Trying to put Varanasi into words is somewhat like trying to describe Burning Man. You can't put it into perspective. The energy is so intense, its wild. Cows, people, bodies, whacked out sadus... shit and sounds and smells everywhere, it assaults all your senses and all your emotions.
It is said that this is the oldest continuous city on the planet and that it was already an ancient city when the Buddha arrived here in 500AD. If continuous means that for eons it has been this teeming mass of life and death constantly building and crawling upon itself along narrow passages in a maze... then its closer to a description.
And the maze of narrow streets are not wide enough for cars nor rickshaws to enter. The passages go everywhere. No one has ever been able to map them. You can't find your way around and I don't care what kind of sense of direction you think you have, Daniel Boone couldn't find his way out of there and you are gonna get lost if you wander.
I have a really good sense of direction and so we walk along a street and I know it parallels the river.
We walk, and then turn to go to the river...but there's no river. Impossible. It has to be right here. Turn again, still no river. We're somewhere else...how the hell can I lose the damn Ganges? Its makes up one whole side of the city and we were just walking there.....shit. The sun or moon is no help. You are surrounded by rock buildings.
And everyone says to not go out late at night in this old part of town.
So where does one find Mark and Lynne now? Why of course out late at night, lost in this maze with all these weird ass people asking us where where we are going, where are we are from or whispering out if we want to buy hashish or opium when we pass.
I could have used a hit of opium right now...this has got me nervous. I'm lost back here with Lynne who they probably view as a whore and trying to ask for directions which is a bit of an admission that I'm helpless in itself. And if not finding these shady characters we are finding cops...and I don't trust them right now any more than the drug dealers.
To make matters worse; Indians do not want to say that they do not know something...so they will just say something and you will get 20 different somethings from 20 different people. And if you are lost in a maze at night and you are trying to ask directions and one person points that way and another points another way and another says that its the way we just came from thank you very much, it can get you just a little nervous y'know....just a little jumpy...and a dog barks and something moves in a doorway and someone hisses hashish again...godammmit.....and then suddenly...there you are; at the cremation area... with weird untouchables tending to the dead and you're so happy and relieved... skipping through this valley of death with glee like you have just found Oz because because becaaaaaaaause... because you've broken out of the maze and you're almost home. Because our hotel was just above the cremation ghat and if we found burning bodies, we found home and right now there was no place like home [sigh].