Friday, April 2, 2010

Brian Walks the Varanasi Ghats

Today I was a giddy fool, jumped on the back of a motor-scooter as we puttered through the gypsy slums. All smiles. All teeth and grins. I put my head back and howled. Arrived beneath the Varanasi Bridge in order to walk the Ghats of the Ganges. The sun is beating directly overhead. Boats sway lethargically against the stone steps. The beggars are too wheezy in the heat to bother me. Lace up my boots. Feet carry me forward.
Come upon a group of boys on the last legs of a cricket match. Seven to ten of them with a beat-up old wooden bat and bamboo wicket. I ask if I can take a turn and suddenly I am nine years old again. The bowler steadies, tricks up his bare sleeve. Bright eyes in the sunlight. I lay my pack at my feet, steady now. Ball comes fast, bouncing once. I swing and miss and the boys erupt. They run around me in circles patting the bowler on the back. A bell rings and they hurry inside. One boy stops to shake my hand. It is time for yoga instruction, and the master is waiting. It felt so good... I didn't care.
Off again in the hot blistering sun. There is hanging laundry drying in the breeze. A man in the shade pets a cobra he calls with a flute. A toothless man in the shade asks if I require a boat. He is too old to paddle in this heat. I sit next to him and look out over the river. Watch it glisten against the massive fa├žade of the Ghats.
Many boats you can take out and lay prayer flowers on the water. There are also these incredible supplies of wood meant for burning bodies. While I was in Varanasi, I saw probably 6 to 7 funeral pyres built and burned and not to mention three or four funerals around town where the dead body is paraded (if you can call it that because of the crazy traffic) through the streets on the tops of taxis.
Head up the steps to wander the tiny little maze of streets, over dung and urine and garbage and the smell of centuries on cold stone. Market bazaar. Old men fanning themselves sitting in little windows playing sitar. Women in saris pump water from deep wells. I follow the signs painted on the bricks. I am in a very old place, and I am far, far from home.
Dump warm water over my head and wring out my shirt. Cows are holy in India and I squat next to a bull in the shade of the slanting alley. Flies, black and biting. A man boils curry in rusty gray pots. A boy on a bicycle rings a bell. My coca-cola comes in a cold and fizzy bottle out of a little glass door fridge. I lay it against my neck until cool.
At the Ganga Guest House, I drink chai, wanted coffee, and nibble veggie pankora while the Europeans are stoned and glassy eyed, thin as rails. The sun is still high and creeping like a headhunter through corners of the room. Outside, black skinned bodies stand knee deep in the river beating clothes on stones. I blow over the lip of my little cup, dip my legs in to the shade inch by inch, and move my chair away from the sun that is now carrying spears and machetes.
Back down the steps toward the river again I move through the crowds. Everywhere there is ritual. A group of women painted green have shaved their heads and are burning fruit. A yogi wrapped in orange is passing carrying a stick. It is crazy. I meet my buddy DaDa, (yes, that is my guide's name) for another motorcycle ride back through the city. All in all, a great day.

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