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Death and rebirth? Sacred river, sacred cows. Occasional Sadhu. December brings a constant haze and cold to the city. Instead of festivities the streets are littered by small bonfires and groups of people, dogs and cows warming by fire, with the bonus of some toxic smoke.

Dirt and noise.

Most buildings are in a desperate state. Smell of urine on every corner. Cow dung, dog shit and piles of rubbish everywhere. Even in more affluent arenas, where we stayed, piled rubbish on the street became a bed for dogs and cows.

The city looks even more desperate in dull light. There is no sign of  change or effort to bring the city to its former glory. No sign of rebirth anytime soon. 

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Spirituality? I'm not convinced this is the right place.

Aarti show did not quite convey much spirituality. Yes, there was fire, there was smoke, there was loud, distorted music blasting from cheap speakers. A competing Aarti show at the next Ghat provided some more distorted music to the mix.

The riverside is a hunting ground for endless cheats and hustlers. Dirt, homeless dogs and naive pilgrims mixing together. Fees for spiritual guidance. Boat rides.

Hindu temples seemed to follow the same pattern. An endless stream of opportunities to lose or make money: have yo shoes watched for, get some paint or a trinket...




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The hazy, cold weather did offer different views of the river. Serene, mystic. It did not stop the hustlers from offering a boat ride to see the Ghats from the river :-)


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But the same cold and haze also revealed the other side of the city. Bonfires producing enough toxic smoke to give headache. Rubbish everywhere and no sign of a rubbish truck. Skinny dogs shivering in the cold. Beautiful, old buildings crumbling down in a slow decay...


Disturbing. Especially the apparent apathy of the locals. No attempt to change. Some kind of nihilism running through the veins of what was long time one of the most beautiful cities to ever visit.


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The most joyful side of Varanasi seemed to be the endless supply of chai and street food. Both made the cold a little more bearable. After a few visits to our favourite chai and kachori stands, we did not even need to order anymore. Food and drinks just arrived. With a nod of 'all right?'. 

For the evening meals a few family eateries offered authentic and locally priced fare. And for a desert some momos or freshly roasted mix of nuts, seeds and cornflakes from the corner stand.


The only two areas of the city that offered some more pleasant experiences: the BHU campus, with large swathes of green lawns and atmospheric, colonial architecture and Sarnath, dotted with many temples and places of contemplation...

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After a week stay, endless cups of chai and quite a bit of street food, we were glad to get out of the derelict, nihilistic place. Would I go back? Probably not: there are plenty of more attractive places in India to visit...

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