Walking along the ghats of Varanasi is like watching an unbearably violent movie sequence executed by a brilliant and artistic cinematographer. Although it’s all too much to take in, you are transfixed. And like something that is too overwhelming, you distance yourself from it as if watching from the other side of a movie screen.
The desperate poverty of beggars, the wretched animals, the persistence of those trying to make a living, all swirling around atop a garbage heap on the edge of a river churning with filth and disease. Turn away from the river and onto a street and throw a few hundred screeching cars, coughing rick-shaws, wobbly bicycles, holy cows and doomed goats into the mix. Oh yes and there are also lots of people.
The city is life and death all ramped up to maximum intensity with the backdrop of decaying mansions and temples and the foreground of brilliant saris and boats painted in hues of the Caribbean. If you squinch your eyes around the middle ground there is beauty to be seen, particularly from the buffer of a boat on the river. Sipping chai on a rowboat, watching people perform their daily prayers, slap their laundry senseless or send tiny prayer flames aboard banana-leaf boats into the water as the sun rises over the Ganges is a truly unique experience; one only to be had in insane and amazing Varanasi.