Varanasi: karma catching up

Varanasi.  A place where they say your karma catches up to you.  A place where they say if you die, you are released from the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth.  Freed.  It is intense, this place where people come to die.  Where people come to bathe in the holy rivers of the Ganga, washing their karma from them, sort of like the Christian waters of baptism.  Where people come to study.  Where people come to see India – in all its messiness. It’s been an intense place for me to be – I’ve thought a lot about the present and the future. 

The Ganga: view from our guest house

Sweat drips down my face as I sit in a close windowless cyber cafe with a fan whirring ominously above.

Nick, Jon and me

Yesterday, I was kind of feeling low, not sure whether I needed to go out walking and enjoy getting out into the town or just curl up and rest.  J was ready to head out and do some exploring, when a friend of ours from Vipassana in Kathmandu showed up (J had found out that he, Nick, was in Varanasi and told him our guest house – River View Guest House right on the ghats).  The timing was really perfect.  It meant I sort of had to pull things together and it made me feel normal and good and beautiful.  I found reserves of strength and beauty and groundedness that I had forgotten or not known I had and smilingly went out with Nick and J.  We wandered a bunch, through the narrow alleys where tourists from all over India and the world gather, through to the wider streets of the bazaar, wider but so much more clogged with people.  We got food and I got the best paan I’ve ever eaten, then we wandered and talked some more.  Eventually we made our way back to our hotel, where we parted ways with Nick.

Rooftop view

Later in the evening, J and I ventured out to the ghats where the evening rituals are held – lots of people and a mixture of the feeling of ancient ritual mixed with cultural performance (the audience was a mix of Hindu pilgrims participating peripherally in the ritual with their voices, hand claps and butter lamps added to the mixture of things, then there were also Indian and foreign tourists on the steps leading down to the performance spot on the river’s edge and also in boats crowding in for the closest view from the water).  It was a strange sort of scene at which J and I stayed only a little while.  From there we headed to a temple to which an Indian man with henna-oranged hair led us.  When he found we had not brought our passports, which would allow us entry, he offered to take us to some burning ghats, which he did.  There another man met us and explained the process of cremation to us – surrounding the ghat on three sides are mother Theresa Hostels where the sick and old come to await their death.  20-30 cremations take place a day here, with iron wood used to burn the bodies (200kg of iron wood at rs150 a kg – rs30 000 to cremate a body – almost US$1,000 – a LOT of money).  We watched and listened, rivulets of sweat coursing down our bodies.
We made our weary way back to our hotel at last.  That was yesterday.  And today a new day. And I’m excited to continue to explore Varanasi, a city with so much depth.  You can almost hear the history whispering through the cracks in the walls.

About Thandiwe

Hopeful cynic, creative, seriously silly, lover of people and places, hypocrite, third-culture kid, queer, life-long learner, white woman, Christ follower, outdoor enthusiast: I am a seeker of justice and truth who has re-found my spiritual home in progressive Christianity. I serve as the Associate Pastor at a small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation near the mountains of Colorado where I live with my beloved.
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1 Response to Varanasi: karma catching up

  1. Manuel says:

    “Sweat drips down my face as I sit in a close windowless cyber cafe with a fan whirring ominously above.” That’s literature!
    The picture of the paani puri after the cremation paragraph diminishes its appeal 🙂

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