This started after a rather adventurous stint in a couple of districts in U.P last year. I decided to go on a solo backpacking trip to U.P & Rajasthan. I started the trip from Kanpur to Varanasi – but guess what, I did not book any train tickets from there & I was staying in shared rooms in a youth hostel called Zostel – a relatively new concept in India then.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities of India, dating back to 1000+ years. This is considered to be abode of Lord Shiva, the lord of destruction as per human cycle, but he is much more than the above adjective. Like the present concept of destination weddings, this city was the hot-spot for destination deaths, even now. So, people come to this city to die eventually and it is believed that you go to heaven if you die in this city. Apart from all the beliefs, I respected the city for all the heritage it carries and hence I went there.
The walking tours through the thousand year old alleys, Banarasi chai, the ghats, evening aarti that takes you to trance, those sitar & tabla concerts, Buddhist culture in Sarnath are the sui generis of this city.
While walking on the roads, you gotta be really careful or you might bump into a dead-body being carried for cremation. And the roads are a mini version of roller coaster ride. At one point, I had to get down my rickshaw enroute my hostel because a cow was blocking the way and it would not budge.
I got to meet people from diverse backgrounds in the hostel I stayed, one businessman, one street photographer, a writer & another is an entrepreneur. The latter two went on to become good friends. The writer girl liked Zostel so much that she quit her job & started working at Zostel after a couple of months. On first day, we hung out in the evening. On the second day, they could not stick with my plan of temple marathon and decided to explore an Aghora place, where people were rumored to eat other humans. They were disappointed to note that they did not see any such thing there.
The people there were extremely helpful. Auto-drivers who get you the local food from shop while you are seated inside while the crowd does not look good, hostel host who carries your luggage till end of street to bade you good-bye, another friend who handles harassing police man. Despite being such a holy place, this city is in no dearth of romeos. People can just walk upto you and ask your phone number as casually as they are asking a change for 10 rupee note.
Finally, those ghats, the temples, they are beyond words to describe. This place will always have a unique association in my heart, no matter if I ever return or not.