development, TV is on and he has also come across the same documentary. That night, we both had the revelation that one day, we must go to Varanasi.
Amritsar had seduced us for its peaceful spirit, Delhi had shook us by its chaos, Lucknow had lost us in its labyrinth, but Varanasi really touched our hearts. Walking in the old city and among the Gange was like plunging in the plot of a popular historic novel when you read it too intensely, feeling immersed in a real life movie, being overwhelmed by a haunting music, going back in some memories when smelling a special scent.
It is hard to explain the feeling to see all the people washing themselves in the Gange, the most polluted river in the world, but that looked so blue under the sun. The open air cremations, the smells of burning encent and vagabond cows, the age worn abandoned palaces once built on the riverbanks for maharajahs… It is a place where life meets death, both in their purest forms. The riverbanks (ghats) are covered with stone steps where Hindus pray, bath in the river to to purify their spirit, wash their clothes, do yoga, and wait for death to come. At Manikarnika ghat, ceremonies of cremations are done all day long. When wandering in the old city, for sure you’ll suddenly cross the path of a procession carrying a dead body wrapped in golden shroud. Being cremated in Varanasi means breaking the reincarnation and get to the Nirvana.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world and it is said that fire there has never been extinguished for thousands of years. In the streets of the old city where we stayed, cows are everywhere, receiving affection from bystanders and leaving their dung in the middle of the pavement. These scents and colors are delightful and intoxicating.
Surely the memory of Varanasi will never extinguish in our minds.
As we loved it we stayed around 2 weeks in a hotel next to the Ganga (Alka Hotel). We highly recommend staying in a hotel with a view on the Ganga as it’s just magic to see the lives of people on the ghats all day long. Not to mention sunsets and sunrises!