According to the Mayans, we were at the end of the world in 2012. I am not sure how that theory works, but it got me wondering. If I could choose the place to be at the end of the world, where would it be? Would it be, the beautiful little town of Groningen in The Netherlands? Will it be the kinky, crazy city of Amsterdam? Or would it be Singapore, the place I was born and the place where I spent most of my life in.
Nope, it’s none of them.
If the Mayans are correct, then I’ve got to get myself on a flight to Delhi, and take a 12 hour train ride to this place called Varanasi.
The ancient city of India,
The River Ganges
Varanasi is located in India’s second most poorest state, Uttar Pradesh. The city is simply, a mess. If you thought Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi was difficult to navigate, the city of Varanasi takes you even more aback. The streets are swamped with portholes, masses of people cling on to each other, and trishaws swerve dangerously by the edges of uncovered drains, dispensing water with an odd shade of green. As the fading sun sinks beyond the horizon, spots of florescent lights and kerosene lamps light up the chaotic city. In a blur of the moment, you catch sight of a funeral procession – a group of men carrying a covered body on a wooden plank, to be incinerated and returned back to the creator of life, the river.
Strangely, the very redeeming quality about this place is the same river, the River Ganges, which rushes through the ancient city of Varanasi in its purest form. It’s the throbbing pulse of the city, the sustaining force of thousands and thousands of people who head there to wash garments of all shapes, sizes and colours, take a religious bath, or scatter the ashes of their loved ones into the holy river.
I spent 10 hours of my life in Varanasi. It was a stopover in between the border of Nepal and Delhi. It’s been four years, but the memories still linger. The dobies (wash-wallas) hard at work, scrubbing and stomping on the brightly coloured garments. The uncanny smell of FAB detergent floating by as the sun rises. The rising morning sunlight bouncing off the rippling muscles of a shirtless doby who is flinging a t-shirt with all his strength against the wooden scrubbing board.
As you trot on by to the next ghat, you’d see brightly coloured flags flapping in the wind. By the side of the river bank, you’d see hairy chested men untangling themselves from their shirts, off to take a holy bath in the water. (The women bathe in their sarees.) Till this day, I can’t fathom how can the water be bath-ready when 500 metres away, soap suds and garments are floating aimlessly on the river’s surface.
Then comes the highlight of your trip to Varanasi. It is The Reason why you ever came. Varanasi is probably the only place in the world where dead bodies are placed on wooden crates, doused in oil and set alight, surrendering the dead back to the hands of the Ganga. You’d meet unfriendly touts who will tell you that it cost money to watch these rituals – just pretend to be ignorant and utter jabberish to them. You could observe from afar, and it’s very worth the sight.
Now as the world ends, I wanna perch of the steps of a ghat. A white chariot may come down from the heavens, or everything could just turn black, but I will be glad to be in the presence in an ancient place where humanity is so raw. The place where life and death flows along the same vein. where the orchestra of humanity reaches its crescendo. End of the world or not, Varanasi always serves to tell me that we could spend our lives trying to get rich, to look good and be successful. But eventually, we’ll have to return to nature. And it will be always the same. Past, present or future.
Activities by the River
I dedicated this post to Friend T. Who accompanied me on a arduous journey here, and braved the cold for 12 hours back to Delhi. Thank you.
I had a deep seated desire to visit the ancient city, and I am glad I have done so.