Monday, September 1, 2008


High density living

Varanasi is a super-holy city in the North of India. Varanasi is like a teeming, concentrated, museum version of India; it’s less diluted by the human need for personal space and etiquette, which is pretty thinly spread in India to begin with. Everything is more intense. The streets are narrower, the rickshaw drivers are more conniving, the swarming touts are more aggressive, the smell of sun-baked cow dung and open-air urinal runoff is more potent. The sun pounds heat down into the tarp-covered alleys, creating a slowbake oven full of sweating shopkeepers, who are usually comatose on their cushioned shopfloors by lunchtime. Bikes and scooters careen through the narrow passages, and huge bulls lazing on in shady spots block off thoroughfares, forcing pedestrians to find an alternate path through the concrete maze. People carry offerings of flowers, curd, food, water and line up to be let into the high-security, Hindu-only confines of the Golden Temple. Dead bodies are carried through the streets down the Ganges, where they are cremated or just tossed in whole, while people bathe, wash clothes and drink the water just metres away.

In Varanasi, the most remarkable thing to see is just the way people relentlessly get along with their lives amidst all the noise, heat, hassle, death and concrete. It’s plain to see that there’s too many people there, too much stuff going on, but it all works somehow, and makes Varanasi one of the most invigorating, spirited cities I’ve ever been to.

Kite fliers

Happy bull

According to a magazine I was reading, 40% of Indians suffer from hypertension. It's roundabouts like these that cause it.

Leaning Shiva temple in the swolen Ganges

Kite flying is a popular afternoon pastime in Varanasi. Every day near sunset, the sky would fill with hundreds of small, paper kites.

A storm front rumbles in, dropping the temperature an arctic to the mid-thirties.

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