North Tour: Varanasi: Another kind of crowd

Tuesday, 15 March

VARANASI: There’s a place in Nagpur called Birdi. Through it runs a main road that doesn’t narrow so much as it squeezes you like a toothpaste tube. Walking on it can’t be done without bumping into others. Biking through it can’t be done without using both feet for balance. Via motorbike or rickshaw, transverse is nearly impossible, and with a car, just forget it. It’s very crowded, very busy, and very loud.

The street we walked in Varanasi, however, definitely has Birdi beat.

We got our first taste of the city when we stepped off the train after noon. Though slightly more alert than usual thanks to the profuse sleep we’d had in our cabins, the crowd that greeted us on the platform had a different makeup than those of other cities we’d visited. There was scarcely any elbow room for us as we stood waiting for our things, and as we took our suitcases to the cars – without bag-wallahs or a trolley, for once – we could only barely navigate the crowd successfully.

It was a precursor to our evening stroll.

Uttar Pradesh is one of the world’s most crowded states. Places like Varanasi depict the stereotypical Indian crowd, and cities like Agra only further the point. The impact of the mass of humanity as we walked through Varanasi this evening came not in peddlers or beggars but just laypeople, walking from one place to another without need to peddle or beg. It wasn’t so much a swarm around us as it was a river, currents of people moving as the great Ganga did meters away.

We saw another puja this evening, not unlike the one in Rishikesh, but far more bearable in the presence of Indians who knew how to behave. I found a key difference between Indians and foreigners in such ceremonies is that foreigners are afraid to talk. Around the square, Indians were talking amongst themselves like normal, no matter how spiritual the situation in front of them, and no one leaned in to quiet them. During the puja, we also kept our conversations going, and some even bought souvenirs from passing salesmen.

If it seems taboo, then like so many of the foreigners in Rishikesh, you’re probably just not used to it.

Today was so good in part because of the sleep we got on the train. But it doesn’t look like I’ll be as lucky tonight. I anticipate a good two hours until our wakeup call now.

I should probably go turn off the light.

🙂

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