I was asleep by midnight and awake by 4:30 AM. I stepped out onto our balcony, watching the night give way to day, staring the River Ganga below and potential signs of life yet to awake. Though quiet, I could faintly hear in the far distance a drumming, what I knew to be women washing clothes, hitting them against the steps of the ghats. Though I knew it to be dirty, Varanasi living through her ancient buildings was simply beautiful from my vantage point.
By 6:00 AM, Derek and I were on a boat. DaveRisner did not share our love of sunrises and sunsets, and instead opted to have a few more hours of sleep. Ravi’s son Machu steered the boat across to the other side of the Ganges River across from our hotel. Machu didn’t attack the still waters with the verve of his father, and even seemed bored at times, yawning in his half-sleep stupor. I’ve a feeling this responsibility had been thrust upon him against his will. I lost his presence quickly focusing instead upon the views above me. I couldn’t remember another time in my life where on my left the sun was rising while simultaneously on the right, the moon was setting. The view was brilliant, with the moon still brightly lit, hanging just above the Varanasi skyline while the bright orange-red sun was just rising above the horizon on the other side. The calm along the still water and quiet air speckled with the morning noises of a city just waking up perfectly complemented the reflective nature we were feeling.
Pretty soon we were on the beach on the other side of the river from the Scindhia House, walking up its slight incline with old men coming to us to shake our hand, then attempt to massage it while asking for money. Indians don’t waste any opportunity to make a quick rupee, even with such beauty all around us. Another older gentleman dressed in traditional bright orange garb with a turban stood on his head, practicing his sun salutations while the sun saluted back. We would end up taking selfies with each other. To be clear, he himself took a selfie of us. I laughed inside at the irony. With the sun now solidly above the horizon, its orange matching the brilliance of the man with the turban and hanging like a Christmas ornament against the sky, we made our way back to the boat heading into the direction of the main ghat – the Dashaswamedh Ghat – the site of the pooja from each of the previous two nights.
As we quietly made our way through the river, so many thoughts reflected in my head. More than anything, India’s paradoxes dominated my thoughts. I’ve said it before; and I’ll say it again. India literally assaults your senses, Varanasi perhaps more than most; there is really no other way to put it. Everywhere you look, what you see, hear, smell and feel could be accurately described with words from both extremes — both descriptors would be true. Varanasi is extremely filthy and yet her beauty is unmatched. Varanasi stinks, her stench simply overpowering with cow dung and dogshit and bodies burning and yet the aromas of her food and perfumes will take you into another world. India is chaos personified, yet people from all over the world will come to find peace and calm here.
The more we quietly traveled down the river, I thought of my mother who lived here for a year, and wondered where in the alleyways did she live. I wondered what her life must have been like. I wondered what it was like to deliver babies as she did back then. I wondered what she thought of her future. I was not even a glint in her eye, but her future written in some respects, my birth still quite some time away.
The colours were becoming even more vibrant the more we were in the river making our way to the main ghat. The sun was up now; and the moon was down. People were out in full force now. Men were conducting business amidst their morning wash. Women were washing clothes; they seemed to be doing all the work. Children were laughing and playing. Life here was so different that life in the States, significantly poorer and yet seemingly not in want, significantly more spiritual.
This was our last day in Varanasi. By this afternoon, we would be in Bombay, a city and world completely different than what we had lived in Varanasi these few days. I was a bit sad, knowing if I ever do come back here, it would be quite some time.
India, we have only just begun.
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