I used to be a travel blogger. For years I had fourteen fabulous followers, thirteen of whom were my friends. I’m not sure who the fourteenth was except I really dug his loyalty. Anyway, I was kind of erratic with my blog and when I quit I don’t think anyone actually noticed.
This week I went back to travel blogging. And realised how much I love it.
And now I am conflicted.
Sex or travel?
I could write about the man I just stood behind in the Checkers queue who was wearing a flannel shirt, had great stubble, was drop dead gorgeous and asked for my number.
Or I could write about Varanasi, which was the last leg of our Indian trip.
And really, I want to write about Varanasi.
But I can’t!
Because it is the most impossible city to describe. It’s that place where you walk in silence because words don’t fit. It’s where life and death are one, where everything melds together, where nothing but everything makes sense.
And it’s somehow surprisingly grounding.
In Varanasi there are no secrets. Women bathe in their saris in the Ganges. Holy men dip, naked, in the Ganges. Pilgrims pray and meditate. Bodies burn. Dogs, goats and cows amble alongside the bodies. Kids swim. And play cricket. Women do laundry. Everyone’s calm. They seek. They wander. And they die.
People come to Varanasi to die. To wash away their sins. They come for liberation. They’re at the Ghats, in droves. You’re aware of them. They’re not aware of you.
We spent our days walking, slowly because of the heat but also slowly because there’s a lot to take in. Oddly, between Ghats, we found the best apple pie and ice-cream, little book stores, and the loveliest hand carved goddesses. As well as silk, sweet tea and an endless supply of Kama Sutras.
On our last night we made our way to Keshari, one of Varanasi’s oldest restaurants. Made our way is perhaps the wrong description. We walked, we got lost, we wandered along narrow alleyways, we dodged cows, we dodged cow poo, we walked with the bulls, we got run over, we almost got sold and then – we found a table for two in this very famous restaurant.
It was 44 degrees. There were fans all over the ceiling. The menus were taped to the table; the food was not. We’d ordered a Thali, a large plate with lots of small bowls of Indian offerings. Dal Fry, Baby Corn Masala, Cauliflower Sabzi, Palak Paneer, Steamed Rice, Roti, Naan and Papad.
Papad is a crisp bread, kind of like a papadum. It’s light. The force of the ceiling fan was so strong that our papads went flying. The roti followed. Rice landed in our neighbor’s hair. So did pickles. The serviettes were airborne.
And the food was really hot, like vindaloo on fire hot, and we were both mopping our foreheads, sweating and crying.
We got the giggles.
And the waiters, in their Indian fashion, stood nearby, dead pan, and watched.
It was the funniest, most chaotic meal we’ve had. We ate, tears dripping down our cheeks, everything leaving a trail of destruction around us.
And still not a waiter blinked an eye. When we signalled for the bill, after what was the most insanely haphazard meal, that flew away too. Still no reaction. We left a pile of rupees whirling around the restaurant, grabbed our things and ran out.
We looked for a tuk-tuk. Couldn’t find one. Or a taxi. Or a rickshaw.
Our meal was just like Varanasi.
Tasty. Wild. And totally uncontrollable.
They say people either love or hate the city.
We found it to be just perfect.