Pootle list #23 Eat the street food in Banaras
My great grandfather’s grandfather – an imposing figure as evinced by his massive painted portrait (it covered an entire wall that I grew up in awe of, and it is of little wonder that I still believe that God, with a capital G, is mustachioed and wears a brocaded floor length coat) and a very rich man, by all accounts, decided, one fine day, to renounce it all and leave for Varanasi. Hinduism advises, that in the twilight of a man’s life, he’ll do well to detach himself from the affairs of the world, and spend time in prayer and solitude, readying the soul for its final journey. It is also believed, that if one is fortunate enough to die in Varanasi, the soul attains moksha and is freed from the cycle of life and death. That’s what the dear man, presumably, was aiming for.
I am not quite there yet.
People visit Varanasi – the world’s oldest living or continually inhabited city – for many reasons. There are temples galore, a humongous university, shops that sell everything from the famed banarasi saris to metal and brasswork items. Many go as wedding guests, if the hennaed hands of many of my return co passengers is anything to go by. Yet others go to immerse the ashes of their loved ones in the holy Ganges, on the banks of which the city is built. It was to Varanasi, that my parents took my brother several years ago (I was yet to arrive, so to speak) for his tonsure ceremony, the very first time he got a hair cut. Further, I also understand that funeral tourism is actually a thing.
I put Varanasi on my bucket list because I saw a television show, a few impressionable years ago, in which the anchor scarfed down a milk confection called Malaiyo available only in Varanasi, and only in the winter months. He waxed eloquent and seemed to be in heaven. So I went to experience the masti of Banaras, the city which revels in its street food, celebrates marijuana spiked milk, where the locals have permanently orange stained lips that come with chewing paan – betel leaves pockets filled with areca nuts, rose petals reduction and other intoxicating substances. I was not disappointed.
I hoped, quite romantically, to get a sense of the ancestral spirit, for a trace left behind in the stones and pebbles, in the ripple of the river. It would be plain eerie if that had actually happened, and I would have been scared out of my less sentimental wits. But let’s just say that on this front as well, I was not disappointed.
They say you can’t explain Varanasi; the only way to understand it is to experience it. So I shall leave you with some photographs from my trip. I hope you get to visit some day.