I've just left crazy Varanasi after spending four nights there. I flew from Goa to Varanasi in five hours instead of spending 36 hours on the train. Of course it was probably ten times the price, but I gladly spent that extra money on the smoother alternative.
I met up with my friend Maxi again and some of his friends.
Varanasi is a very old and important city for the Hindus. The holy river, Ganga, flows past the Eastern side of the city and the locals go down to the river to wash every day. Although the water is highly polluted the Hindus believe it to be cleansing and some even drink it.
I was in Varanasi to celebrate the Holi festival which is a Hindu celebration of spring where you throw coloured powder and water on each other.
A lot of people told us to be really careful because the locals go crazy and at one point they even told us tourists weren't allowed to go outside during the celebration.
The night before the actual Holi they burn big bonfires as a symbol of burning down evil. We walked around the tiny streets filled with people, cows and mopeds. The streets are like a maze with small passages going off in every direction. With high houses on either side it's always shady and it's pretty hard to keep your orientation right, especially because you need to keep your attention on your feet to keep from stepping in cow s*** or rubbish and the rest of your attention on not getting hit by a moped honking it's way past. There's hardly enough space to walk two people shoulder to shoulder, so you can imagine that's it a bit of a squeeze to get past a cow who's blocking the way.
Then add to that the bonfires. They had lit up big fires in these tiny street intersections and we had to bolt past to avoid to get scorched by the heat. Of course some kids were already playing Holi and throwing water balloons at people, especially tourists, so we had to duck and run a few times to avoid to get hit.
We walked out of the maze and got to the market area where we bought some coloured powder. We ended up having a pre-Holi celebration and throwing the powder on each other. We weren't the only ones and other tourist and locals joined us. It was so much fun, it was like a snowball fight, but with colours instead.
The next day, on the actual Holi, we started out at our guesthouse. I managed to get drenched by a coloured bucket full of water from the owner of the place. We filled up our bottles with coloured water and then the fight was on! We went out on the streets and were prepared for some craziness after all the warnings we had got from the locals beforehand. But actually it was just a lot of fun! I love water fights and snowball fights and what not, so I had so much fun. Even when I got attacked by a bunch of guys or got a bucket full of water thrown at me or my face full of colour, I just gave them the same right back at them. It's a joyful celebration and everybody were happy and hugging each other wishing you "Happy Holi" and smearing some colour in your face in the process.
A few places where they were pumping music the crowd was pretty crazy, but we stayed out of it, just watching the Indians doing their vicious hip thrusting dance, meanwhile giving you big playful smiles. I love watching the Indians dance, you just can't help smiling.
After a couple of hours playing we headed back and got served some special Holi food at our guesthouse. It was delicious and we were starving after all the fun. We had a little siesta and then the others went to go and have a swim in the Ganga river. I skipped that part and used the opportunity to take a few photos instead. I hadn't brought my camera along during the celebration because it would have been destroyed, but now the playing was over and everybody were washing the colour off in the river.
Later in the evening all the locals went to the temples and put red okra powder on the altars.
We got a few beers and sat on the rooftop of our guesthouse. Apparently even the moon was playing Holi that day, because as it rose, it was a deep orange colour, unlike anything I've seen before. We sat there watching the stars, jamming and talking.
The next day we went to a place close to Varanasi, called Sarnath. It's where Buddha held his first ceremony and there are a few temples there. We were seven people and we managed to all squeeze into the same tuktuk. It wasn't comfortable, but we survived.
Sarnath is supposed to be a really nice and quiet place, but of course we picked the days when there was a Muslim festival going on. It was packed with people and the prayers were sounding out from the speakers. They were nice temples but I was so tired from the day before so I couldn't really enjoy it fully.
After a bumpy tuktuk ride back we went to the tiniest little beer shop. The entrance wasn't much more than a hole in the wall and we ducked inside. It was dark, tiny and crowded with Indians sitting on boxes and what ever was available. We squeezed past and got to the very back of the small room. It was a storage space, not more than a couple of square metres big. We crammed in there, all seven of us, and sat there in the sweaty, murky, dirty space sipping our beer. It might sound disgusting, but it was just so Indian that I couldn't help but love the situation.
After that I was so exhausted that I went off to bed.
The next day we packed our bags because we were taking off in the evening. Me and Maxi went in search for some breakfast, but we ended up walking around in the confusing small streets for a couple of hours before we found a place. After we finally had some food we walked down to one of the burning ghats in Varanasi. Many Hindus come to die in Varanasi, because it's such a holy place. They then get cremated in one of the constant fires down at the river. We took a boat along the Ganga from the small burning ghat to the old, big one, where they burn 70-80 bodies a day. It is a very strange thing to see so publicly displayed. As we were watching we saw bodies wrapped in silks and beautiful cloths being carried down to the fires. There was about ten fires burning at the same time, all in different stages. Some had just been lit, while some had been burning for hours.
I can't describe it as anything but strange. Just seeing a dead body is quite unnerving, then to see so many and all of them burning is just strange. But the strangest thing is probably that it all seemed so normal. A small crowd stood there watching, a few were poking in the fires, others were throwing different powders on the bodies, like that was the most natural thing to do.
Afterward we accidentally found Blue Lassi, a famous little lassi shop. I had a saffron and almond lassi which was absolutely delicious! The place was tiny and we sat on a small wooden bench in a room at the back of the shop.
We walked back to the others and picked up our bags to go to the train station. We said goodbye to Nat, Maxi's travel buddy for the last few months, and then me, Maxi, Mickey, Osk and Orri were off. We managed to all fit in a tuktuk with our luggage and all.
Then we took the train towards Khajuraho. We'll arrive early in the morning, so good night and bye for now!