Blindingly colorful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet place on earth. Welcome to Varanasi. Also known to some as the city of life. One of the worlds oldest inhabited cities and is regarded as one of Hinduism's' seven holy cities. Hindus come from all over India to die in Varanasi. They say if you die here and your body goes through the process of burning and then being dumped in the river that you will be liberated from the cycle of birth and death and be transported to heaven or Nirvana. That is, as long as you aren't pregnant, a leper or have a cobra bite.
Throughout my stay in Varanasi I counted the bodies being carried through the streets and eventually lost count and became desensitized. Varanasi dates back to 1200bc although it really rose to prominence in 8th century ad, when a guy called shankaracharya, a reformer of Hinduism, established Shiva worship as the major sect. The city was later destroyed in 1300ac and rebuilt again. Unfortunately a lot of the original temples were looted and destroyed by the afghans.
There is a lot more to offer than just antique buildings, spiritual activities and in your face culture. One of the highlights was a lassi shop called blue lassi. Definitely the undisputed best lassi in town. A tiny hole in the wall where they have been churning out lassi for over 70 years. I had a fruit mix one and a mango one. They top the creamy lassi with a mountain of fruit. Absolutely perfect sipping on one of these under a fan watching the color stroll through the alley ways. If you are not such a fan of fruit there are special lassi which are said to give you Shiva power. (Its actually just a lassi with a very healthy dose of marijuana). I had one of these and it completely floored me. I now realize why the man only drinks them on Sunday!
Winding alley ways, maze like streets and general craziness makes Varanasi one of my favorite destinations so far. The food we ate was the cheapest so far with banquets made for 6 people only paying 150rs each! The shopping was much the same. Cheap, interesting and much more variety.
Time to hop on a train and head towards the mountains.
Tip of the day - train carriage no. 8 obviously means you have to get on carriage no. 1